Another mailer out in Vanderburgh County Commissioner election – Courier & Press

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EVANSVILLE — It’s an accusation voters have to work to substantiate. They’d need to find Vanderburgh County Commissioners meeting minutes dating back 17 years and hunt down a Courier & Press article from 2018.

But if they did, they’d find challenger Amy Canterbury’s accusation that Commissioner Cheryl Musgrave “supported raising taxes & fees on our families” would be true only if those local families checked into local hotels and motels and owned trucks weighing at least 26,001 pounds.

Not even Musgrave herself had taken the time to follow the citation on a recent Canterbury mailer to the minutes of a Board of Commissioners meeting held on March 13, 2007. George W. Bush was president then.

The minutes of the meeting at which Musgrave “supported raising taxes & fees on our families” show that she and then-colleagues Bill Nix, a Republican, and Democrat Troy Tornatta voted at the behest of the Evansville Convention & Visitors Bureau for a resolution supporting General Assembly action to increase Vanderburgh County’s innkeepers tax from 6% — or six cents on every dollar — to 8%.

The tax is paid by lodgers in local hotels and motels. Four months later, after General Assembly action enabling it, the seven-member Vanderburgh County Council unanimously approved the increase to 8%.

Explore Evansville, the organization that once was called the CVB, said the innkeepers tax is a transient tax paid by visitors to local hotels and motels — typically not local residents.

Vanderburgh County Commissioner, District 3 candidates Cheryl Musgrave (R) (Incumbent), left, and Amy Canterbury (R).

More:Anti-Musgrave mailer ignites Vanderburgh GOP primary

But Canterbury, who acknowledged the reference on her mailer is about the innkeepers tax, wasn’t so sure.

“Is it, only (a transient tax), or is it also folks that might need to stay there (in hotels) if they’ve been displaced?” Canterbury said.

Musgrave, a former head of the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, was more sure.

“(Canterbury) is distorting facts for her own political gain,” she said. “That’s a choice (people who pay innkeepers tax) make — unlike property taxes and income taxes, which are required. No one requires you to check in to a hotel and pay the innkeepers tax.”

Where does the money go?

Vanderburgh County’s innkeepers tax remains at 8% to this day. At the time the County Council approved the 2% increase in 2007, CVB officials estimated it would generate an extra $700,000 annually that could be used to expand local sports facilities or build new ones.

More:Here’s what Vanderburgh County Commission candidates have to say about growth, development

Indiana Department of Revenue data indicated Vanderburgh County took in more than $5.6 million in innkeepers tax revenue last year.

According to Explore Evansville, the money has been put toward, among other things, construction of Deaconess Aquatic Center, the penguins exhibit at Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden, installations at the Koch Family Children’s Museum, Old National Events Plaza renovations and other brick-and-mortar projects intended to benefit tourism. It also supports the convention center and Explore Evansville’s operating expenses.

The wheel tax

The new Canterbury attack mailer also cites Musgrave’s backing for higher wheel taxes in 2018 as an example of her supporting raised taxes and fees “on our families.”

In August 2018, the Vanderburgh County Council was considering a wheel tax increase for heavier trucks and semi-tractors in 2019 to offset the cost of fixing roads. At that time all vehicles were paying a $20 flat fee — which Musgrave called grossly unfair, given that the heaviest tractors and tractor-trailers exceeding 78,000 pounds were doing far more damage to roads than scooters, passenger vehicles, motorcycles and trucks weighing fewer than 11,000 pounds.

An Aug. 8, 2018 Courier & Press story cited by Canterbury’s mailer states that the County Council was mulling a proposed wheel tax increase that would have trucks and trailers between 26,001 and 78,000 pounds paying $30 and heavy trucks weighing 78,000-plus pounds paying $60.

The story quotes Musgrave stating that the heaviest trucks were tearing up city and county roads and that, “you are nowhere near the maximum for the heavier vehicles.”

The story states: “(Musgrave) asked Council to consider a bigger wheel tax increase in the proposed amendment for heavier trucks.”

With legislative changes designed to give local governments more tools to generate money for roads projects, Vanderburgh County could have charged wheel taxes as high as $80.

As it turned out, the county wheel tax for the heaviest trucks and semi-tractors was raised to $45 in 2019, according to county code.

Musgrave has acknowledged she did want higher taxes for the heaviest vehicles, and she still does.

“I want the most revenue we can get to fix county roads,” she told the Courier & Press in April. “Roads and their condition are the number one complaint that the commissioners get.”

Canterbury says Musgrave misrepresents her

Canterbury didn’t argue that anything on Musgrave’s mailers is patently false, but she did say quotes at the bottom of one of them are “made to look like” they came from her when they didn’t. It’s a misrepresentation by Musgrave, she charged.

One quote on a recent Musgrave mailer states, “I remain a staunch supporter of government unification.” The mailer attributes it to “E-REP CEO,” not to Canterbury. But is also doesn’t identify the CEO of E-REP, the Evansville Regional Economic Partnership. That would be former Mayor Lloyd Winnecke, Musgrave’s former political archenemy and now CEO of E-REP.

The quote by Winnecke comes from an edition of the City County Observer almost as old as Canterbury’s 2007 Board of Commissioners meeting reference. The Musgrave mailer provides a web address to an Aug. 9, 2012 quote attributed to Winnecke in the heat of that year’s referendum on local government consolidation.

The full quote is:

“While I remain a staunch supporter of government unification, I must point out that the plan up for a vote in November includes language that specifically prevents the consolidation of the Evansville Police Department and the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office at least until after the 2024 election.”

Another quote cited by Musgrave states, “Too many times have I seen the inner-workings of party politics get in the way of protecting the American way of life.” It cites a Courier & Press story dated Feb. 20, 2024. The quote came from Jason Gerteisen, a supporter of Musgrave. It is not attributed to him or to anyone else on Musgrave’s mailer.

The two quotes “are not me,” Canterbury said.

“It’s not quoted as me, but it’s made to look like it is,” she said. “You’re going to have to look them up to prove that it wasn’t me. Most people are not going to take the time to do that.”

Musgrave said she included the “E-REP CEO” quote to illustrate her oft-stated point that Canterbury is the preferred candidate of the organization, which she charged has a “shadow agenda” of reviving consolidation. The Gerteisen quote, she said, represents her own thinking and is an innocuous statement with which most Americans agree.

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