Hicks also makes this argument: After 1973, when the father of property tax relief, the late Gov. Otis Bowen, made it so much harder for local government units to raise tax levies, most local leaders gave up. They stopped pitching the idea of more revenue as an investment worth making in the community.
“The experience with an informational campaign is lacking in local government,” Hicks said.
Goshen is an exception. While Kauffman helped champion the tax increase for his community’s schools, he credits recently retired Goshen superintendent Bruce Stahly for helping create trust with voters.
In 2010, as Goshen schools were feeling the crush of capped property taxes and a cut in school funding from the state, Stahly created a citizens task force that spent months studying the school district’s finances. The task force’s recommendations were supported by Stahly and adopted by the school board. (Kauffman followed the model to create a citizens’ task force that looked at city finances.)
Stahly also earned the trust of parents: As the Goshen schools absorbed an increasing number of poor and immigrant students, the Goshen schools were also winning state and national accolades, including those for their arts and music programs.
Senior citizens are notorious for voting against school referenda. But among supporters of the Goshen referendum: Residents of a large retirement community, who’ve been promised access to the new school pool by Goshen’s new superintendent, the well-liked Diane Woodworth.
Stahly and Kauffman are no fans of the tax caps that have caused communities to lose millions in revenue. But other local leaders may learn from their response.
“It was easy to get money for a long period of time,” Kauffman said. “Whatever you didn’t have money for, you just raised property taxes to do it. So in a way, we have to become better sales people.”
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at email@example.com