Recently, the Indiana Tax Court heard arguments in the Indiana Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit against the State Board of Tax Commissioners. We claim that Indiana’s method of assessing property is unconstitutional…
Recently, the Indiana Tax Court heard arguments in the Indiana Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit against the State Board of Tax Commissioners. We claim that Indiana’s method of assessing property is unconstitutional.
You may wonder what property taxes have to do with civil liberties.
Well, the Bill of Rights is a list of actions that government may not take. Government cannot tell you what books to read, what ideas to endorse, or what prayers to say. It cannot search you without probable cause. And government cannot treat citizens differently unless there is a rational purpose to be served.
In the case of Indiana’s property taxes, people with nearly identical properties –properties that would bring the same price on the open market–are assessed at widely differing amounts. Because Indiana and Nevada are the only two states that don’t use market value as a basis for property tax assessments, and because the formula that is used is very subjective, citizens who are otherwise equally situated are taxed in a decidedly unequal fashion.
Now, this is not to say that government must treat everyone alike, only that unequal treatment must be based upon a proper purpose. The legislature can choose to tax cigarettes at a higher rate based on public health concerns; Congress can tax fuel to promote conservation. Veterans can receive preference for government jobs in recognition of their service to their country. But just as government cannot constitutionally treat blacks or gays or Jews badly merely because some folks don’t like them, it can’t tax some property owners unfairly just because it is too much trouble to fix the system.