A Success in Protecting Taxpayer Rights

Protecting and maintaining the rights of taxpayers (as they comply with procedural requirements or seek a determination regarding a tax dispute) became a chief cause of the Indiana Chamber in several cases this session.

First, there was a bill (SB 546) introduced to substantially reorganize the Tax Court. Why? This was our question. It seems that some feel that the governmental entities should win many more cases (meaning that taxpayers should be losing many more cases.) Yes, taxpayers do win more frequently than the officials in charge of assessing taxes. Why? Because the assessment determinations that are disputed are those where the taxpayer feels they are being charged more than the law requires them to pay – nobody needs to appeal when the government has gotten it right.

The Chamber strongly believes in the value of a specialized court with tax knowledge and expertise that allows for cases to be resolved in a consistent and uniform manner. That was the original purpose, and is the ongoing function of the Tax Court. The transition to a new judge a few years ago has been a little bumpy, but it is all smoothing out and restructuring the Court was exactly the wrong thing to do.Fortunately, we were able to convince others of this and, consequently, the bill did not receive a hearing.

Then there was the Department of Revenue (DOR) bill (SB 515); generally speaking, it’s a good bill, except that in connection with federal law changes it resulted in making corporate returns due on the same day as federal returns. Existing law gave preparers a 30-day breathing period before the state return came due. Meaning no harm, DOR and administration officials agreed to alter the provision to maintain the more favored status quo.

Another problem bill (SB 501) sought to revamp the property tax appeals procedures; it was later merged into SB 386 in the House. The objectives of the bill were admirable, and it included some real improvements to the process; most notably, it established a uniform June 15 appeal deadline statewide. Previously, the deadline was tied to the assessment notices and varied from county to county. However, the provisions of SB 501/386 extended a bit too far in attempting to streamline the process as it impacted a taxpayer’s ability to correct what are typically clerical type mistakes made by the assessor or other county officials.

These type errors have historically always been correctable for up to three years, but the bill restricted many of them to a period of just 45 days. This over encompassing contraction of rights – restricting the remedy for taxpayers to correct errors – was unnecessary and unacceptable.

The Chamber concentrated its focus late in the session on reinstating the full complement of existing rights back into this procedural recodification. Here again, with the help of several stakeholders, including the Indiana Manufacturers Association and Indiana Farm Bureau, we were successful at protecting the legislation from impinging on taxpayer rights. The Chamber wishes to recognize the efforts of Rep. Mike Karickhoff (R-Kokomo) in working with the interested parties in the waning hours of the session to successfully resolve these concerns.

Separately, an issue that didn’t make the headlines but you could have felt in your wallet centers on school bonds. The rating entities had concerns about the state’s potential role in ensuring these payments are made by the individual schools. Legislators took care of this with SB 196 and Indiana avoided a rating downgrade. Otherwise, this would have triggered increased interest rates on these bonds and cost taxpayers millions in additional property taxes.