A Senate committee walked back the impact of a property tax bill Tuesday, a day after IndyStar reported how it would benefit a state GOP party leader.
As introduced, House Bill 1166 would have prohibited local assessors from increasing someone’s property taxes after a property owner wins a tax appeal for the following four years, unless there are significant changes that impact the property.
While Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, said the original bill will help people across the state, he only listed one concrete example of rates being increased after an appeal: property in Porter County owned by Chuck Williams, the state treasurer of the Republican party. Had similar language already been enacted, Williams’ property rate would have been frozen, saving him money.
Lawmakers amended the bill in a way that no longer directly addresses Williams’ issue. The bill now allows a property owner to send a written complaint about an assessor or appraiser to the Department of Local Government Finance, if the property owner feels they are not following national appraisal practice standards.
The department, which already has the power to revoke an appraiser’s or assessor’s certification, has to respond within 30 days.
Soliday did not support the amendment, because it does not change the appeals process under Indiana law. He argues that his bill was not intended to try to catch a bad assessor, which is essentially its main function now.
“We’ve never said the problem is the assessor, it’s the process,” Soliday said during committee. “So I thank you for your consideration. But the amended version doesn’t fix the problem.”
Both Brian Burdick, who is Williams’ attorney, and Soliday emphasized that the bill as introduced was not meant to just benefit Williams; they said it was to benefit all taxpayers. They said in a quick 10 minutes of searching, they found three examples of property values in the state that had been appealed eight times in the past 10 years.
“I thought it was unfairly characterized by people as a individual problem for somebody who in fact is my client,” Burdick said. “But it’s much broader than that.”
The initial conflict
Soliday told IndyStar last month that the concept for the bill was born out of the issue in Porter County with Williams’ parking lot.
According to property records submitted during a House committee hearing, Williams purchased a Porter County parking lot in 2012 for $75,000. Up until 2016, the value of the property for taxing purposes was around $30,000. Then it jumped to more than $110,000 in 2016.
Williams paid thousands of dollars to get an appraisal that took into account a lease agreement he has with his tenant, Buffalo Wild Wings, to use the parking lot for $1 a year.
In March 2020, the county came to an agreement with Williams and settled on a value of $50,000. Just a month later, that assessed value rose up to $111,300.
While Soliday said it’s a widespread issue, the specific case he has focused on in committee hearings is the property of Williams, a politically connected party leader.
In conjunction with his business and immediate family members, Williams has poured $360,000 into state and county campaign committees since 2006. Likewise, he has been a member of party leadership as the state Republican party has contributed roughly $93,000 to Soliday.
Julia Vaughn, policy director for political watchdog group Common Cause Indiana, found Williams’ involvement to be troubling.
“This bill appears to be an example of a political insider using their political connections combined with campaign contributions to exert oversized influence in the legislative process,” Vaughn said. “While it is laudable for legislators to respond to the needs of their constituents, the political party ties and large campaign contributions from this particular constituent create an appearance of impropriety.”
Soliday denied that he was bringing the bill forward for any other reason than to end a more widespread problem.
“Accusations that this bill is anything other than an effort to protect all Indiana taxpayers are categorically false,” Soliday said in a statement.
The now amended bill, which passed unanimously out of the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy committee, heads to the Rules committee. After that, the full Senate will consider the bill.
Call IndyStar reporter Kaitlin Lange at 317-432-9270. Follow her on Twitter: @kaitlin_lange.