Tag Archives: Chamber of Commerce

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.


Why We Need a Commuter Tax

Can we talk?

The Chamber of Commerce has been getting a lot of grief for championing a commuter tax to be paid by folks who work in Indianapolis and reside elsewhere. But the Chamber is right.

Some folks may still picture Indiana as a patchwork of small, quaint towns and family farms, but those days are gone. Indiana’s workforce and population are increasingly metropolitan. Indiana’s growth has been and will continue to be in our urban centers.

The entire state economy depends upon a strong, thriving Indianapolis. Much as our legislators like to ignore fiscal reality, Marion County, along with the state’s other metropolitan counties, is—and has long been—a donor county. Our taxes support more rural areas. (A report published by the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute in 2010, identified the donors: in addition to Marion County, they included Lake, Allen and Vanderburgh.)

If we want to talk about “makers and takers,” Indianapolis is a maker, and rural Indiana is a taker. Big time.

Despite the GOP’s resistance to taxing most wealthy “makers,” Republicans in control of the Statehouse have continued to ensure that Indiana’s tax structure–which has historically disadvantaged the very areas that generate Hoosier jobs–will continue to bite the hand that feeds the rest of the state. The disastrous, politically-motivated decision to constitutionalize property tax caps has only made matters worse.

Here in Marion County, we are further disadvantaged by the large number of government and nonprofit institutions that pay no property tax. Add the tax caps and the exempt properties together, and we have a revenue crunch of massive proportions—one that cannot be relieved by reliance on the local income tax, or by naïve demands to “cut fat and waste.” We can all argue about the wisdom of certain expenditures (cricket, anyone?), but the amounts involved are—in the larger scheme of things—a drop in the bucket. We’ve cut fat, we’ve cut muscle, and we’re now into bone.

The foregoing are simply facts. Here’s the sermon: Government is not an irrelevant luxury. Businesses as well as individual citizens depend upon the services provided by municipalities—infrastructure, public safety, transportation, garbage collection and a myriad of other services that collectively comprise a city’s quality of life. If we want to continue receiving those services—if we don’t want to be Detroit—we have to pay for them. Taxes are not theft; they are the dues we pay for civilization. We cannot survive without them; the best we can do is ensure that government operates responsibly and that the “dues” we pay are fairly assessed.

That fairness is what has motivated the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce’s proposal for a commuter tax.

More than two hundred thousand workers commute into Indianapolis each day. They use our streets, are protected by our police and firefighters, flush toilets into our sewers, and enjoy the other elements of the quality of life our taxes have provided, but they don’t contribute to their cost. They pay their taxes to the places where they live.

Paying taxes to the county where your income is generated is hardly a new and oppressive idea. A good number of Indianapolis’ peer cities around the country have adapted to the realities of regional economies and regional workforces. The Indianapolis Chamber has studied commuter taxes extensively, issuing reports in 2002, 2006 and 2007. Its current advocacy is informed by those studies and by the experience of other cities.

Every economic analysis of the Hoosier state confirms that the health of Indiana is inextricably bound up with the health of the Indianapolis metropolitan region. Starving Indianapolis—making it impossible for even the most creative public servants to deliver the services we all depend upon (and incentivizing “smoke and mirror” solutions that give away the store)—is simply not an option.



Calling the Chamber of Commerce–in Stratford Upon Avon

Okay….I’m the first one to bitch when we do things badly in Indy. But let me tell you–we’re WONDERFUL compared to Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Here is my tale of …woe, or whatever.

We disembarked from our fabulous cruise ship this morning, in Tilbury, outside London, and we were bussed to Victoria Station. (The cruise was wonderful, by the way. No complaints. I hope we can do it again.) We took a taxi to Marleybone Station, and the train from there to Stratford-upon-Avon. (NOT Stratford ON Avon–if you search British rail for that, you come up empty. It’s UPON, thank you very much.) The train was great. Prompt, clean, user-friendly. Impressive bathrooms.

We got to Stratford UPON Avon at 3:30 in the afternoon. Although it is quite a bustling place, there were no taxis at the station. I asked the sole employee of the place how we might get a taxi, and she pointed (disinterestedly) to a bulletin board with taxi numbers–none of which I was able to reach. I asked the ticket agent what I was doing wrong, and she responded “I have no idea” and turned away. I assumed my inability to get through  was my lack of understanding of Iphone calling in another country, but an incredibly nice young man who turned out to be from Cincinnati  told me that he’d actually gotten through, and been told that the distance from the train station to the town center was too short to justify a taxi–“you can just walk.”

So my 80-year-old spouse and I schlepped our three bags–one huge one that we’d hoped to ship home but couldn’t and two smaller ones–into the center of Stratford. And schlepped. And schlepped. Meanwhile, my poor husband was coughing and hacking, having caught a cold earlier in the week. After we’d walked a considerable distance, we saw–oh joy!–a cab stand. I ran toward the cab in front, dragging my gigantic Kirkland suitcase; he opened the door. I told him the name of our hotel. He closed the door.

“It’s a five-minute walk. Just at the bottom of that street, then turn right.”

On we went. Both of us schlepping. Bob coughing. Me sweating. (And no, I was NOT in a good mood at this point.)

We finally found our hotel. We even found the check-in desk (not a simple task.) We were informed that our room was on the first floor (in Europe that is the first floor ABOVE the ground floor). No help with our bags, no elevator. Steep stairs. No apparent concern from the desk clerk.

We had reserved and paid for tickets to “As you like it” at the Shakespeare theater, but Bob’s cough was really bad. We figured we’d do the other patrons a favor and skip the performance, but I was really worried about Bob, and asked the desk clerk where I might find a drugstore/chemist. She gave me (incorrect) directions, and I took off, fairly panicked at his constant hacking. Several wrong turns and four requests for directions later, I found a lovely lady pharmacist in a large drugstore called Boots. That was the store the desk clerk had suggested, but nowhere remotely near where she told me it was located. The nice lady sold me a cough medicine and I (literally) ran back to our hotel. (It has helped already, to my great relief. Wives really do worry…)

There’s no WiFi in our room, so we are currently in the hotel bar, responding to email and (in my case) drinking. And listening to Bob’s (thankfully diminishing) coughing.

The bar television is turned to a cricket match. I’m sure Mayor Ballard would be delighted.

All of this reminded me that, back when I was in City Hall, Mayor Bill would periodically have meetings with cab drivers and hotel personnel in the downtown area. He would remind them how important they were–how important first impressions of a city can be.

No shit.

Let’s just say I’m not a fan of Stratford UPON or ON or UNDER Avon. IF there is a Chamber of Commerce in this place, they are doing a crappy job.

The Wrong Role Model

Let’s get real: if so-called “Right to Work” laws generated economic growth, Mississippi would be an epicenter of economic activity.

As Brian Howey notes, the current push for Right to Work is simply a continuation of the war on unions Daniels inaugurated soon after he himself was inaugurated; the sorts of jobs Indiana has been trying to grow–life sciences, biotech, etc.–aren’t union jobs anyway. But if we were to take Governor Daniels and Speaker Bosma at their word, their argument boils down to the contention that creating a “good business environment” requires that we be a low-wage,  low tax state.

A story may be instructive: Several years ago, Toyota was negotiating with three such states (all in the south) to locate a new plant. The states in question all had low wage workforces and low taxes; in addition, all were offering tax incentives. Toyota ended up going to Canada, and the economic development officers of the losing states were dumbfounded, because taxes were higher and no incentives were involved. Toyota’s explanation? The workforce was much more highly educated, and thanks to Canada’s “socialized” system, they wouldn’t need to provide healthcare.

When you look at independent research on right-to-work laws (i.e., research not sponsored by/paid for by either unions or Chambers of Commerce), there is absolutely no evidence that such laws affect job growth one way or the other. Once you control for the other factors that affect economic conditions, it appears that the only effect of such laws is to lower wages for both unionized and non-union workers.

The “liberty” argument for right-to-work is that no one should have to join a union in order to work. I agree–and under current law, they don’t. They do have to pay for services rendered by the union that benefit them–that is, their share of the cost of negotiation for wages and working conditions. That’s it. They don’t have to become a member, or support any other activities with which they disagree. The “liberty” argument against right-to-work is that employers should be free to bargain with whomever they choose–that the state should not have the power to dictate an owner’s otherwise lawful workplace policies and arrangements.

If we really want to promote job growth and a healthy economic environment, our focus should be on creating efficient, transparent state government, high-quality public schools, good public services (especially public transportation), and an improved quality of life.

Add in workers who have enough money to spend in the marketplace, and believe me, the employers will come.