Is Indiana really a low-tax state?

(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

Indiana hiked its gas tax and vehicle registration fees this year to fund a long-term infrastructure program, so officials have had to tone down their bragging about low taxes a bit. Still, they like to say they go a long way to stay out of taxpayers’ pocketbooks.

How accurate their self-assessment is can be debated. It’s one thing, for example to talk about the business climate. The Tax Foundation this year ranks Indiana ninth best on its State Business Tax Climate Index. But for overall tax burden, it’s another story. Forbes last year ranked Indiana only 29th best, just three places ahead of Ohio and three behind Michigan. WalletHub this year ranks Indiana a miserable 35th.

One reason it’s tricky to assess a state’s tax burden is that much of it is hidden from many taxpayers. Unlike general taxes, such as those on sales and income, that affect everyone, there are many taxes and fees that affect only select groups. And it might surprise people how many of them had activity this year. The Times of Northwest Indiana has helpfully compiled a list of 45 of them either imposed or increased during the 2017 legislative session, on everything from notary services to teacher background checks.

For example, the maximum storage fees for abandoned vehicles will cost $2,000, up from $1,500. Legal service of process fees will cost $28, up from $25. There will be a $50 enrollment fee for the new epileptic cannabidiol registry. All college students must be immunized against meningitis at a cost of approximately $100 to $150.

Lawmakers also required state licensing for several previously unregulated or minimally regulated occupations, business practices or health services, including massage therapy, small cellular tower placement, social work, cannabidiol treatment for epileptics, billboard relocation and manufactured-home dealers.

It can be argued that these taxes and fees affect only small groups of Hoosiers and, furthermore, that they are on voluntary activities. But they also affect the decisions people make, whether to engage in an activity or not, which can affect the overall economy.

And they are hidden. They must be discussed often as part of the budgeting process and in furtherance of the public’s right to know. Only then can we arrive at the best fiscal policies and, perhaps, crack the top half of the best states for low tax burdens.

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