Attaching an amendment to a constitution is a serious matter, whether it be the United States Constitution or the Indiana Constitution. Amendments take a lot to pass, and they become virtually set in stone once implanted into constitutions.
So I have been anxiously watching the debate over whether or not to make the property tax caps permanent by placing them in an amendment to the Indiana Constitution. The flaw in taking this step is that even if they are made permanent in this manner, all that has to be done is raise the assessment.
Short on funds? Just assess properties at a higher value. My property taxes went up 50% instead of going down like I had thought they would. And that was after an adjustment. When I opened my bill, I was stunned to see that my assessed value had jumped $44,000 from the year before.
After I recovered from the shock, I called the assessor’s office to discuss how this was possible. The clerk who helped me was very nice and resolved my concerns by lowering my assessed value by $20,000, so my final increase was a mere $24,000. This got me to thinking – what difference does a cap make if the assessment can be raised or lowered this easily?
Attaching an amendment to our Constitution only freezes the top rate that can be levied. To increase property tax revenue, all that has to be done is to increase the assessed values of properties. The caps – whether they remain simply a legislative enactment or become a constitutional amendment – do not resolve property tax issues.
But making the caps a part of the Constitution before we have had a chance to see how they will work is simply a bad idea that will compound an already easily manipulated system.