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Tallian faces Brewer in state Senate race

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Dale Brewer: Bringing balance to Statehouse

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Karen Tallian: Environment, worker rights are top priorities

By VICKI URBANIK

The one issue that plunged Karen Tallian in the spotlight shortly after she took public office is one that she doesn’t spend too much time rehashing.

Instead of focusing on the Indiana Toll Road lease and why she feels it was wrong, Tallian launched into her legislative priorities that focus largely on enhanced environmental protection and worker laws.

An attorney who lives in Ogden Dunes, Tallian acknowledged that she took a “loud” position against the 75-year Toll Road lease, but discounts the criticism from her opponent, Dale Brewer, that she doesn’t work in a bipartisan manner. She notes that she co-authored bills with several Republican lawmakers, including teaming up with Sen. Beverly Gard to get a mercury switch recovery bill and with Rep. Ralph Ayres and Sen. Vic Heinold on a methadone treatment bill.

Partisan or not, though, she remains firmly opposed to the Toll Road lease. “I won’t apologize for that,” she said. She called the schism between Republicans and Democrats on the Toll Road issue a “basic, fundamental difference in our approach” as to how government ought to run.

She and other Democrats favored issuing bonds to help fund Gov. Mitch Daniels’ 10-year transportation plan known as Major Moves. She points out that that’s what the Spanish-Australian consortium did -- borrow funds in order to put up the $3.85 billion for the Toll Road. She remains opposed to Daniels’ other efforts at privatization, citing the state’s contract for prison food services and the pending plan to privatize the state’s Family and Social Service Administration.

“Generally, I find the administration’s efforts to privatize so many things are just appalling,” Tallian said.

Before she was selected by a Democrat caucus to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of former state senator Rose Ann Antich-Carr, Tallian served as attorney to the Porter County Plan Commission, the Portage Township Trustee, and the Portage Fire Department Merit Board. She is a former president of the Portage Parks and Recreation Foundation and the Porter County League of Women Voters and served on the state board of the LWV. A graduate of the University of Chicago and the Valparaiso University School of Law, Tallian is a partner in the Eberhard & Gastineau law firm in Portage.

Taxes, Mailings

When asked to respond to Brewer’s stinging criticism of her for three years of delayed property taxes on her Ogden Dunes home, Tallian said the issue boils down to a mistake that she got corrected.

Tallian said her mortgage company does not handle escrow payments, so every time she made her house payment, she was credited even though she actually fell behind in her taxes. She said that it took about two years for the payments to accumulate and that when she went to the county treasurer’s office to review her tax bills, she realized that the problem dated back to the first payment she made after she bought her house. She ended up paying the back taxes and late fees.

“It was an error. I fixed it.” she said.

But she also said she believes the non-payment of taxes is a non-issue, and that she’s fully aware of what happens when tax money isn’t there; she pointed out that she personally was affected by the county’s tax woes, when she didn’t get paid for her work representing the plan commission for five months after she submitted her claim.

“I understand very well the principle that people have to pay their taxes,” she said.

Brewer also criticized Tallian’s legislative mailings that Brewer contends are politically oriented though taxpayer funded. “I disagree with her,” Tallian said, adding that she was careful to send out her official mailings only through August, and not later, so that they would not intertwine with the campaign season.

Tallian said legislators are allowed to have certain formats for their mailings, and that the mailings Brewer cited were in the standard format used by other lawmakers. As for content, Tallian said she tried to keep the language informational and that the nature of all such mailings is to inform the public what the lawmaker has done and what they intend to do. She added that she has also sent out campaign-funded mailings as well.

Brewer also took Tallian to task for voting for the new fireworks law without a provision for home rule. To the contrary, Tallian said she actively tried to get a home rule provision added in the bill, but other lawmakers refused. Her legal opinion, however, is that local communities still have the power to enact more restrictive rules if they desire. She prepared a model ordinance and distributed it to local communities interested in adopting such a rule.

Taxation

Tallian said the state’s 2 percent property tax cap in the Circuit Breaker legislation was initially a “stop gap measure” intended to give Lake County homeowners relief from the latest reassessment. But, she said, the bill that extended the cap got passed in the heat of the Legislature when few people had time to analyze its consequences despite the fact that it was an “extremely important” bill. The 2 percent legislation points to the need for a new way to fund government, she said.

“We rely way too heavily on property taxes to fund government,” Tallian said, saying that she would prefer a revamp of the income tax system. She called the property tax system a way to tax people based on “paper profits”: One’s assessed value increases over time, but the homeowner doesn’t actually derive benefits from the higher value. She also said that some other states rely only on income taxes and don’t have property taxes.

Tallian is not, however, in support of the alternative called Hometown Matters that would allow counties, cities and towns the ability to leverage new taxes. She said she believes strongly that issues like education and health care are the responsibility of the state government, and that the funding, or the funding mechanism, should come from the state and uniformly applied.

“We can’t simply put the burden of raising taxes on our local county councils,” she said, adding that to expect local officials to impose new taxes to fund schools and the like will only create local competition and division.

“Funding education is the responsiblity of everyone,” she said, raising the specter that local tax decisions could differ from one community to the next, resulting in different burdens on taxpayers in different school systems.

On the topic of education, Tallian joined other Senate Democrats in proposing the “Smart Start” plan, including optional full-day kindergarten and early literacy. She said she has told teacher groups that she is not an educator and as such won’t dictate to them regarding educational initiatives. But she did call for an end to the protracted debates over when the state should administer the ISTEP tests.

State Park Hotel, BMV

When the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Director Kyle Hupfer proposed a beachfront hotel in the Indiana Dunes State Park, Tallian questioned the statute that Hupfer cited that he said gave him the authority to pursue the plan. She remains skeptical of the legalities, citing the conflicting statutes regarding the state’s authority to enter into a privatized arrangement for a hotel in the state park.

“I would like to encourage tourism in our area. I just don’t think that means we should have a hotel on our beach,” she said.

She is also in opposition to Daniels’ decision to close license branches, including Chesterton’s. “That was typical of the Daniels’ administration’s propensity to do things despite what people think,” she said.

She also noted that Daniels closed one of the state’s most heavily used license branches -- the one in Gary. She called this closure appalling and said there is “no excuse” for it. At about the same time that the license branches were closed, Tallian said the state’s photo ID law took effect, meaning that the state was scaling back a government service as the same it was in effect forcing people to use that very service more. She said the reports she has received about the BMV’s consolidation show continued problems. “At no time have we heard reports that things are getting better,” she said.

Environment, Workers

Tallian cites environmental protection as one of her top priorities. She has been appointed to two legislative environmental committees, which she said has placed her in a good position to work on environmental related bills.

Her focus is on Lake Michigan and legislative efforts that would protect against diversion of Great Lakes water and water level protections for the Port of Indiana.

“I want to make sure we keep our lake clean, free of poisons and invasive species. We need to be the stewards of that,” she said.

Work issues are also a top priority. She and other Senate Democrats intend to propose a hike in the state’s minimum wage that would raise it by about $2 over a two-year period. She strongly disagrees with the argument that a hike in the minimum wage would hurt job creation, saying that studies have repeatedly shown the exact opposite. But whenever a wage hike is proposed, she said opponents turn to the scare tactic of lost jobs, but the reality is that more jobs end up created, possibly, she said, because of consumers’ increased purchasing power.

She is also calling for cost of living adjustments in worker compensation, saying that the state’s worker comp benefits are now “pitifully in the bottom 10 of the nation.” The impact on businesses might be increased insurance costs, but the flipside is the incentive for safer working conditions.

She and other members of the Senate Democratic caucus also intend to introduce a universal health insurance program aimed at providing coverage for the working poor who are uninsured. “The bottom line is we have way too many people in the state uninsured,” she said.

She has also announced plans for legislation to regulate utility deposit fees, by requiring utilities to limit connection and re-connection fees to their actual costs, rather than the current system in which residential deposits and reconnections are larger than the actual costs.

Abortion, Gay Marriage

On the topic of abortion, Tallian said one of the best expressions she has heard about abortion came from U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton, who said abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” Tallian said she would never vote to outlaw abortion under all circumstances, as some people want. On the other hand, she said she understands the need for restrictions, such as parental notification laws.

On the topic of a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, Tallian said she believes that amendments to the constitution should be “extemely rare” and that a ban on gay marriage in her mind is not an issue that rises to the level of one requiring a constitutional amendment. But Tallian also said she is not one to focus on highly divisive issues. She said she prefers instead to work with people who might disagree with her on select, hot-button topics in order to find “common ground” on the 95 percent of the other issues that dominate the Indiana Legislature.

 

Dale Brewer Bringing balance to the Statehouse

By VICKI URBANIK

Most candidates running for public office list background and qualifications as the reason why they should be elected. Republican Dale Brewer of Porter is no exception, but she gives voters a few other reasons why she should get their vote for 4th District State Senate.

Because the Senate is likely to remain Republican-controlled after the November elections, Brewer said she can get legislation passed. “My opponent can’t. If she authors a bill, she’s not going to get anywhere.”

Brewer also said she would bring geographic balance for Porter County to the Indiana Statehouse. Regardless of who is elected in other state races, Porter County voters will have someone from Portage and the Valparaiso area representing them in the House, and someone form south county representing them in the Senate.

“We don’t have anyone from Duneland,” she said, noting that long-time Chesterton representative Ralph Ayres is not running this year. With a Brewer victory, she said, “our whole county would be represented. To me, that makes a lot of sense.”

Now in her second and final term as Porter County Clerk, Brewer said that of the two candidates, she is the only one who has a well-rounded knowledge of local government, its needs, and the impact of new laws enacted by the General Assembly. “I work on legislative issues all the time as clerk,” she said. Brewer started working for the county government part-time in 1985 in the assessor’s office, before moving to the auditor’s office where she was quickly named executive deputy. She is now president-elect of the Indiana Clerk’s Association and is a member of the Community Action Drug Coalition, the Mayor’s Commission on Domestic Violence, and assorted other committees involving county clerks and election boards.

She said this is the third time party officials have asked her to make a run for state senator.

“I can get things done. I can build consensus. I do it all the time,” Brewer said.

Tallian and Taxes

“I pay my taxes,” Brewer said.

Brewer blasted Democrat incumbent Karen Tallian for three years of delinquent property taxes on her Ogden Dunes home that temporarily placed Tallian’s home on the county’s tax sale list. Tallian said the matter amounted to a mistake involving her mortgage company, and that she corrected it once she determined what the error involved.

Brewer doesn’t buy it. She called Tallian’s late tax payment a “deliberate neglect” of her responsibilities, both as a taxpayer and as a public official entrusted to make decisions on taxes; she said she could see one late payment, but not three.

“When she doesn’t pay her tax bill, who doesn’t get the money?” Brewer said, citing towns, libraries, schools, and “our children.”

“Who takes the burden? All other taxpayers,” she said.

Brewer said by attributing the matter to an error, Tallian is essentially saying that she should be trusted to spend taxpayers’ money but shouldn’t be held accountable to pay her own taxes. “It’s kind of like a slap in the face,” she said.

Brewer further took Tallian to task for what she termed an abuse of her franking privileges -- taxpayer-funded mailings -- that she said were “blatantly political.” Brewer pledged that if elected, she would not put out any legislative-related mailings after August 1 unless paid for through campaign funds.

Brewer further faulted Tallian for her vote on the new fireworks law since it did not include a provision that would allow local entities to make their own more restrictive rules. “I really think you ought to know what you are voting for before you vote,” Brewer said.

Toll Road

Brewer had plenty of good things to say about the Indiana Toll Road lease: The proceeds have so far generated $48 million in interest that can be used for such things as health care for the uninsured; the proceeds have created jobs and economic development, including a $250 million worth of work on the Toll Road; the funds shored up the Regional Development Authority; and the proceeds paid off the Toll Road bonds and paid back the borrowed funds from the teacher’s pension fund.

And, Brewer cited the millions in payments to counties, cities and towns. “I haven’t seen anybody turn down the money,” she said.

The Toll Road lease made good economic sense for the state and the region, Brewer said, “whether people want to realize it or not.” Despite all her positive comments, Brewer said she can’t say for certain that, had she been in office, she would have voted for the bill that cleared the way for the lease. But instead of flat out opposing it, she said she definitely would have looked for “compromise and concession” if she had concerns.

Brewer added that by this year, the state had paid down only $80 million of $280 million worth of bonds issued to build the Toll Road. It would have taken the state another 130 years to pay off those bonds, she said. “Guess what? The Toll Road is paid off. And we still have money in our pockets to spend.”

Now that the road is leased, Brewer said it will be important that state legislators are “good custodians” of the money, and to make sure that the proceeds are not pilfered away except for road projects as intended.

State Park Hotel, BMV

Brewer doesn’t support the Daniels administration on two other issues: the hotel in the Indiana Dunes State Park and the closure of the Chesterton license branch.

She said she doesn’t think there’s room in the state park for a hotel. “They have a beautiful campgroud. That’s our hotel,” she said. She also said in order for her to justify a state park hotel, all the other hotels in the area would have to operating at full occupancy all the time. But in that absence of that, a park hotel would take up land meant for the public.

“Isn’t that the ides of a state park -- to give access to the public?” she said.

As for the BMV, Brewer said she would propose legislation to reopen license branches in growing communities, such as Chesterton. Brewer said she can understand the administration’s need to cut costs, but that growing communities like Chesterton will eventually need a license branch. At the very least, she said, the state could set up kiosks with limited BMV services in different locations so that people would have a more convenient way to renew their license.

Education

Brewer lists as her number one priority a tax credit for textbook rental fees, with the goal of eventually phasing out of the fees. “I don’t know how parents can afford book rental,” she said of the costs, particularly for families with multiple children.

She also called for changing the funding formula for fast-growing school corporations like Duneland Schools; the formula should be based on the proportion that a school is growing, not a flat 250-student increase per year. She called teachers and other school staff the nurturers of children for a better part of the day and questioned why anyone wouldn’t want to see that children are taken care of properly. “What’s the priority? I think they are,” she said of children.

She also called for increased state funding for teacher in-service days so that they can keep up with requirements imposed by the No Child Left Behind Act. She went a step further by saying that federal lawmakers should be contacted to see if federal funds can be provided for this purpose.

Health Care

Brewer also called for expanding the state’s health insurance program for poor children, dubbed CHIP, to include services provided in other states.

The CHIP program is good, she said, “to a point.” In this part of the state, many people take their children to Chicago hospitals for care, but CHIP only covers in-state care. “Common sense has got to be brought in here,” she said, noting that in this part of the state, Chicago is much closer than Indianapolis.

Taxation

Brewer supports a state measure that would require local government to institute zero-based budgeting as the first step in reforming the property tax system. “What we have now is not working. That ought to be apparent,” she said.

Under the state’s current system for local taxation, local government budgets get to increase a certain amount every year. But Brewer said there is nothing that says that local government should be entitled to an increase every year, and that if required to start their budgeting process from scratch, and justifying the needs line item by line item, many local budgets may not need an increase every year.

She said she would not support repealing the state’s Circuit Breaker tax cap, saying that there seems to be a “panic happening” about the legislation’s impact on local budgets before anyone knows for sure if there will be budget cuts and if so, how severe.

She expressed some support for Hometown Matters proposal, which would allow communities to impose a variety of new taxes as an alternative to property taxes. She said the people who are most affected by local government ought to have a say in how their government services are financed.

Abortion, Gays

When asked what voters can expect from her on abortion-related bills, Brewer said only: “I’m a pro-life person.” While she is conservative on some issues, and liberal on others, Brewer said voters can expect her to take anti abortion votes.

On the issue of a constitutional amendment barring gay marriage, Brewer said she believes “we ought to stay out of people’s bedrooms.” On the other hand, she also said she believes that marriage should be only between a man and a woman and that if a vote were taken on a constitutional amendment to that effect, she would vote in favor.

 

Posted 10/27/2006

 

 

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