Is Humana Louisville’s crummiest corporate citizen?

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In 2014 the Humana Building, the most famous building in Louisville’s skyline, was assessed at less than one percent of its value: just $428,570.  How much property tax revenue did the Humana Building generate for our public schools last year?  Less than $5900.

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The Humana Building’s neighbor is National City Tower, a skyscraper that’s nothing special in architectural terms, which sold for $115 million five years ago.  The Humana Building is worth more than that.  A lot more.  If the PVA applied a large discount and assessed the building’s value at just $100 million, Humana’s tax bill would be $1.4 million.  A smaller discount and a $120 million assessment would have generated $1.6 million in tax revenue.  Instead, a mind-boggling, 99-percent discount on a $120 million property means the Humana Building’s 2014 tax bill won’t even cover the cost of a ten-year-old Toyota Corolla.

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From the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office website:

evhumanasheriffNational City Tower at 101 South Fifth Street, across the street from the Humana Building, was assessed at $92.6 million after a 20% discount on the $115 million 2010 purchase price.  It generated almost $1.3 million in tax revenue or 220 times Humana’s tax bill.  The tower was sold in February 2015 for over $127 million and should generate about $1.74 million in revenue this year if the PVA doesn’t discount its assessment.  Again.

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Here is the assessment history for the Humana Building since 2006.  Look at that assessment for 2006: $317,310.

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In 2008 a simple commercial computer reassessment saved Humana a bundle.  With a few keystrokes, millions in property tax revenue vanished into thin air for three years – 2008, 2009, and 2010.   The Jefferson County Board of Education raised property taxes in 2008, 2009 and 2010.  Quite a coincidence.

evhumana2008WDRB summed up the increases in this painful graphic:

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Time for reassessments in 2011 and the “Taxpayer’s Opinion of Value” was $540,590: evhumana2011The local PVA board agreed with the “taxpayer” and approved another 3-year discount for 2011, 2012 and 2013.  And the Jefferson County Board of Education raised property taxes in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Fun facts: Humana’s profits in were $1.23 billion in 2013 and $1.22 billion in 2012.

evhumana2011rulingIn 2013 David Jones, Jr., Humana board member, Humana “significant stockholder”, former Humana CEO, son of Humana founder, and illegal member of the Jefferson County Board of  Education revived a property tax rate increase that the board voted down.  He proposed a property tax increase at a lower rate which passed 4-3 and he has repeatedly stated in the media that he was the swing vote.  It was the sixth increase inflicted on homeowners in as many years.

A few weeks after the tax rate increase was approved Jones exercised 2,500 stock options and promptly unloaded them.  He made more in one day (about $175,000) than most Louisvillians make in a year or two or five years which probably contributes to his pathological indifference to the tax-related complaints of poor and middle-class homeowners and supports his belief that (a) property tax increases aren’t really a big deal and (b) property tax increases aren’t really a big deal.

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November’s sell-off was worth $1,045,000.

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On August 30th, Jones had this to say on his education blog:

When the Jefferson County Board of Education voted on August 12 to increase local property taxes by 1.4% to fund operation of our public schools, we asked JCPS to work with less than its requested 3.1% increase. Mine was one of four votes against the Superintendent’s initial request, but I then proposed and became the swing vote in favor of the lesser increase. I know that raising taxes is rarely popular, so I think it’s important to explain my rationale.

He justified the increase by blaming rural Kentucky counties that are mooching off Jefferson County’s wealth through redistribution of tax dollars.  He griped about other gripes but the complaint about moochers was particularly galling since so much of Humana’s revenue depends on taxpayer-funded social programs like Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE.  My interpretation: Redistribution of wealth schemes fueling Humana’s annual $1.1 billion profit and Jones’s million-dollar stock sales are good; redistribution of wealth schemes for educating poor, rural schoolchildren are bad.

Here is an excerpt from Jones’s post titled Taxes and School Funding: What’s Really Going On – the bold is mine:

“Hard realities” of education finance
In preparing to vote on the local tax rate, these beliefs ran into some hard realities of education finance – and I’ve learned a lot. Realities include millions in recent state and federal cuts to JCPS funding, and the structure of Kentucky education finance, which depends in large part on redistributing taxes from wealthy counties like Jefferson and Fayette to our smaller neighbors. (State and federal funding has provided about one-third of recent JCPS budgets, versus up to 80% for smaller counties.) While shifts in outside funding are beyond Louisville’s control, they influence the funding we must raise locally.

Also in his blog, Jones implores legislators to stop using Jefferson County taxes to fund rural schools:

We need to push the Jefferson County delegation in Frankfort to prevent legislators from draining Louisville’s coffers through state cuts that force us to fund rural areas. 

Many rural schools outperform Louisville’s schools which means the return on academic investment is better in coal country than in the big city.  Well done, rural  schoolchildren.   Enjoy it while you can, kids, because there’s room for only one property tax deadbeat in this state and that’s Humana.

On January 1, 2014, just five months after Jones raised our taxes and bloviated on his blog about Jefferson County’s property tax problem, a PVA-approved 21% assessment discount on the Humana Building went into effect in addition to the long-standing 99% assessment discount.  The Humana Building’s property value decreased from $540,590 to $428, 570.

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Humana received a 21% property assessment discount last year while Jefferson County property owners were hit with a 21% property tax increase over the past ten years.

Humana received a 21% property assessment discount last year while each of its directors received a 24% raise in annual cash compensation from $85,000 to $105,000.

Humana received a 21% property assessment discount last year while its directors received an 11% increase of common stock compensation from $140,000 to %155,000 per year. (View Humana’s SEC details here.)

Kentucky’s corporate tax rate is 6%.  Humana’s profits last year were $1.1 billion which could have generated $66 million in corporate taxes for Kentucky.  And $72 million in 2013.  And $72 million in 2012.  But it was not to be.

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According to the Kentucky tax code, insurance companies receive a break on Kentucky’s 6% corporate tax which amounts to government-endorsed economic larceny on this very, very poor state.

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Page 5 of the 2014 Kentucky Corporation Income Tax Return says this:

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Looks like a pretty good deal, right?  Wrong.  That isn’t good enough for Humana because it’s incorporated in Delaware.  So are General Electric, Ford, Yum! Brands and Kindred.  Three of those companies have headquarters right here in Louisville.  None of them are incorporated in Kentucky.  Shame on all of them.

In these troubled economic times, when many states are desperate for tax dollars, Delaware stands out in sharp relief. The First State, land of DuPont, broiler chickens and, as it happens, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., increasingly resembles a freewheeling offshore haven, right on America’s shores. Officials in other states complain that Delaware’s cozy corporate setup robs their states of billions of tax dollars. Officials in the Cayman Islands, a favorite Caribbean haunt of secretive hedge funds, say Delaware is today playing faster and looser than the offshore jurisdictions that raise hackles in Washington. – How Delaware Thrives as a Corporate Tax Haven”, New York Times, June 30, 2012

Here’s Humana’s 8-K filing from June 8, when they went public about a quiet period after exploring a possible sale in May:

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Humana as a Delaware corporation is nothing new.  It’s been incorporated in Delaware for a very long time.

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Profits are more important than property taxes.  Profits are more important than public schools.  Profits are more important than people.  Is Humana Louisville’s crummiest corporate citizen?  Sure, it is.

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Whoever picked the name “Humana” for the health insurance giant had a great sense of humor. The word suggests a company engaged in humanitarian pursuits, or at least one with a priority on human beings. Had the marketing genius in charge of picking a name for the corporation been more honest, he would have called it “Profita,” in recognition of its main concern.

Indeed, Humana isn’t shy about revealing its profits-over-people philosophy.

“It is important to note if we have to choose between achieving our membership goals and achieving profitability goals, profits will win every time,” CEO Michael McCallister said in 2003. – Humana: Profits Over People,” Peter Dreier, E.P Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, Occidental College

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Is Mayor Greg Fischer a property tax deadbeat?

In 2001 Greg Fischer paid $1.7 million for a 5,700 square-foot house with a 2,800 square-foot basement on a 1.3 acre lot. Today, fourteen years later, the Jefferson County PVA says that house is worth $1.55 million.

Fischer’s house lost over $10,000 in value every year since it was purchased.  That is very, very hard to believe.

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$1.7 million in 2001.  $1.55 million in 2014.  What’s going on here?

The Courier-Journal was happy to print a defense of Fischer’s reduced assessment:

The assessment of Fischer’s hilltop house overlooking Cherokee Park dropped from $1.71 million to $1.55 million, mainly because he lives in an area where few homes with similar characteristics have sold recently, the PVA office said.

The C-J failed to mention that homes in the Highlands are architecturally unique, which is ONE OF THE TOP SELLING POINTS OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD.  Every house in Fischer’s neighborhood is unique – which means they should all receive reduced assessments if you follow the PVA’s convoluted logic.

The house at 1732 Spring Drive doesn’t share similar characteristics with other homes in the neighborhood.  Did it get a reduced assessment? deadbeat1eNo, it did not.

1732 Spring Drive has skyrocketed by 53% in value since 2001, from $804,160 to $1,228,650, while Mayor Fischer’s assessment declined by about 9% during the same time period. deadbeat1f

This is 1770 Spring Drive which is in Mayor Fischer’s neighborhood of distressed real estate, as the PVA implies.  This very unique home has increased in value by 104% from $407,630 in 2001 to $830,000 in 2014.  Why didn’t this house receive a reduced assessment like Fischer’s house?

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Jefferson County PVA, Tony Lindauer, had this to say in the same story about slow sales in Fischer’s neighborhood, the Highlands:

“Sales are driving the bus. It’s been a seller’s market,” Lindauer said. “The downturn is over. The economy is strong.”

Sales are down in Fischer’s neighborhood?  Or are they up?  PICK A STORY AND STICK WITH IT, LINDAUER.

Here is a house on Cherokee Road, also in the Highlands, that sold for over $1.4 million just last month.  The original asking price was $1.6 million according to a recent online listing with Monica Orr as the selling agent.

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Sold for $1.414 million last month.  Assessed at $1.226 million.  Worth $390,000 in 2005.  A 214% increase in value in 10 years.  In the Highlands. A house with characteristics unlike any other in the neighborhood.  Just like Fischer’s.  The names of the new property holders have been duly updated on the PVA website but the assessed value remains at $1.226 million instead of the sale price of $1.414 million.  Why?

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Who bought this $1.2 million house? Two of the owners of MD2U, which raked in $400,000 of your tax dollars for a business that rakes in a bunch of Medicare tax dollars.

From Business First:

As Business First reported earlier this year, the company [MD2U], whose doctors make house calls to home-bound patients or people with limited mobility, received preliminary approval for $400,000 in tax incentives from the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority.

And this pat on the back from a Cabinet for Economic Development press release:

“The work at MD2U is an example of how Louisville is leading the nation in the aging care and lifelong wellness industry,” said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.

And about 1261 Cherokee Road:

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Who sold the property?  Gil (John) Holland and Augusta Brown Holland.  He is the tireless hustler/developer of NuLu and Portland which have been heavily dependent on tax dollars for life support – $11 million for a NuLu hotel, millions for NuLu improvements, a special NuLu tax district, $1.2 million for a West End food hub, millions in tax incentives for Portland, etc, etc,and she of the Brown-Forman fortune.

If the walls of this grand,old house on Cherokee Road could talk, they would say to its owners, old and new, “Which tax schemes shall we discuss today, my dears?”

To the previous owners, they would have asked, “Did you dash off those checks to our good friend, Fischer?”

deadbeat8b deadbeat8c There’s another Brown heir that gave generously to Mayor Fischer.  George Garvin Brown IV.  Great-grandson of George Garvin Brown, founder of Brown-Forman.  According to Bloomberg, he was the managing director of Brown-Forman’s Western Europe and African operations (2009-2011).  Former resident of Kensington Gardens, one of the poshest neighborhoods in London.  Now, a vice-president of Brown-Forman and Highlands resident. This is where he lives:

willow1 Like Mayor Fischer, Mr. Brown received a tidy reduction in his property assessment.  He paid $740,000 for Unit 1606 four years ago but the PVA has reduced his assessment to $617,950.  A $122,050 discount.  That’s 17%.

Unit 1606 is worth $252,000 less than in 2006 and has “lost” 29% of its value in nine years.

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Maybe this helped. willow1b And this. willow1c Or maybe it’s just a bizarre coincidence that Mr. Brown contributed $3000 to Greg Fischer’s campaign and received a significant assessment reduction while his neighbors who failed to give a single dime to Fischer, who live on higher, lower, odd and even units were hit with 13 to 26% increases on their assessments.

*Mr. Vucinich lives in Unit 1508.  His property value increased in 9 years from $384,050 to $435,130: 13%

*Mr. and Mrs. Kaleel live in Unit 1507.  Their property value increased in 9 years from $395,000 to $446,760: 13%.

*Mrs. Glass lives in Unit 1104.  Her property value increased in 3 years from $433,000 to $513,600: 19%.

*Mr. Thomas lives in Unit 604. His property value increased in 9 years from $427,490 to $536,800: 26%

*Mrs. McDowell lives in Unit 804.  Her property value increased in 9 years from $425,080 to $533,780: 26%.

*Xaverian Brothers own Unit 1806.  Their property value increased in 9 years from $427,490 to $536,800: 26%.

Mr. Vucinich, Mrs. Glass and everyone else described above have two things in common: they were hit with double-digit property assessment increases and they didn’t contribute to Mayor Fischer’s campaign.

Two units had property value increases that were outliers.  That is, they were very low.

*Mrs. Whittenberg owns Unit 407. In 9 years, her property value increased just 4.6% from $357,520 to $373,920.  Her neighbor is someone named Lynn. willowwhittenberg

*Lynn owns Unit 408.  In 9 years, her property value increased just 4.6% from $358,170 to $374,600.  Lynn is Mayor Fischer’s sister. willow2 I wonder if Mayor Fischer’s dad has seen his property value decrease on the $3.228 million condo he purchased nine years ago.  Has his tax bill decreased like his son’s?witherspoon Yes, it has.  Mr. Fischer’s property is worth $112,819 less today than in 2006.

witherspoon1Are there more contributors to Fischer’s mayoral campaigns who have benefited from lower property assessments?

Are there other Fischer friends who will get lower property tax bills while collecting tax incentives for their latest non-profit hobbies?

Are there Louisville property owners who have been hit with spectacularly high property assessments who haven’t contributed to Fischer’s campaigns?

Yes, yes and yes.

And one more thing.  Why are so many houses in Hunting Creek’s estate section and Lake Forest getting lower assessments/property tax savings when most of the growth in Louisville is in the East End?

So many questions, so few in local media to dig up the answers.

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Updated May 8th, 2015:

Assessment history for Mayor Fischer’s home at 1715 Spring Drive.

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