Category Archives: Local Government

It Depends

Early each semester, I tell my students that–after taking my class–they should find themselves using two terms more frequently than they did before: it depends, and it’s more complicated than that.

For example, in recent posts, I have pointed to significant problems with two proposed public-private projects: a Justice Center and a soccer stadium. In the case of the Justice Center, my qualms aren’t with the project itself, but with the secrecy surrounding it, the important questions that remain unanswered, and the potential for both poor design and unnecessary expense. In the case of the soccer stadium, i’m flat-out opposed to putting scarce tax dollars in a project that’s unlikely to do anything but enrich its politically-connected developer.

But just because some projects raise red flags doesn’t mean taxpayers should never support local business efforts. It simply means we need to be savvy about which ones.

Take the recent proposal from Angie’s List. The company has asked the city to create a TIF to secure approximately 18 million in bonds. In return it has promised to invest $44 million of its own– to retain a thousand jobs on its near-Eastside campus, to relocate another existing 800 employees to that campus, and to grow the workforce there by yet another 1000– all by the end of 2019. In addition to those jobs (paying an average of 50,000), the company will purchase and redevelop an existing building and construct a parking garage.

Obviously, adding 1,800 well-paid workers to the near Eastside of downtown would be very good for the city. But what if Angie’s List defaults–what if it cannot grow its workforce, or even honor the “clawback” penalties for failure to do so?  What will the city have to show for its investment?

Several things, actually:

  • A contaminated property, the Ford Building, that has been redeveloped and returned to the tax rolls.
  • A new parking garage and street level retail on 3 acres of currently undeveloped property added to the property tax base.
  • Physical improvements that should spur redevelopment east of the interstate towards Irvington.
  • Creation of 500 construction jobs that will generate COIT and sales tax revenue.
  • Facilitation of IPS’ relocation of operations from the former Coca-Cola building on Massachusetts Avenue – something both the city and IPS have long desired.

Note that these aspects of the project will benefit taxpayers whether or not Angie’s List can fulfill its employment promises. If it can, the city will obviously see many other benefits.

The point is, every proposed project, every proposed TIF district, every “partnership” must be independently evaluated. Hard questions must be asked, and “what ifs?” must be considered. If rosy projections don’t materialize, will taxpayers still come out ahead? If not (soccer stadium), we shouldn’t proceed. If we don’t have enough information (Justice Center), we shouldn’t proceed until we have that information. If a project has been thoroughly vetted, however, and the downside is still acceptable, it’s a prudent investment.

In other words, it depends.

 

Well, Look Who’s Calling Out Crony Capitalism!

Four friends have now sent me a link to this column from the Indiana Policy Review, penned (okay, typed) by Tom Charles Huston. It was surprising for a number of reasons.

For those who don’t remember, Huston was the national head of Young Americans for Freedom, back in the 60s when that college organization was considered radically conservative, and later–and more ominously–was the “mastermind” behind the Huston Plan to expand Nixon administration spying on the anti-Viet Nam war movement. After his stint in the Nixon White House, Huston returned to Indianapolis and practiced law at Barnes & Thornburg; he has been retired for several years now, and if he has participated in local policy debates these past few years, I’ve missed it.

That makes his column all the more interesting; it’s a slashing–and very effective–attack on the bill to provide a financing mechanism for the Indy Eleven soccer stadium. A bill sponsored by Huston’s nephew. A bill ardently desired by Ersal Ozdemir (who is described by Huston as “rapacious.”)

The assurance by the bill’s sponsor of transparency in financing the proposed soccer stadium rings hollow to anyone who hasn’t been asleep or on the take for the past seven years. Mayor Greg Ballard has refused to turn over documentation relating to either the special operations center lease or the financing structure for the proposed criminal justice center (both multi-million dollar deals) and has conducted as much of the public business in secret as his handlers thought he could get away with.

I gather from the Indianapolis Star report that taxpayers are expected to sleep better knowing that the legislators orchestrating this hand-out to special interests are committed to “making sure state taxpayers are at mitigated risk.” This is typical no-doze for idiots, but why taxpayers should be at any risk or who profits from this assumption of risk are not questions that interest a Star reporter.

I am undecided whether those pushing this scheme are in on the action or are simply reading from a script prepared by the lobbyists (which, incidentally, include every major lobbying outfit in Indianapolis).

Huston doesn’t mention it, but Ozdemir’s company, Keystone Development, employs Ballard’s former chief of staff. Lots of eyebrows were raised–and criticisms leveled–when Keystone got a sweetheart deal to build a parking garage (still underused) on a floodplain in Broad Ripple. Critics  pointed out that the city (over)paid to build the garage and also assumed the project’s risk, while the profits went to Ozdemir. (Crony capitalism at its finest: socialize the risk, privatize the profits….)

Others have noted that he walked away mid-construction from two libraries he’d contracted to build, forfeiting the bonds he’d posted on those projects. (Usually, if a contractor or developer forfeits even one bond, he’s toast–he can’t get another. Construction industry insiders don’t understand how Ozdemir has managed to keep operating after those defaults.)

Now the World’s Worst Legislature is in the process of enriching Mr. Ozdemir further, thanks largely to the fact that–as Huston points out–he’s hired lobbyists from every major firm in town. 

I may not have agreed with his politics, but when Tom Charles Huston is right, he’s right. And in his screed in Indiana Policy Review, he’s right.

 

 

 

Where Have All the Women Gone??

Remember the folk song that began “Where have all the flowers gone?” Well, I want to know where all the women candidates have gone. My specific question is: where are the women candidates slated by the parties to run for the Indianapolis City-County Council?

There are 25 districts remaining since the Republicans in the General Assembly eliminated the 4 at-large seats held by Democrats.

The Republicans slated seven women. The Democrats slated only five.

As a mere girl, my math skills are understandably weak, but I believe women are over 50% of the voting public. The Republicans slated women for fewer than 30% of the seats; the Democrats–presumably the party of inclusion and women’s rights–slated women in only 20%.

Worse still, each party refused to slate an incumbent woman who’d been effective and hard-working, but difficult for party bosses to control; the Republicans unceremoniously dumped Christine Scales, who had angered her GOP cohorts by demonstrating independent judgment and a willingness to work across the aisle, and the Democrats decided that LeRoy Robinson–who no longer had an at-large seat and needed to “be taken care of”–should get priority over Angela Mansfield, who has ably represented District 1.

Both women had put the interests of their constituents above partisanship. (Isn’t that just like a woman?!)

Bless their little hearts, those girls didn’t listen to their manly betters, and they needed to be removed.

Message sent and received–and isn’t the bipartisanship of that message encouraging?

No wonder more women don’t run for office.

 

 

If You Know What You’re Talking About–You’re Out of Order

When does the General Assembly go home? It can’t be soon enough.

Not content with ethical lapses, efforts to control women’s bodies and protect homophobia   (aka “religious liberty”) and bring public education to its knees, the eager beavers at the Statehouse have filed three (count them–three!) bills intended to disable any efforts to protect Hoosier air and water, and to keep those smarty-pants scientific “experts” from making environmental rules.

SJR 12 would amend the Indiana Constitution (these guys just love to screw around with the Constitution) to add a guaranteed right to “employ effective agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices.” I’m sure you are as touched as I am by this proposal to give the same sacred protection to livestock production practices as we human animals have with our right to vote and freedoms of speech and religion, and I’m also sure it’s just coincidental that passage of this nonsense will make it very hard for state regulators to protect Hoosiers from factory farm pollution.

Then there’s SB 249. That little gem would prohibit local government from passing ordinances that would control or stop new construction or expansion of livestock operations, factory farms and their accompanying hazards and irritations. The bill is a handy reminder that in Indiana, the General Assembly gets to make the rules for cities and counties. We sure don’t have home rule or anything remotely like it.

Those two bills are bad enough, but the real OMG measure is HB 1351, which will be heard on Tuesday, February 3rd.  The Hoosier Environmental Council calls HB 1351 “arguably the most sweeping effort ever to weaken Indiana’s ability to act in protecting our environment.”

It would void any existing state regulations — whether environmental-related or not — that are not considered to be explicitly authorized by federal or state law. It would make it illegal for regulators (whether environmental regulators or not) from enacting any new regulation unless explicitly authorized by federal or state law. This eliminates the multi-decade discretionary authority that executive agencies have long had….

Stripping away the ability of Indiana’s environmental agency (IDEM) to deal with serious issues is irresponsible and leaves Indiana vulnerable to not being able to timely act to protect its citizens when the legislature is not in session. HB 1351 could have the added effect of paralyzing IDEM in carrying out its existing responsibilities under certain EPA programs out of fear of being sued for going beyond what those federal programs require.

The idea that adopting new environmental safeguards, through respected, technically trained regulatory boards, could hurt Indiana’s economy is also misplaced because there are existing laws that already prevent state agencies, including IDEM, from acting irresponsibly in crafting new regulations. And the Indiana legislature can always repeal or modify regulations that the legislature thinks pose a threat to Indiana’s economy.

I think I remember why Harrison Ullmann used to refer to the Indiana General Assembly as “The World’s Worst Legislature.”

Quack Quack

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck but the Governor says it’s a chicken…it’s Medicaid expansion!

On Tuesday, the Pence Administration announced that the federal government had approved the Governor’s “It’s not Medicaid It’s Healthy Indiana” plan to provide health insurance to additional numbers of Hoosiers. As Talking Points Memo noted,

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) agreed to expand Medicaid under Obamacare Tuesday, but you’d be forgiven for not catching that if you actually listened to what he had to say.

TPM noted that Indiana’s expansion was announced with much the same terminology as expansions in other states headed by Republican governors.

The emphasis is always on the “alternative” and “unique” elements of their expansion plans. To be fair, that’s true. Starting with Arkansas, which proposed using Medicaid dollars to pay for private coverage, states with conservatives in positions of power have pushed the Obama administration to accept a wider and wider range of alternative plans that are more palatable to Republicans.

They’ve branded those plans with names like Healthy Indiana or Healthy Utah. But that doesn’t change the fact that these are proposals authorized under and paid for by Obamacare…..

The article included carefully wordsmithed statements from several other Republican states that have expanded Medicaid while denying that they were doing so.

But Pence might have been the boldest yet. His office effectively portrayed his state’s plan as a blow to Medicaid and government-funded health care.

“With this approval, Indiana will end traditional Medicaid for all non-disabled Hoosiers between 19 and 64,” Pence’s office said, “and will continue to offer the first-ever consumer-driven health care plan for a low-income population.”

But despite all of those linguistic gymnastics, astute observers on the conservative side still recognized Pence’s plan, like others before it, for what it was.

Linguistics aside, Pence might have gotten some decent publicity for his Medicaid expansion, which (whatever he wants to call it) is welcome news, and will make coverage available to many more Hoosiers– but the Administration’s ham-handed, tone-deaf effort to create a state-run news service (called “Pravda on the Plains” by the Daily Beast) sucked all the air from the news cycle, and eclipsed the announcement.

He got national attention, all right, but it wasn’t for Healthy Indiana.

Hint: Governor, if you are going to provide us with our news coverage, you need to learn how not to “step on the lede.”