When a daylong session on Indiana tax policy convenes later this month, an important ingredient will be missing: the public. The event includes a lineup of speakers overwhelmingly sympathetic to tax cuts – particularly taxes on businesses. Don’t look for critics of economic inequality among the participants, as they won’t be represented.
The invitation-only conference is contrary to the openness and public discourse that best informs public policy.
Gov. Mike Pence first announced the June 24 Indiana Tax Competitiveness and Simplification Conference after accepting an award from the conservative Tax Foundation. The Indiana Department of Revenue followed with a schedule of speakers that includes Arthur Laffer, the leading proponent of trickle-down economics; and an adviser to the American Legislative Exchange Council, an industry-controlled group that writes model bills for conservative lawmakers to introduce in their state legislatures.
Grover Norquist, whose Taxpayer Protection Pledge asks candidates for state and federal office to commit to never voting for a tax increase, is another panelist. He once said the goal of his Americans for Tax Reform group was to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.
Other participants represent the state’s largest law and accounting firms, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, Indiana Manufacturers Association, Eli Lilly and Company and Roche Diagnostics.
In terms of public participation, the closest the conference comes are representatives of the state’s public universities, including Purdue agricultural economist Larry DeBoer and Ball State University’s Michael Hicks.
The Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, a group that has challenged the administration and legislature over the effects of tax cuts and circuit-breaker tax caps, is not among the groups represented on a local tax panel but was invited to attend.
We are anxious to hear the conversation at the governor’s conference later this month, said Matthew Greller, IACT executive director and CEO, in an email statement. We believe it goes without saying that any changes in tax policy that negatively impact municipal revenues should only be made with significant thought, data and input from those affected – and with dollar for dollar replacement funds provided by the state. Without a commitment to the health of Indiana’s cities and towns our local leaders cannot provide the quality of life that our citizens deserve and expect.
Who else is missing? Representatives of groups most familiar with the effects of recent tax cuts, including school officials, child welfare groups and advocates for the poor. Their best hope for shaping the process won’t come until a blue-ribbon commission established this year by the General Assembly meets in the coming months.
Given the state’s single-party control, however, the voices of those unrepresented at the conference will be diminished in the legislative forum.
The 14-member Commission on Business Personal Property and Business Taxation will include six legislators, a gubernatorial appointee and seven representatives from various fields, including business, agriculture and local government. It’s hard to imagine, however, that the GOP-dominated panel won’t lean heavily on ideas emerging from the tax conference.
The carefully scripted and managed event this month is destined to produce recommendations reflecting the views of its carefully chosen participants. Tax policies that will affect all Hoosiers – children, retirees, the unemployed, the self-employed, property owners, renters and more – shouldn’t have their genesis in a closed-door forum.