Creating A City That Works

The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce–like most such entities–is concerned with the economic future of our city, and the region it inhabits.  Recently, it engaged in a planning exercise–engaging a consultant to survey a wide variety of stakeholders and to analyze efforts of “peer cities” to see what strategies work.

Among the conclusions reached in this exercise was one I feel was particularly important, and I quote: “economic success wasn’t dictated by the most generous tax breaks. Prosperous regions focused on the bigger picture.”

Your immediate reaction to this insight–gained from “thousands” of survey results, no less–was probably something like “duh.” But that doesn’t make it any less important, doesn’t lessen the impact. Bear with me.

For at least the past quarter-century, Americans have been sold a bill of goods: if taxes are kept sufficiently low, all will be well. Nothing else really matters. That’s all it takes.

Are your parks overrun with dandelions and weeds?  Are you closing libraries? Do you have too few police to patrol dangerous neighborhoods? Does the paving on your streets look like battle zones in Syria? Do you lack decent public transportation? Are teachers decamping for places that support public education?

Not a problem! Our taxes are low!

The Chamber’s strategic plan discloses the utter cluelessness of this mantra.

Think about it: if you were getting ready to move (for example, if–God forbid–Donald Trump won the Presidency and you were frantic to leave the good old USA) where would you choose to go?  Would you choose a third-world country with expensive healthcare, iffy public safety, no reliable public transportation, decaying infrastructure and low taxes? Or would you choose a low-crime country with excellent national healthcare, great infrastructure (both digital and physical), superior education, and higher taxes?

Here’s the deal: the existence of a superior infrastructure–roads, bridges, electrical grid, wifi, public education, public transportation, etc.–saves citizens a lot of money. Good public safety and a robust safety net provide citizens with a sense of security that adds immeasurably to social stability.

I don’t know how to “monetize” the value of public parks, libraries, museums and similar amenities, but not knowing how to value them is not the same thing as saying they have no value.

The question isn’t: how much are we paying in taxes? The tax question is: are we getting our money’s worth?

Like  the Chamber, we need to look to see who is moving where….and not just what the inhabitants of those cities are paying in taxes, but what they are getting for their money.


  1. “Think about it: if you were getting ready to move (for example, if–God forbid–Donald Trump won the Presidency and you were frantic to leave the good old USA) where would you choose to go? Would you choose a third-world country with expensive healthcare, iffy public safety, no reliable public transportation, decaying infrastructure and low taxes? ”
    No, Sheila, this ‘third-world country’ you describe is Indiana, or dare I say, the U.S. in large part.

  2. Reminder the books and publicaties of Jane Jacobs about how to keep a city livable andhouses affordable. What do the inhabitants need to make it a attractive and safe place in which they can raise their children? Those are the main questions and a well functioning infrastructure is a condition, necessary for all citizens to live well in prosperity. You have to invest in the city’s future, that can be done at a reasonable price, but will not and can not be cheap.

  3. One question is why have so many accepted that bs about low taxes when they experience the reality every day – driving on wagon roads, driving in the absence of decent public transportation, living w unsatisfactory public safety (including the sub standard roads),

  4. I’m confused. Were the stakeholders contacted for data or opinions? In the first place, the conservative leaders in my experience are not so simplistic as to suggest that all that is necessary for success is lower taxes, just like I assume most liberal or progressive leaders are smart enough not to assume that all problems are solved with higher taxes. Don’t you all agree that the problem is more complex?

  5. @ daleb – your question of why so many accept the low tax bs……

    it is because they are inundated daily with propaganda from the far right (beginning with the koch brothers and their uber wealthy associates many years ago) that pounds into the heads of the working class people that they are being taxed too much and there are too many people living off of their hard work. You know, the stuff about all of the lazy worthless people sitting back and doing nothing while collecting welfare and food stamps.

    For some reason there are people willing to listen to and believe that crap without doing any fact checking. Actually there are people out there who believe it so deeply that even when they are presented with facts that prove what they have been told to be is not true, they will plant their feet in the ground and believe that the “real facts” were all made up!

  6. So; low taxes is the problem! My income is very low yet my bills are paid, my house and car maintained – also this old body is maintained as well as can be expected. WHERE IS OUR LOW TAX MONEY GOING? Two articles in the Star this morning immediately had me asking myself how to work them into Sheila’s blog (before I read it) and – she provided the perfect opportunity. Who was the consultant hired by Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and where are they located? This brings me to the two Star articles that set me off.

    “City faces hurdles to fight blight”; another article connected to the continuing series “Abandon Indy” by Brian Eason. “…The Center for Community Progress, a MICHIGAN-based nonprofit, says the problems aren’t insurmountable, if area officials are willing to implement reforms.” So, there is no group in the City of Indianapolis – or the entire state of INDIANA – qualified to perform this study. In Mr. Eason’s earlier articles he stressed the current tax laws regarding abandoned houses (resulting in high crime and ignored, collapsing infrastructure) plus selling blocs of abandoned houses to out-of-state developers who then allow them to stagnate and deteriorate further due to that tax structure.

    “IPS picks developer for former Coke site”, by Chelsea Schneider and (again) Brian Eason; “The Indianapolis Public School Board on Thursday formalized the selection of a WISCONSIN-based firm to redevelop the former Coca-Cola plant on Massachusetts Avenue.” Again; is there no qualified group in the city of Indianapolis – or the state of INDIANA – to do this study and recommend the selection?

    Both of these endeavors would have kept Indiana tax dollars within our state, provided work for those doing these studies and employed Indiana residents.

    This was a problem during Goldsmith’s administration due to his financial connection to Warren Tyler, vice president of a bank in Columbus, OHIO, who steered Indiana sales, leases and contracts to OHIO companies. One that I remember best is the sale of fifteen (15) pieces of property on Indiana Avenue to a developer in Hamilton, OHIO, for $82,000. What is that worth today?

    It is not only a national problem of moving businesses out of this country; as with all other politically based problems it starts at the city and state levels. Low taxes! Would you more of your tax dollars be going out of the state by raising taxes…and at the same time, depriving Indianapolis and Indiana residents and businesses of employment opportunities? To answer Sheila’s question; NO we are not getting our money’s worth – especially when spending it to benefit other cities and states.

  7. Ken, you have just identified the gold that “conservatives” struck in 1980 to begin their revolution and America’s slide into 2nd world status. Jimmy Carter told America that things were complex and difficult, and Ronald Reagan told them not to believe the pointy heads and just believe in ‘Murica again and everything would be OK. Then with utter simplicity as the agenda, preached to simpletons, they simply looted the country. Yes, the problems are complex. No, “conservatives” don’t believe that, as their current unwillingness to even do their jobs if it means agreeing with the Kenyan demonstrates.

  8. Of course that question in my last paragraph should read, “Would you RATHER more of your tax dollars…”

    Haven’t found that new editor yet.

  9. So the next question is, “Since the Chamber of Commerce has made this ‘discovery’, who will they support in future elections?” My guess is they’ll endorse the “low tax” candidates.

  10. JoAnn to address your question about hiring an out of state firm to conduct a study. Often it’s a conscientious choice to do so. Over-familiarity with the subject of study can easily introduce bias. It’s not always the best choice to do so. But generally choosing an outside firm to conduct an evaluation is the default.

  11. Indiana and even central Indiana suffers from annual net domestic outmigration. We tend to rank as great tax climate for business and very low in quality of life. Perhaps those 2 measures are related and no doubt that low quality of life that comes with a Walmart strategy affect migration.

  12. Over it! The power of Ronald Reagan was not the tax breaks (although federal revenue increased an unprecedented 50% during his administration). The power of Reagan, as with the power of FDR, was the restoration of public confidence in the future. Business growth requires such confidence in business owners. They must produce more in order for the economy to expand. No stimulus plan will improve the economy unless and until that confidence is restored. Businesses must invest in more production BEFORE a recovery can occur. Two trillion dollars (from Bush & Obama) created very little stimulus because there was no confidence.

  13. Why think this through when I can just knee jerk believe a bumper sticker that reads NO MORE TAXES !

  14. My advice to my daughter, the music student, was to leave the US. Any country which has such a predatory attitude about their citizens us no place for talent. I’m obviously not the first to see this, and the hollowing out of Indiana due to its hostile attitude to anything that gives us any quality of life is showing. I don’t see anything changing with two Republicans running for governor.

  15. I’m planning on Sweden. The people are happy there. Some say there’s high taxes. Add what we pay in college tuition, healthcare plus federal, state, & local income tax. Be sure to add in excise tax on cars, wheel taxes, gasoline taxes. Oh, and remember cigarette and alcohol taxes, fees for licenses, certificates such as death), court filings, and of course sales tax. We do have a son with Swedish citizenship so hope to go on family connection. I’m voting in November.

  16. Sheila ,
    For crying out loud . If a person wants to leave the U.S.A., just take a look at the National Defense Authorization Act signed by YOUR man , Barry – the Pres. Now a setting president has the right to order the military / police to knock your door down at 3 A.M. , and have Sheila ” arrested” and detained , and sent to Gitmo without charge , and without notifying your family. And thanx to your man’s admin. If YOU want to fly to the European Union on vacation, all the I.R.S. has to do is say , ” No.” This shows that the Clinton , and Obama admins ARE just as RIGHT WING , and Conservative as the Republicans. As Gov. George Corley Wallace said , ” When it comes to the Democratic , and Republican parties, there is is not a dimes worth of difference between them”.
    The function of Camber of Commerces is TOTALY out – ethics , and should be abolished. There REALLY needs to be a mandatory 90% income tax bracket.
    Now , before anyone balks , just remember what Col. Tom Parker said , ” I consider it to be my PATRIOTIC responsibility to keep Elvis in the 90 % income tax bracket.”
    Yep , and Elvis still bought , and gave away over 100 NEW cars , Bought and gave away several homes , gave to 200 local , and National charities , and financed a large portion of DR. MARTIN LUTHOR KINGS WORKS.
    The day he passed he had 500.00 in his checking account , and was going to work – tour – to pay off a second mortgage on Graceland to pay off ‘Cillas divorce settlement . THIS scenario should apply to every MILLION-AIRE , OR , THE TOP 20 % of the population , AND all INCORPORATED BUSINESSES IN America.
    No opinion , no brag , just – – FACT.

  17. I’m not as fortunate as Martha. So all I can do is try to change things here in Jacksonville whose “bat-shit crazy” Mayor Lenny Curry won’t be up for a re-call election for another month or so.

  18. A friend suggested to a family member who wanted fewer taxes that he should move to Afghanistan. Their roads, schools, airports, modern infrastructure, police and fire protection range from severe distress to non-existence, but by George, their taxes are low.

    In searching the internet for a comparison of what relative tax rates can do to similar states, the best article found was one by Sheila Kennedy on the similarly situated states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. It’s so good, it bears repeating.

    Bottom line: to earn a dividend, one must invest. Minnesota taxed and invested its tax revenues wisely with dividends to show for it. Wisconsin has cut tax investments and its dividends are declining. The results speak for themselves.

  19. Why in hell didn’t I migrate to Canada 60 years or so ago? Or even Mexico? Answer: I couldn’t see this coming. Now I have to tough it out if I don’t get Hillary’s leadership and experience on account of the money to be spent on trashing her. At 90, the end is in sight so I don’t expect to have much to do with a Trump administration and all those other losers who will come on board with him.
    I groan to think of playing my swan song with the likes of Palin, Cruz, Santorum, and the closeted religionists, shades of the GWB administration disaster. And SCOTUS! Oy!

  20. And give Walmart a $10 million tax abatement. When will big corporations stand on their own and not exploit the cities that house them?!

  21. OMG,

    Don’t feel so bad. By the time we’re through, the “bat-shit crazy” U.S. will have infected the whole planet, so in the “long run”—– it won’t make much of a difference where anyone lives.

  22. Piketty notes in his book (Capital in the Twenty First Century) that, inter alia, it is not taxes per se that ignite negative reactions from taxpayers, but rather in the manner in which the proceeds are allocated. Thus he further notes that Denmark has very high taxes but that their allocation provides for many necessities you and I pay for in a “market” economy. What he didn’t write but what I have read elsewhere is that in a recent poll the Danish were high on the list of “the happiest people in the world.” Here we tax ordinary people and give the proceeds out to Wall Street monopolies and the rich via “carried interest” and other such exemptions in how income is treated, low estate taxes etc. and rate well down the happy list. The Danish are socialists and government is highly responsible in allocating tax proceeds to the needs and wants of its people; here we allocate our tax proceeds disproportionately to the rich. The highly taxed Danes are happy; we are not. Draw your own conclusions. One of mine is that we resist higher taxes because we (rightly) fear that the sold out members of the (mostly) Republican party will just give more away to those who don’t need it and further impoverish ordinary taxpayers in the process. I think the solution rests with replacement of those in Congress who loot our treasury in favor of their patron friends on Wall Street. As for the Chamber of Commerce’s mantra of lower taxes, my first question would be “For Whom?” The Chamber, of course, is just a money-grubbing front for the rich at our expense, so we can safely ignore their incessant propaganda. They do Goebels proud.

  23. Gerald,

    “The Chamber, of course, is just a money-grubbing front for the rich at our expense, so we can safely ignore their incessant propaganda. They do Goeb(b)els proud.”

    Now that’s called hitting the “nail on the head.”

  24. Ken reminds us of why conservatives believe that lower taxes are somehow beneficial. They’ve been lied to and chose to believe the myths.

    Conservatism is not in any way feedback from reality. It’s a new religion assembled by those who benefit from believers believing and it’s been sold by TV advertising just like P&G soap has been.

    It’s heaven on earth, no dying required.

    It’s based on just a couple of commandments.

    All inept people work in government; all skilled people work in business.

    The only product of government is waste.

    Government takes money from makers and gives it to takers.

    The regulation of killing machines by an advertising agency works just fine because no government is involved.

    Science is in cahoots with government to return us to the stone age.

    War is good because it creates jobs and it keeps white Christian males dominant.

    Women need regulating.

    God rewards good people with wealth and punishes bad people with poverty.

    Make more money regardless of the impact on others is the only progress required.

    Who’s to blame for this cult of anti-Americanism?

    Trump is as good an example as anyone, but there are thousands like him. Self styled aristocrats willing to assume power to protect us serfs from ourselves.

    We are choosing between our freedom and their power.

    Don’t fall for the advertising.

  25. You bloggers don’t seem to realize that the rich pay extremely high taxes, or “fees” for services in their gated, well maintained communities. Security guards for them are well paid and do nothing but “serve”, as they are supposed to. No SWAT teams harass their neighborhood. Their streets and parks look like gold courses because they are. Sometimes, although in the middle of a city, they are not legally a part of it, but enjoy all the things that city provides: Sewer, water, elec, etc. They set these fees themselves and do not mind them at all.

    What they mind is being taxed to maintain roads and infrastructure that you can use; Cops who kill you; doctors who treat you. Taxes essentially redistribute public funds and they don’t want you getting your cut.

  26. Strike that: Golf courses. This ideology goes far back. Locally, think of Golden Hill.

  27. Martha: Don’t forget the constitutional amendment to “cap” property tax at 1% of the assessed value; which has triggered the counties to reassess the properties every six month to increase the tax that the state has capped. Pete: the capped property is another aspect to that conservative myth.

  28. I have my mobile phone through Credo. They are involved in various progressive causes. I receive almost daily updates on the various bills being sponsored in the US House or Senate and state legislative bodies. It is astounding how many bills are introduced to further corporatism and neuter any environmental laws, regulations, worker protection, etc.

    I am reminded of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. We have a group of voters who see the shadows on the wall. The shadows are all the Right Wing talking points, low taxes, makers and takers, femi-nazis, tree huggers and yada, yada, yada.

    Corporatism has cleverly deceived some into focusing on the shadows. Both political parties are so intertwined they are a Republicrat Party. A good local example is the use of tax dollars to build stadiums for the Mega-Billionaire owners of the Pacers and Colts. The public park system is starved for funding, but the Pacers and Colts receive a blank check. Streets and roads in Indianapolis are falling apart, public bus service is non-existent in many areas of Indianapolis.

    One thing we will never read about in our local media, is the amount of tax dollar subsidies direct and indirect that have been poured into downtown. It seems that whenever read about some new project the developer will need “help” from the City. The Help of course is some subsidy.

  29. JoAnn,

    I read the same Indy Star news article ( earlier this morning, and I had the same reaction. Why would the IPS Board members select an out-of-town developer for the Coke plant project? Why select a real estate developer from Beloit, Wisconsin? Why not select a hometown developer?

    By the way, there’s a back story of interest behind the Beloit developer. He dropped out of high school, got a job as a roofer, saw an opportunity in the roofing industry, and went for it. A year or so before Hendricks died, he purchased a Beloit property in a renewal area because he could not live with the thought of an out-of-state developer taking over a hometown Beloit property. IPS and the City of Indianapolis should be so wise and loyal.

  30. I have to be careful. I am not trying to be insulting to Ken. What I’m trying to do is a Paul Revere sort of thing; a warning; an act now while there’s still time and the possibility for a good outcome.

    We are all being sold stuff that we don’t need or even really want and being told that it’s good for us.

    The problem here is that a culture is being nurtured that’s great for a few but dysfunctional for the people who make the world work: the workers and moms and dads and teachers and store owners and dreamers and gardeners and grandparents and pet owners.

    What I find interesting is the grand coincidence that at the same moment that culture became irreversibly enslaving we also became aware that it is unaffordable. It’s a dead end street. We end it now or it ends us.

    It’s almost like the Universe wants us to survive.

    It’s not me against Ken at all. It is, as has occurred often in history, we the people vs power.

    Why? Lots of reasons but a big one is that power is unnecessary and in this case totally wrong about the future. Fossil fuels have to remain in the ground despite their potential to further enrich the wealthy. We the people will make that happen because it’s necessary.

    We don’t need for others to tell us what to do. We need to do what needs to be done like we always have.

  31. We’ve always been told that economic power is benign compared to political power.

    Sometimes that is true.

    But democracy manages political power. Competition manages economic power. However advertising to the degree now possible with a programmable animated bill board in nearly every place we ever are changes things considerably. If it was controlled by government (Germany WWII, N Korea today) it we would tilt the field a lot towards political power. Here, now, it’s managed by economic powers and we see the results.

  32. Louie; on Wednesday I had to be in criminal court downtown, haven’t been downtown since 1994. All I can say is…what happened to beautiful downtown Indianapolis? Being a passenger I could take in the “scenery”; an occasionally attractive building could be seen, possibly the apartment complexes for those who live downtown. I no longer could find entrances to the lovely historical residential areas. A few buildings were gaudy, most were just boxy structures of no apparent design abutting the sidewalks so streets seemed like tunnels. Street work and construction everywhere added to the gridlock traffic playing dodgem. The once lovely bricked area around the City-County Building is dirty, permanently spotted and stained, had loose trash and a number of buckled brick areas making walking hazardous. Because I require a cane, it was difficult to navigate and watch where I was going. The essential metal detectors at all entrances ended the large, airy, welcoming ambiance that used to be the main floor of the CCB. Sad; but I realize that is a necessity today.

    The security people leaned casually against counters and bars forming the lines through detectors and and snatched purses and bags from those in line. No one offered help me when they took my cane out of my hand to ex ray it, I had to lean over and grab a counter edge. The female employees in the Criminal Court area obviously have no dress code; most were tacky looking, I saw some bare feet in thong type sandals on one deputy prosecutor, shirt tails hanging out over casual pants and skirts and no coordination of wardrobes in sight. The men, however, were very professionally dressed in suits and ties. Everyone seemed to be carrying and swigging drinks from bottles of water. Not only is the once pleasant ambiance gone but it appears professionalism left downtown along with it.

  33. You people sound like bratty adolescents. Go live in a third world country, like some of us had.

    I love this country, I chose it 26 years ago and I would choose it again.

    Open your eyes. Grow up.

  34. Martina, I hear you. I’m left scratching my head about a few of this blog’s posters who occasionally threaten to move from the US if ‘such and so’ is elected, or if ‘such and so’ is not elected. Five will get you ten that not one of these big-talking posters will move anywhere.

  35. They won’t go. The real world is too scary, too imperfect, too unpredictable. And if they behave like idiots, yelling at the police while they attempt to disrupt a political rally, they will get gassed and repressed.

    The idiotic left is taking us down the banana-republic path. I grew up in one. I would hate for the US to become the same.

  36. Martina, “The idiotic left is taking us down the banana-republic path.”

    Really? I’d love to get some specifics on that assertion.

  37. Pete,

    Martina’s background is worlds apart from yours. You’ll never see eye to eye right now in the socio/political world. She’s right from her perspective. You are right from yours. However, you will eventually find common ground as things start to collapse in the U.S. at a much more rapid rate.

  38. Experiences are the basis of our perspective. We all have different experiences. That’s why we all can’t see things the same. We can only come closer if we try to understand where the other person is coming from. No doubt that’s a very hard thing to do. Maybe in some situations…….impossible.

  39. Marv, as a science nut I have to regard opinions as guesses and facts as reality. Everybody is welcome to their opinions but to satisfy my skepticism I want to know what substantial is behind them. I have to say on the average I find not much. They tend to be what we wish was true.

    That’s what I come here for; debate. Who can support their assertions.

  40. Back in “the day” (1968-1972) I was Executive Director of the Indiana Department of Commerce. Each year we surveyed Indiana residents to learn what they wanted to see as the future of Indiana. Low taxes did not even fall in the top 5 categories. What was always number 1? Jobs – so that their children & grandchildren would not have to leave the State to find employment at a decent wage. No 2?
    Schools. So that our children, etc. could recieve a decent education at an affordable cost. 3? Roads so that we could get to our jobs and schools without getting lost in chuckholes.
    We also surveyed prospective industries and found out plant locators were more interested in the quality of the labor pool and the availability of decent housing and schools for their middle management personnel than they were in the tax rates for businesses

  41. Pete et al, the intellectual level of this exchange is fertile ground for a great discussion. Thank you, Marv, for being the gap-bridger. Pete, what I am saying is . . . having been born and raised in a banana republic — a developed country in a perpetual developing state — I have seen, and lived through, political turmoil, upheaval, and a catastrophic coup d’etat that left us devastated and ever worse than any other stage in my native country’s history.

    When I see the images of the liberal left attacking and violently disrupting Trump’s rally, I get flashbacks of tear-gassing, civil unrest, and the obliteration of democracy. The left’s intolerance is borderline authoritarian in nature, and fascistic in its manifestation.

    The US is still the greatest country in the world, it is the country I have chosen, and it is the country in which, loosely paraphrasing Evelyn Hall, we may not agree with one another, but we must defend each other’s right to voice their opinion. Anything less than this, puts us at the same level as a fascist de-facto-governed banana republic.

    Thank you for opening the dialogue, and thank you, Sheila, because although I disagree with you in many of your stances, I believe we are both seeking to contribute toward a better world, which, in Jewish tradition, is called “Tikkun Olam” (the mending of our broken world).

    May we all work together and apart, respecting dissent, and valuing diversity.


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