In a little-noticed ruling Monday, the Supreme Court found no fault with a breathtaking cash grab involving sewage in the city of Indianapolis. The 6-3 decision stinks in many ways, but not because of the amount of money involved - about $300,000. The case highlights how municipal leaders and jurists alike have no shame in treating taxpayers with contempt.
Nine years ago, about 180 homes were hooked up to the city sewer system. Under Indiana law, each property owner was asked to pay an equal share of the cost. Some paid the full $9,278 up front, while others opted for installment plans seeking as little as $26 a month. The city later decided it didn’t want to collect monthly payments, so it forgave all outstanding debt. As a result, about half of the residents ended up paying $500 or less for their connection. The city refused to return even a dime to those who ended up putting up the full nine grand, claiming it would take far too much effort to cut those checks.
Not surprisingly, the taxpayers who were charged 20 times more than their neighbors for the same city service were angry enough to file suit claiming their rights under the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause had been violated. After being tied up in the court system for several years, the high court’s four liberals, swing Justice Anthony Kennedy and - oddly - conservative Justice Clarence Thomas finally denied their claim.
Justice Stephen Breyer penned the decision in Armour v. Indianapolis, asserting city leaders could treat one taxpayer differently than another because they had a “rational basis” for doing so. Specifically, because the local government deserves that money more than the people who earned it, no refunds need to be given. “The city could not just ‘cut checks’ without taking funding from other programs or finding additional revenue,” Mr. Breyer explained.
The court’s three other conservatives pointed out that the city already has detailed records about who overpaid and by how much. With no practical barrier to providing a refund, the constitutional imperative is clear. As Chief Justice John Roberts put it in the dissenting opinion, “The Equal Protection Clause does not provide that no State shall ‘deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, unless it’s too much of a bother.’ “
Liberals may talk a good game about tax fairness, but, in the end, they don’t really mean it. Tax fairness is not really a claim for equality of treatment, but rather about enacting policies that ensure the government maintains an unlimited claim to the wealth created by others. “Fairness” means mayors, city councils and other lawmakers are entitled to an ever-growing share of funds to dispose of in any manner they see fit.
That’s why it’s essential that the power of taxation be placed within strict boundaries. Genuine fairness is only possible when the government is limited.
The Washington Times
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