Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 2, 2013

Karickhoff reveals ’13 bill agenda

Tax and school proposals dominate legislator’s priorities.

By Scott Smith

— Next Friday is the deadline for bill filing in the Indiana House of Representatives, and state Rep. Mike Karickhoff, R-Kokomo, has five bills in the draft stages.

Proposals to redirect local income tax to the county where people work, to streamline funding to local emergency dispatch centers and to change which local governmental body gets to decide on a county wheel tax are all on Karickhoff’s agenda.

But the bill likely to generate the most interest is a renewal of his attempt to regulate how public schools decide on transfers.

Karickhoff, who sits on the House Ways & Means Committee, drew criticism from Howard County school superintendents when he proposed legislation last year limiting the way schools can deny transfers. Under Indiana’s school funding formula, students can attend any public school that will accept them, but schools have varying criteria, some of which Karickhoff believes are too subjective.

He’s contemplating a proposal that would limit school transfer denials only to those students who have been suspended for more than 10 days.

“You’re not just going to be able to take smart kids; you’re going to have to take smart kids who are poor. You won’t be able to deny kids who are on free and reduced-price lunches,” Karickhoff said.

Kids who have flunked classes shouldn’t be denied either, he said, but the bill would be written in a way to ensure schools wouldn’t be penalized for taking those kids.

The measure is certain to face opposition from school officials, who already are under new performance-based school improvement standards, and who are concerned about taking students who might cause discipline problems or affect schoolwide standardized test scores. Karickhoff’s bill last year failed to advance out of committee.

Karickhoff said he also plans to take on the thorny issue of how local income taxes are distributed, by proposing a measure to redirect 20 percent of local income taxes.

Currently, individuals (except in Lake County, which has no local income tax) pay local income taxes where they live. Their home counties collect and keep those taxes.

Karickhoff contends that arrangement is unfair to counties with a large commuting work force, like Howard County. More than 10,000 workers come into Howard County to work. His argument is that Howard County — and other commuter work force counties — should receive a share of the local income taxes those workers pay.

Here, his opposition is likely to come from fellow Republicans in Hamilton County, which sends thousands of workers into other counties each day.

“Anytime there is a shift in taxes, there are winners and losers,” Karickhoff said. “The thing to remember about this bill is that it won’t affect individual taxpayers. They will pay no more and no less.”

After chairing a summer legislative committee that looked into how local emergency dispatch centers are funded, Karickhoff also is ready to propose a standard local income tax to help fund dispatch.

Fees charged to users of cellphones and land-line phones only cover a portion of the costs of running most centers, so locals have turned to a patchwork of different fees and taxes to cover the shortfalls.

In line with his focus on tax and funding issues, Karickhoff also is planning to propose transferring authority to establish a county wheel tax from county councils to each county’s tax council.

The tax council, made up of members drawn from both county and municipal councils, is often controlled by the local municipality.

In Howard County, Kokomo accounts for more than 65 percent of the population, so city elected officials make up the majority on the tax council.

Howard County, which has had a wheel tax for years, wouldn’t be affected by the measure.

Finally, Karickhoff, a motorcyclist, said he’ll present legislation to allow cyclists to turn left on a red left-hand turn signal, provided they’ve waited out one cycle of the light. Motorcycles sometimes aren’t heavy enough to trigger a left-turn signal, leaving cyclists with no legal means of making a left turn.

Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569 or at scott.smith@kokomotribune.com.