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Furthermore …


Flawed premise in economist’s tax-cut analysis

The conservative Koch brothers aren’t the only non-Hoosiers trying to influence Indiana tax policy – despite being less than informed.

Several Republican legislative leaders have questioned how much the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity really knows about the state’s financing as it appeals to Hoosiers to support a tax cut of 34-hundreths of 1 percent.

And this week, in a meeting with Senate leader David Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma, Gov. Mike Pence produced a letter by “prominent economist” Larry Lindsey, a former economic adviser to President George W. Bush.

“In my opinion,” Lindsey wrote, “there is no question that a reduction in the income tax would have a bigger positive impact on business development, state economic growth, and employment than would a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the estate tax.”

Perhaps. But the letter also raises questions about how thoroughly Lindsey examined Indiana’s situation. Indiana has an inheritance tax, not an estate tax, and the entire point of Lindsey’s letter was about an income tax cut vs. an “estate tax” cut.

Inheritance and estate taxes are not the same. Estate taxes, as the name implies, are levied on the estate of a person who has died. Inheritance taxes are levied on people who inherit the money, with large exemptions for parents and descendants. Lawyers and financial planners emphasize there are differences.

Pence sounds a sour note on overhaul

Former Gov. Mitch Daniels supported it. So does Brent Dickson, the chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court. Daniels’ sister, Deborah Daniels, a former federal prosecutor and federal Justice Department official, helped draft and revise it. Even tough-on-crime state prosecutors are generally on board.

Just when it looked like Indiana lawmakers were prepared to finally adopt a sentencing reform bill designed to improve the chances of reforming low-level criminals while increasing the punishment for more serious felons, Gov. Mike Pence says he doesn’t like it.

“I think we need to work on reducing crime, not reducing penalties,” Pence said in a news conference.

One highlight of the bill is making sentences more appropriate to the crime and increasing the use of alternative sentencing such as drug courts and Community Corrections programs, which monitor people on house arrest, among many other things. Pence specifically mentioned the downgrading of the severity of the crime of dealing less than 10 pounds of marijuana.

But the bill also would require more Indiana prisoners to serve 75 percent of their sentence instead of the current policy, which allows many inmates to go free after serving 50 percent or even less of their sentence.

Lake County’s separate rules

Indiana’s constitution prohibits “special legislation” that addresses, for example, a problem a number of counties face but targets only one county. Specifically, the constitution bans local or special legislation “regulating the practice in courts of justice.”

And though a 2003 state Supreme Court ruling reinforced the prohibition, other rulings over the years have had different effects, and some laws that are arguably special legislation stand because no one challenges them.

So one section of Indiana Code contains an article with 92 chapters – one for the court system in each Hoosier county. Just one result: Allen County has nine Superior Court judges while the larger Lake County has 15.

The chapter governing Allen County allows a judge from one division to transfer to another. So Allen Superior Court Judge Dan Heath faces no obstacles or procedural problems in moving from the court’s Civil Division to the Family Division, replacing the retiring Judge Stephen Sims. (See more on Sims and Heath on Sunday’s Perspective page.)

Lake County, however, is different – not a surprise for anyone who observes Indiana politics.

There, Lake Superior Judge Nicholas Schiralli announced his intent to move to a juvenile court slot being vacated by Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura, whom Gov. Mike Pence appointed as director of the Indiana Department of Child Services. And the county’s other judges agreed.

But the law governing that county appears to require that any applicant for a vacancy – even another Superior Court judge – must go through the merit selection process. That involves applying to a commission that chooses three finalists, one of whom Pence will appoint as judge.

So three Lake County magistrates – who perform many of the same duties as judges but technically work under them – sued to block the transfer, apparently so they could apply for the juvenile court slot. And the state Supreme Court justices acted quickly, putting Schiralli’s transfer on hold and stating their intent to appoint an interim juvenile court judge until they can sort out whether the transfer is proper.

Only in Lake County.