Errington bill to repeal protected taxes not on Republican agenda

Legislative fix for Muncie schools transportation still unknown

By Rick Yencer

MUNCIE, INDIANA (NEWS)  - Local Democratic lawmakers were optimistic Saturday their Republican leaders would fix the problem with protected taxes that are draining transportation funds for Muncie Community Schools.

 But Democratic efforts to repeal protected taxes and allow local schools to decide the allocation among their funds has not got a hearing from either Indiana House or Senate fiscal bodies.

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, Senate minority leader, was confident the Senate Republican super majority would address problems with more than 20 school corporations that have limited funds because of tax caps or protected taxes.

 The bill that has a hearing Thursday before the Senate Appropriations Committee would create property tax circuit breaker replacement grants for schools impacted by tax caps proposed by Sen. Randall Head, R-Logansport. Lanane's  bill to repeal protected taxes has not been scheduled for a hearing.

 That's what he and Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, told a crowd of about 50 people at Forest Park Senior Citizens Center on Saturday. No Republican lawmakers chose to attend.

 Mark Burkhart, chief financial officer for Muncie Community Schools, said a grant program was not answer, given schools had to go before an appeal board for distressed tax units that was usually hostile to approving tax or revenue requests.

 Errinington also said her repeal bill had no hearing, but another school funding bill filed by Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, would provide taxies levied under an allowance for debt service would not be construed as an increase in a political subdivision's property tax levy to makeup a reduction in revenue under the circuit breaker law.

Errington said a provision in the Republican bill would delay implementation of protected tax provisions for three years. Lawmakers put a one year moritorium on that law last year. Huston's bill will be heard by the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday.

Burkhart said the schools lost 44 percent of its transportation fund under current funding and with protected taxes, 89 percent of that money would be gone.

Chris Hat, of the Citizens for Good Government, was in the audience and said afterwards that MCS would have shortfalls in transportation funds only one year, and could recover money in 2015. And the schools has over $1 million in its Rainy Day fund that could be used to pay transportation.

 Lanane was unsure of the final version of any fix for schools that were losing money from tax caps or protected taxes. Any amendment could include a repeal, but some Republican lawmakers already have said they intend to again postpone implementing protected taxes until more study is made.

In a short session, that approach by the majority is anticipated since 2015 will be the year the Legislature approves a new state budget and funding for education besides health care and other government needs.

 Representatives of Muncie schools and the local League of Women Voters plan to testify before House and Senate committees.

 Errington also was optimistic there were enough Republican lawmakers who had school districts with distressed taxes that more permanent action will be taken.

Meanwhile, Muncie schools plans to changes routes, work with Muncie transit and rebid bus service now operated by M&M Bus Co. costing more than $3 million a year.