When Bart Peterson became Mayor of Indianapolis, those of us who had followed the prior Administration’s fiscal operations felt sorry for him.

When Bart Peterson became Mayor, those of us who had followed the prior Administration’s fiscal operations felt sorry for him.

A case in point: the seven million dollars currently being spent on maintenance of Binford Boulevard. That stretch of Highway 37 used to be a State responsibility. The Goldsmith Administration negotiated several “relinquishment agreements” with the State, agreeing to take over future responsibility for maintenance of various roads in return for up-front payments (reportedly, payments sufficient to cover maintenance costs for the first twenty years.) The money was used for current expenses—one of several creative methods employed by Goldsmith to avoid tax increases. So when the new Mayor took office, he got the liability, but not the money.

On top of inheriting quite a number of such fiscal “surprises,” this Mayor came into office facing threats of huge fines from the EPA if Indianapolis continued its refusal to address water quality problems, and an economic downturn that has affected the whole country. And unlike his predecessors, he has had to work with a City-County Council controlled by the opposition party to devise solutions to these problems.

These have been difficult times.  

But never fear—because our Mayor has proposed a bold initiative: Proposition 484. Proposition 484 will ensure that “adult” bookstores and businesses are clean, properly lit, and closed between midnight and ten a.m.

I guess fiscal problems aren’t sexy enough to sustain the Administration’s attention.

Proposition 484 follows on the heels of an earlier attempt to outlaw violent video games. The litigation spawned by that effort cost the city $700,000 we could ill-afford.

Courts have enough difficulty defining “obscene” let alone “adult,” and police officers I’ve spoken to are unaware of any particular problems with the current law regulating adult establishments. As one officer noted, all-night businesses do attract criminals. But that’s as true of all-night gas stations as it is of adult bookstores. The city’s justifications include findings of “adverse secondary effects” of adult establishments, including reports from twenty cases; however, some of those cases date back to the 1960’s. Worse, only one referenced problems in Indianapolis, and that was as part of a study of 13 cities. It’s hard not to wonder what triggered this sudden need for new morals legislation.

Whatever the merits or constitutional deficiencies of Proposition 484, the more important issue it raises is one of priorities.  Indianapolis is having terrible problems funding basic services. We are told we can’t afford raises for the police; our parks are starved for resources; we have drainage and sewage problems we haven’t money to address. We face unfunded pension liabilities and payments on a municipal debt that doubled during the prior Administration. And we need to fix inequities that were caused by the recent property tax restructuring. Frankly, the last thing I’m worrying about is how well-lit the aisles in the local adult bookstore are, or what their hours of operation are.

With all due respect, I’d suggest that’s also the last thing the Mayor and Council should be worrying about.