Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Watchdog Indiana Tax Ratings Questioned

Watchdog Indiana is a so-called taxpayer group founded by Aaron Smith to "provide information about the revenues, spending, and long-term debt assumption of Indiana local and state governments", including voting record ratings for lawmakers. Smith's analysis of lawmakers' votes on the state budget during the recent special session leaves much to be desired. Smith's analysis concludes that the recently-passed budget is "sufficiently Taxpayer Friendly" because it "provides enough resources for good government" and it "satisfactorily protects Hoosier working families from state and local tax increases." Consequently, Smith rates lawmakers who voted for the budget as "taxpayer friendly" and those who voted against it as "taxpayer unfriendly".

Smith's "taxpayer unfriendly" category includes Republican Senators Vaneta Becker, Mike Delph and Jean Leising, the only three Republican lawmakers to vote against the state budget. I can't speak for Becker and Leising, but I've observed Delph's voting record enough to ascertain that he is one of the most taxpayer-friendly legislators in the State House. There were many reasons to vote against the budget, not to mention the bailout of the Capital Improvement Board, a referendum for constructing a $900 million county hospital for Marion County, the creation of a northwest Indiana transit authority and lots of last-minute pork barrel projects for the state's higher education community, which in turn is rewarding students with large tuition hikes in a difficult economy. Smith's analysis does not consider any of these tax and spend projects as worthy of a no vote on the state budget. In fact, income and property tax increases to fund the Northwest Indiana transit district are characterized by Smith as "taxpayer friendly"; the tax, spend and borrow provisions for the CIB bailout don't even merit a mention by Smith.

The final vote on the state budget bill is the worst piece of legislation to gauge a lawmakers' true fiscal voting record. The legislative logrolling process results in the inclusion of many non-budget items, some of which were never subjected to a public hearing. You have to study lawmakers' votes on tax and budget-related amendments during the process to get a better sense of their fiscal philosophy. You also have to study lawmakers' votes on substantive legislation that drives budgetary costs for state and local government. Smith's analysis of lawmakers' voting records based on this single budget vote is totally useless and should be so regarded by the 25,000 Hoosiers he claims receives e-mail updates from him.


M Theory said...

I just sent an email out to a couple activists about this. I'm glad you covered it Gary.

Paul K. Ogden said...

I agree, Gary. The notion that Sen. Mike Delph is taxpayer unfriendly is utterly ridiculous. Delph is one of the few people who questioned the taxpayer funded CIB bailout.

For exactly the reasons you state, you can't judge whether someone is "taxpayer friendly" by a budget vote that has tons of things thrown into it that were never subjected to separate votes.

M Theory said...

This should make everyone seriously question Aaron Smith's Taxpayer Watchdog emails.