Indianapoolis Star

Residents Take Tax Plan in Stride

February 16, 2005
No one shows up to protest raising county's rate to stop the early release of prisoners.

By John Fritze
Indianapolis Star

One year ago, a proposal to raise Marion County's income tax was so politically touchy that few elected officials wanted to talk about it, fearing voters' wrath.

But Tuesday, at a City-County Council committee meeting scheduled to consider an income tax increase, not one angry resident -- in fact, no residents at all -- turned out to speak.

"I believe we're living with a myth of who supports raising taxes and who doesn't," said the committee's chairwoman, Democrat Joanne Sanders.

City officials are considering proposal No. 44, which would raise the county's income tax to 1 percent from 0.7 percent over three years. At least one-third of that increase would be dedicated to reducing the number of inmates released from jail early.

Supporters say the money is needed to fix a broken criminal justice system. Last year, 1,998 inmates were released because of crowding at the county jail. Since 2001, five inmates who were released early have been accused of committing murders after being set free.

"We are breeding lawlessness," said Superior Court Judge Cale Bradford, who supports the tax increase. He said the money generated by the tax could fund new courts or more jail space.

The increase will be phased in; the rate would increase by one-tenth of 1 percent, to 0.8 percent, in the first year. That's $60 more a year for a person earning $60,000 in taxable income.

Similar increases would take place in the next two years until the tax reached 1 percent -- the most allowed under state law.

If the economy stays about the same, the city and county could expect to receive about $11 million more in the first year.

Last year, no council member would come forward to introduce an income tax increase, and Mayor Bart Peterson, a Democrat, said it was a premature idea. This year, Peterson said he supports the increase as long as the money is dedicated for public safety.

Council members on the Administration and Finance Committee did not vote Tuesday. Another public hearing is at 7 p.m. today in the City-County Building, 200 E. Washington St.

Of the dozen people who turned out Tuesday, most were court or city hall officials. Sanders said she thinks more residents will come out tonight.

Marion County's income tax was adopted in 1984 and was last increased in 1989.

Council Republican Lincoln Plowman argued that all options should be weighed before taxes are raised. He suggested boosting the cost of a parking ticket to $50 from the current $15.