We have no reason to believe that this will happen, but the two tracks – or even one of them – could decide to call the Governor’s bluff and suggest that the license fees are simply too high a hurdle and replete with too many restrictions to make slots at the track viable under these terms, and opt for a Hoosier form of Russian Roulette by seeking changes in the enabling legislation next year. After all, this is a symbiotic relationship of sorts – though neither the State nor the tracks comes to the table wearing white in this situation – and the imperatives on both sides are not likely to ease any by this time next year.
The Governor has never been quite as keen on the need for property tax relief (especially with the State paying for it) as legislators have been, and he is less likely than lawmakers to be directly blamed for the lack of relief if the tracks back off.
When we posed the scenario to one stunned lawmaker directly involved in the end-game negotiations on all of this last week and asked what would happen if the tracks backed off, the two-word response we received was “Special session.”
As a story in today's Star indicates there is much to be done before the slots at tracks are approved at the state's two race tracks and both track owners are still in the process of trying to line up financing. Karen Eschbacher writes:
"There's an incredible amount of effort that has to be done" before slots can be played, said Ernest Yelton, executive director of the gaming commission.
The commission, for example, must investigate track owners, approve parlor designs, review prospective employees and vendors, and test every slot machine.
All of that takes at least five months from the time an application is submitted, Yelton said. "It's a monumental task," he said . . .
Ross Mangano, chairman of Indiana Downs, said the track is in the process of lining up financing, though he declined to say what avenues he is pursuing. He hopes to have financing in place in about three weeks.
After that, architects will begin designing the slots parlor. Mangano said he expects Indiana Downs to retrofit existing space and build an addition to accommodate the slots.
Rick Moore, general manager of Hoosier Park, said Centaur Inc., which owns the track, is also lining up financing . . .
Feigenbaum also picks up on some of the discussion you've read here following his initial report about property tax increases being much higher in Marion Co. than lawmakers had anticipated and the resulting voter reaction in this election year:
In April, we were first to explain to you that in Marion County, preliminary numbers suggested that business assessments would increase by single-digit percentages, thanks to assorted factors, and “will likely produce larger than expected tax shifts to homeowners across Marion County.” When we reported in some detail about this phenomenon, Advance Indiana picked up on it, and the comments on that local blog flew in fast and furious. One Marion County township assessor disputed our analysis, but quickly found herself overwhelmed by additional comments from those who understood and followed the process who confirmed our analysis. And now, Peter Schnitzler reports in the Indianapolis Business Journal that former Indiana Department of Local Government Finance chair Beth Henkel confirms that “some Marion County homeowners soon could see property-tax increases of as much as 50 percent – far higher than government officials previously estimated.”
If you don’t think voters are going to be irate about large property tax bills and confusing small rebates (Does this go to my mortgage company or me? Will my escrow be skewed this year or next because of the rebates?), they certainly will be when they are reminded next year that lawmakers found time to grant themselves raises, but ran out of time to find a long-term solution to reliance on property taxes . . . and that the property tax relief for “Pay 2007” taxes was one-time only, and based entirely upon the hope that the two pari-mutuel horse-racing tracks will choose to and be able to raise the money they need to expand their gambling facilities to include slot machines.