Indianapolis' new idea: tax commuters to pay for roads

There’s a new “genius” idea (genius as in stupid) in Indiana: tax people who live outside Marion County, but work in the county. The commuter tax is being considered because county roads are basically like driving on the moon. Indianapolis Star columnist Matthew Tully thinks the commuter tax makes sense.

A lot of us benefit from jobs based in a county in which we do not live. We should appreciate what that county has done to attract the job, and we should understand that our vehicles contribute to the wear and tear on the roads that so many complain about. We should also understand that all of Central Indiana benefits from a stronger Indianapolis and from a more regional mindset.

The most recent commuter tax proposal went nowhere at the Statehouse in 2014, but it is worth revisiting. It would give the county that hosts a job one quarter of one percent of the income taxes collected from commuting workers’ wages. (That’s a whopping $250 a year on a $100,000 salary.) The money could come from an increase in the tax rate or a slight shift in how the current tax revenues are doled out. Either way, Indianapolis would receive roughly $25 million a year. Other counties would receive the same benefit from workers who travel in to work each day.

It’s certainly something Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, whose government runs the county as well, appears to be considering, and wants the General Assembly to consider the idea to level the playing field. He’s also trying to get city-county to take $13M from the rainy day fund to fix up roads which look like a dark version of Swiss cheese instead of actual pavement.

There are a couple problems with this issue. The first is the fact Indianapolis isn’t managing its finances correctly. Their last budget was $1.1B which featured money going to the Sheriff’s Office despite plans by the sheriff to reduce services, and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police picking up the slack. Indianapolis politicians also had questions over whether there was enough being done to reduce the deficit. It seems rather shortsighted to keep funding an office which may or may not be doing its job, but perhaps that’s government for you: funding things which don’t need to be funded.

The second problem can be summed up, to quote Joe Hendry, in one word: logistics. Indianapolis Star noted there isn’t enough housing in the area, and prices keep going up. Forbes reported last year there are plenty of apartments available, but not everyone wants to live in an apartment or condo. It means people have to seek housing outside Marion County/Indianapolis and, thus, commute into the city. A friend of mine, who lives in Indianapolis, noted the commuter tax wouldn’t look good to companies or people considering relocating to the area. Amazon is considering Indianapolis/Marion County as a place for their HQ2. A commuter tax could really cause issues, unless the company is able to get some sort of cronyistic agreement with leaders on no tax for their workers. But that only encourages cronyism, so…no.

The third problem is the fact it’s just another example of the government insisting on managing a service others could provide. There’s nothing stopping citizens from deciding to buy some Quikrete and fill the pothole. There are plenty of examples of people doing this in other cities, including a group of anarchists in Portland. An artist in Chicago is doing this too. Why couldn’t businesses take care of the streets around their business to make sure people have a smooth ride? It can’t be that hard, can it?

I know people want to have the government take care of it, but if the government is failing, why not let individuals take care of it? It’s a lot cheaper than enacting another new tax which takes more money out of the pockets of others and into government coffers. Especially since taxpayers are already paying off Lucas Oil Stadium.