LaPORTE – In the immortal words of the late President Ronald Reagan, “There you go again!”
     
Predictably, Bill Waltz of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce recently sent a letter to the editor to papers around the state this past week warning that talk of big business “paying its fair share” is all wet and that hard-pressed middle class homeowners need to pick up a greater share of the tax burden.
        
Really, Bill?
     
The legislature’s upcoming Special Commission on Tax Restructuring needs to take a hard look at how many big businesses are skating on their obligations to help fund state government and passing that obligation on to already hard-pressed Hoosiers.
     
It’s not enough that under policies pushed by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, quality of life indexes show us dead last or nearly so for things like child protection, public schools, or our quality of infrastructure like roads and bridges.  Nah, let’s see if we can’t achieve levels of infant mortality, stunted learning and decaying roads and bridges more likely to be found in a third world country.
    
All the while the Indiana Chamber has pushed through relief for the most wealthy and powerful among us which means less state revenue to provide basic services. Only the richest families were affected by the inheritance tax but the Indiana Chamber pushed elimination costing  state coffers $100 million annually. Not enough that our richest banks and financial institutions received billions in taxpayer support to get back on their feet. Nah, the Indiana Chamber pushed reduction of the Financial Transactions Tax – key for many counties’ budgets – costing another $100 million annually for cash-starved local government.
     
Add insult to injury and our esteemed friends at the Indiana Chamber wanted to completely eliminate the business personal property tax – which really only hits the largest manufacturing firms like steel mills and utilities – and whose complete elimination would have cost local government $1 billion. Thankfully a bipartisan group of mayors and county commissioners around the state rose up with a campaign heard in the halls of our state capitol and stopped this billion dollar money grab by big business. Mayors and commissioners know that to do economic development and grow new jobs, you have to have vibrant communities with enough money to pay police, firefighters and teachers and keep basic services moving.
     
I understand the State Chamber’s goals are the same every year – privatize, de-regulate and cut taxes for the wealthiest and most powerful among us. But let’s be clear that their agenda has little to do with the needs of ordinary Hoosiers, particularly when it comes to repealing the homestead exemption or urging further increases in our already burdensome sales tax or worse yet, advocating local income tax hikes.
    
We will see in the upcoming meetings of the blue-ribbon special commission on taxes whether there aren’t a few members willing to think outside of the box and explore ways to make sure that scofflaw multi-state and multi-national corporations pay their “fair share” of Indiana taxes rather than rely on tax dodges and offshore tax havens to escape their obligations. Why not call in expertise from Center on Budget and Policy Priorities or the non-partisan Multi-State Tax Commission in Washington, D.C., (which Indiana re-joined a few years ago) which estimates that Indiana loses a half a billion dollars every year to these tax dodges that can and should be fixed in our tax code?
    
Yes, Mr. Walz, it is time that the biggest and most powerful corporations doing business in our state pay their “fair share.” It’s time the Indiana Chamber stop the war on our middle class and Main Street and stop calling for higher property taxes on the little guy while urging new local income taxes and sales taxes as a way to pay for public services. The game is rigged and more and more Hoosiers know which side the Indiana Chamber of Commerce is playing on. v

Shaw Friedman is former legal counsel for the Indiana Democratic Party and a longtime HPI columnist.