November 05, 2005

Indiana Locals Fail Tax Administration 101

For most homeowners, it's not hard to come up with reasons why they don't like property taxes. They can grow in ways that don't reflect your ability to pay them (if you lose your job, you'll pay less income taxes because you have less income, but your property taxes will usually not drop at all). For many people, they're paid in one or two big lump sums a year.

In Indiana, they've got a new grievance to add to this list: local assessors appear to be doing a terrible job of determining the value of people's homes. A new study by the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, which was hired by the state to evaluate the success of Indiana's recent attempt to value all homes based on their actual market value, shows that the assessors whose job it is to accurately value residential properties are doing a pretty lousy job.

A Star-Press editorial pulls no punches:
Deficiencies outlined in the assessment report amount to a major failure by government to perform one of its most basic and important chores - properly determining the value of property for taxation. The fact that Indiana appears to be failing at this basic responsibility - especially after so many years of debate and promises - is a failure of scandalous proportion.
Property taxes don't have to be unfair, and they don't have to be unpopular. Regular, accurate assessments can make sure that taxes are based on the actual value of people's homes, and targeted tax relief can ensure that fixed-income residents don't get taxed out of their homes. But Indiana's continuing inability to accurately assess home values-- in combination with Governor Daniels' recent effort to balance the state's budget by forcing local property taxes higher-- means that the property tax will likely remain the ugly stepsister of Hoosier taxes.