Terrible Tuesday: Sales tax, tolls to take a hike

A tax hike on April Fool's day? Seriously?

Barely two weeks after the Indiana General Assembly passed a monumental change in the state’s tax structure, Hoosiers will start paying for it. Indiana’s sales tax rises from 6 percent to 7 percent – an increase of 16.67 percent – beginning Tuesday.

The additional revenues will finance property tax relief for homeowners, but some concern has already emerged about whether the sales tax revenues will be high enough to fully finance state spending as well as local property tax relief. “With the economy slowing down, will there be enough sales tax revenue to support the added state spending?”

Larry DeBoer, professor of Agricultural Economics at Purdue University, asked in a recent column. “There’s been concern that replacing the stable property tax with the less stable sales tax could create revenue shortfalls. We may find out sooner rather than later.”

But wait, there's more:

Each of the 21 plazas on the Indiana Toll Road will offer electronic tolling starting Tuesday, but fees will be about double for commuters who do not use i-Zoom passes.

The toll increases were scheduled as part of the June 2006 agreement by the state to lease the Northern Indiana highway to a private consortium for 75 years at a price tag of $3.8 billion.

I guess it's worth noting that as the Governor's tax plan and his toll road lease come together for a very special Tuesday, there certainly doesn't appear to be any doubt as to who is on the receiving end of this particular impractical joke. Luckily for disgruntled Hoosiers across the state, we all get a chance for payback come November.

Posted by: Thomas

(And yes, it's weird to be posting at TDW. Thanks to the mysterious work of our beloved former leader, I honestly have no idea who the other guest posters are going to be. Someone has to break the ice, though.)

Never Say Never: Guv Says There's Nothing Going On Between IDEM, BP

Sewagemonster This is the kind of statement from an elected official that just begs for a follow-up records request asking to see all the correspondence exchanged between the government entity and the business being regulated by said entity:

Gov. Mitch Daniels' office may have received a thank-you call from BP for a well-run public hearing on the Whiting refinery's air permit, but the office has not been involved with the permit, the governor said Tuesday.

"No. That's IDEM's business," Daniels said after a speech in Valparaiso on Tuesday. "Their instructions -- like every other agency -- are: move fast, be consistent, check the public interest ... be quick. That's where our guidance stops."

In an internal memo to his staff on March 18, Indiana Department of Environmental Management Assistant Commissioner of the Office of Air Quality Dan Murray said a BP representative had called the governor's office to thank IDEM for "the best, most well-run public hearing she has ever been involved in." BP confirmed the call.

Daniels said thank-you calls aren't that common.

"The office gets a lot of phone calls," he said. "As you might imagine, any public office gets more complaints than thank-yous, but once in awhile, someone's nice enough to say something positive."

Last spring, less than a handful of local residents showed up at a hearing on BP's water permit.

On March 14, more than 1,000 people attended the public hearing on BP's air permit in Hammond. IDEM's Murray said his staff has not done anything different this time to get public attendance.

Let The Speechifying Begin: A Few Photos From The Dyngus Day Fun

Megaphone Dyngus Day is over, and TDW is tired, but not so tired that she doesn't have time to upload a few photos from the two venues -- the West Side Democratic Club and the Hoosier Tap -- where she joined with fellow Democrats to drink a few beers and chat about politics this morning and afternoon.

Both places were packed, especially the former one, where former President Bill Clinton and former First Kid Chelsea Clinton talked up wife/mom Hillary Clinton's campaign. Former Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan and former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend also heaped praise on Mrs. Clinton.

Former U.S. Rep. and 9/11 Commission member Tim Roemer spoke as a surrogate for presidential hopeful Barack Obama, and both gubernatorial candidates, South Bend native Jim Schellinger and former U.S. Rep. Jill Long Thompson, got their turn at the podium.

Schellinger and his wife, Laura, showed up a bit later at the Hoosier Tap to share in the festivities there. (For her part, that's where TDW wound up because it was nearby and not swarming with people with plastic cords in their ears.) Those photos after the jump, but first, a few from the West Side Democratic Club:

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Continue reading "Let The Speechifying Begin: A Few Photos From The Dyngus Day Fun" »

Get Your Dyngus On: TDW Heads To The Bend For Politics And Beer

Beer TDW will be at Dyngus Day in South Bend today, so you'll have to play with the weekend threads or make your own conversation here.

The blogmistress will bring you coverage tonight from the events -- including appearances by Bill and Chelsea Clinton and other assorted politicking -- in Northern Indiana.

Until then, please behave.

Dyngus Day: Bill Clinton Will Attend Monday Festivities In South Bend

Presidentseal Former President Bill Clinton will be at Dyngus Day in South Bend on Monday. So will TDW. Yay!

Bill Clinton is coming to Dyngus Day.

The 42nd president will campaign Monday in South Bend for his wife, presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., during appearances at the West Side Democratic and Civic Club and the Elks Lodge on Western Avenue, said Owen "Butch" Morgan, chairman of the St. Joseph County Democratic Party. Morgan has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president.

Dyngus Day is a Monday-after-Easter tradition in South Bend and other communities in the country, where politicians get out into the community and meet people.

Spokespeople for Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama have said both Democratic presidential hopefuls will wage an aggressive campaign in Indiana. Because the nomination contest has been so close, Indiana's May 6 primary could have a greater than usual impact on who becomes the party's nominee.

Elsewhere In The State: Northwest Indiana Mayors Endorse Schellinger

Approved_2 While Jill Long Thompson was talking ethics at the Statehouse today, her Democratic primary opponent, Jim Schellinger, was picking up a few more endorsements in Northwest Indiana.

Crown Point Mayor David Uran, Portage Mayor Olga Velazquez and District 19 State Representative Shelli VanDenburgh gave Schellinger their stamp of approval at a press conference today.

Blue Indiana reports that Schellinger also put out a statement about the five-year anniversary of our invasion into Iraq:

"The costs of this war have been high. More than 100 Hoosier soldiers have lost their lives fighting this war, but they live on in the memories of their loved ones and as symbols of the ultimate sacrifice made by some to protect us all. Today, we reflect on those who have served long months away from their families, giving up so much to put their lives on the line.

"We pray for their safe and speedy return, that they may once again tuck in their children, kiss their spouses and plant their feet firmly each morning on American soil."

All Tolled: Buy A Transponder Or Get In Line To Pay Almost Double

Tollroadlogo Without an electronic doohickey in your car, you'll pay almost twice as much to travel along the privately run Indiana Toll Road starting next month. The Times of Northwest Indiana's Pat Guinane has the scoop:

If you're still paying cash on the Indiana Toll Road, it'll cost you more next month.

ITR Concession Co. is expected to finish installing electronic tolling equipment on the 157-mile highway this month, a move that will allow the private operator to nearly double cash tolls for passenger vehicles. Starting April 1, a trip from Illinois to Ohio will cost $8, up from the current $4.65.

But drivers who use an electronic toll transponder, including an I-Pass or an i-Zoom, won't see a toll hike until 2016.

"Those with two-axle vehicles, which are basically cars, motorcycles and passenger trucks, will continue to have the toll freeze if they have a transponder," said Jennifer Alvey, Indiana's public finance director. "You continue to pay the rates that were set back in 1985."

Raising tolls for the first time in two decades was a linchpin to the 2006 deal that allowed Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels to secure a $3.8 billion windfall for a 75-year lease of the northern Toll Road. But state legislators insisted on softening the blow for Hoosier motorists by setting aside $278 million to underwrite a 10-year toll freeze.

Lawmakers actually prescribed a 40 percent discount until July 2016. But Alvey said the state decided to go with a full freeze to avoid confusion.

The Indiana Finance Authority, which owns the Toll Road, finalized rules Tuesday to implement the new passenger vehicle tolls. Commercial trucks have been paying higher tolls since 2006.

Cause And Effect: DOC Finally Making Changes At Indy Juvenile Facility

Handcuffs The South Bend Tribune updates us on the situation at the Indianapolis Juvenile Correction Facility, which drew the ire of a St. Joseph County judge late last year:

St. Joseph County juvenile justice officials say they're cautiously optimistic about news last week that the Indiana Department of Correction will make sweeping changes to its Indianapolis juvenile facility.

The DOC has announced it will end a two-year-old arrangement to house boys and girls at the same Indianapolis Juvenile Correctional Facility by moving the boys to a recently renovated section of the Logansport Juvenile Correctional Facility.

"I think it may correct a lot of the problems I wrote the governor about," St. Joseph County Probate Court Judge Peter Nemeth said.

Nemeth wrote an open letter to Gov. Mitch Daniels not long ago, saying girls at the Indianapolis facility, commonly known as the Girls School, were being "warehoused" rather than rehabilitated and were not being adequately supervised. One of the resulting problems was widespread sexual contact between the girls, the judge said his staff had learned.

Nemeth said he had stopped sending girls there and would not resume doing so until changes were made.

DOC officials have denied the changes are related to Nemeth's letter.

Nemeth said he was encouraged by the DOC's announcement that a "staffing plan for the facility is being developed to ensure the appropriate deployment of staff."

"If they are actually doing a staffing plan ... if it means more than just words, I think that is real progress," the judge said. "I applaud them for that. I don't expect their ratios to be as low as ours, but ... you can't have one guard, like this female guard who was assaulted, alone, guarding 30 teens. That's just nuts."

Mistaken Identity: Second GOP Hopeful Messes Up His Own Name

What is it with Republican Congressional candidates who can't spell their own names? Meet Luke Pucket[t], who's occasionally running in the Second District:

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Timing Is The Essence: IDEM Up To Its Old Tricks With BP Whiting Permits

Sewagemonster Here we go again with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management helping out its friends at BP Whiting. The Gary Post-Tribune's Gitte Laasby, who's done a remarkable job covering this and other IDEM issues, reports:

Approval of an air permit for BP is moving along faster than environmentalists would like -- and faster than IDEM's normal standards -- with BP standing to gain.

Environmentalists say IDEM's rushing undermines the public's opportunity to comment and that it happens at the expense of public health.

"This time frame is extremely rushed. It really is not a meaningful opportunity for public comment. Just to read the documents is more time than they've given us," Ann Alexander, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said.

When the Indiana Department of Environmental Management rescheduled the Feb. 25 public hearing on BP's air permit, it wasn't so much out of consideration for a coalition of environmental groups that asked for more time to review the thousands of pages in the permit -- although that's what IDEM has stated in a news release.

It was because IDEM failed to comply with state law when the agency first publicized the hearing. State law requires a minimum of 30 days' notice. IDEM provided only 20 days. If IDEM had not re-noticed the hearing, the permit could have been successfully challenged at the state or federal level.

Although IDEM is not required to do so by law, the agency usually gives the public about a month and a half after a hearing to submit written comments on permits. This time, the public has just over a week.

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