Sunday, May 8, 2016

Thank You, Gary.

It is hard to believe that we will not hear from Gary Welsh again.  His Advance Indiana blog was a true asset to the Indianapolis community.

Unquestionably, he loved a good conspiracy theory.  But, I cannot recall him applying those to local government.

He had an outstanding ability to remember people and their relationships to each other, and to events, places and policies.  His talent in this area astounded me.

He was a really good writer.  When he was frustrated, you felt it.  When he was pissed off, you knew it and why.  He could weave together a complex series of events so that it was comprehensible.

He cared about good government.  He wanted elected officials to rise to the occasion and do their jobs in the best interest of the public - not feather their friends' and donors' nests.  He held decision makers feet to the fire; whether those decision makers were in the limelight or in the shadows,  He was often disappointed, frustrated, or angry at the frequency with which personal ambitions won out over the public good.

He cared about a responsible press.  He desperately wanted real investigative journalism - which he saw as the true role of the media - to dig into the backroom deals and pay-to-play politics that run like a current through Indiana government.

He had a shit list and nearly everyone was on it, at least from time to time.  My take was that he had special relationships with a couple of elected officials who he admired for how they did their job; Christine Scales and Angela Mansfield come to mind.  He touted the journalism of Kara Kenney and Russ McQuaid.  He had high expectations, but he wasn't unrealistic.

He had a huge readership and what he said mattered.  He also had an impressive pipeline of contacts who would feed him information - stuff that either they had no way to circulate themselves, or stuff that their public position would preclude having their name tied to.

Certainly members of traditional media followed Gary; some trolling for leads.  Only rarely did he get attribution, which says more about them than about Gary.


Gary was a prolific blogger, no doubt.  He used his talents to let our community know what our government was doing and who it was benefiting.  He was passionate about it.  He did it like no other.



I like to think that Gary has taken up a spot near the Pearly Gates and is setting about critiquing the alacrity with which St. Peter allows entry to certain folks and watching closely who exactly is being given the golden harps.



Thank you, Gary.  For all that you did for our community for so long.  You made a mark and there is a void left in your passing.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Lobbyists - What They Are Getting Paid To Promote

Lobbyists are registering to conduct business in City Hall for 2016.  So far, the City's Lobbyist database lists 20 individuals who work for 8 companies and represent the interests of 26 organizations.

Compensation for the lobbying, when listed on the forms, totaled $471,529.46.

Here are efforts, which I present divided into topics.

SPORTS

Indy, Sports and Entertainment (which lists indyeleven.com as its website) have hired Joe Loftus of Barnes & Thornberg to lobby the Office of the Mayor.  The registration notes the topic as "economic & industrial development" and a compensation of $67,410.

Pacers Basketball has Lacy Johnson, Ice Miller, working for it, chatting up the City-County Council regarding "amusements, games, & sports", for $8625.

TECH/IT

Xerox Business Services is spending $54,894 with Joe Loftus, B&T, to lobby the Mayor's Office.

Cincinnati Bell Technical Solutions is down for $184.87 compensation to Mark Shublak, Ice Miller, to talk with the IT Board.

ELECTIONS

Election Systems and Software is plunking down a total of $19,589.74 for B&T lobbyists Brian Burdick and D. William Moreau, Jr, as well as Ice Miller's Carl Drummer.  They are all lobbying the Marion County Clerk and Election Board.

RBM Consulting has hired Greg Hahn, of Bose Public Affairs Group (BPAG), to lobby the same folks for $8000.

CORRECTIONS

Perhaps many of these folks are interested in a new Justice Center or what happens to them if one is built.

CCA of Tennessee is spending $120,000 for B&T's Brian Burdick and D. William Moreau, Jr. to make a case to the City County Council, the Marion County Sheriff, and the Office of the Mayor.

WMB Heartland Justice Partners has Ice Miller folks, Lesa Dietrick, Tom John, and Carl Drummer working the Department of Public Safety, the MC Sheriff, and the Office of the Mayor for $2341.53.

Bingham Greenbaum Doll is employing the efforts of Joseph Smith of Faegre Baker Daniels to talk with the City-County Council, and compensating him with $1890.

3M is spending a mere $69.83 for a slice of Tom John's time with Marion County Community Corrections.

ENGINEERING

DB Engineering has hired Tom John and Carl Drummer of Ice Miller to address their concerns with the Department of Public Works and the Mayor's Office - for $597.54.

Infrastructure Engineering has John and Drummer talking with the same folks for $470.69.

Commonwealth Engineers has engaged Kyle Walker of Kyle Walker Consulting to speak with the Department of Public Works, the topic being "environment".  No compensation was noted.

RQAW Consulting likewise has Walker talking with the Department of Water Works (huh?) about highways and roads/streets.  Again the compensation was not listed.

BILLBOARDS

This lobby is going gangbusters again this year.

Outfront Media is spending $16,978.35 for 3 BPAG lobbyists, John Cochran, Trent Hahn, and Greg Hahn.  Trent didn't list who he is lobbying, but the other two noted the Department of Metropolitan Development and the topic of "zoning".

Lamar Companies has hired the same three to lobby for the same thing with the same department - for $8850.63.

Clear Channel Outdoor prefers B&T, hiring D. William Moreau, Jr., and Matthew Morgan for $5362 to chat up DMD on "zoning" matters.  They also are using their own employee, John Kisiel to lobby the City-County Council regarding "other".  Kisiel lists $13,875 as his compensation.


MISCELLANEOUS

Angie's List is compensating lobbyists Carl Drummer and Lacy Johnson of Ice Miller with $71,978 to address "economic and industrial development" matters with the City-County Council and the Office of the Mayor.

BC Initiative is spending $38,217 for the lobbying efforts of Joe Loftus, B&T, to speak with the Mayor's Office regarding "charitable & nonprofit organizations".  BC Initiative is an affiliate of BioCrossroads.

Herman & Kittle Properties are down for only $37.61 for Tom John, Ice Miller, to talk about "planning/land use" with the Bond Bank and DMD.

Salesforce is spending $200 on its own employee, Amy Waggoner, to talk about "other" with DMD.

Bose Public Affairs Group feels the need to hire another lobbying group to represent it with the City-County Council, DMD, and the Mayor's Office on the ever popular topic of "other".  They have hired Carl Drummer of Ice Miller for $839.30 in this effort.

Ambrose Property Group has Drummer and Lacy Johnson, Ice Miller, dealing with the City-County Council regarding "other" for $2006.96.

IU Health is lobbying the City-County Council, too, regarding Health and Healthcare.  They have Lacy Johnson representing them for $6570.

National Strategies, LLC, for Taser International, Inc., is compensating two BPAC folks, John Cochran and Jennifer Ping, a total of $5000 to talk "safety" with the Department of Public Safety, Information Services Agency, the IT Board, and the Office of the Mayor.

The National Rifle Association has registered their employee, Christopher Kopacki, to address "other" with the Mayor's Office and the Council.  His listed compensation is $197.41 for this role.

Last but not least, Giant Eagle - the grocery concern - is spending $17,344 with BPAC.  Three of their lobbyists, Melissa Coxey, Ahmed Young, and John Cochran are registered to speak with the City-County Council about "zoning".  Greg Hahn is registered to talk about "planning/land use" with DPS, DPW, the Crime Prevention Advisory Board, the Council, the Department of Code Enforcement, DMD, DPS, the Indianapolis Economic Development Comm., the Indianapolis Economic Development Board of Directors, the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership Board, the Metropolitan Development Committee (presumably of the Council), and the Metropolitan Development Commission.

I am hoping that the registration of Ahmed Young is a foolish mistake on somebody's part, and the the ethics policy of Mayor Hogsett does not allow his Director of the Office of Education Innovation to be simultaneously employed as a lobbyist.

To recap, the big money so far is on CCA of Tennessee ($120,000), Angie's List ($71,978), Indy Eleven ($67,410), Xerox Business Services ($54,984), billboard companies ($45,065.98), BC Initiative (BioCrossroads) ($38,217), Election Systems & Software ($19,589.74), and Giant Eagle ($17,344).

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Indy's Supposed Structural Budget Deficit - Too Soon

Man, I didn't see this coming.

Newly inaugurated Mayor Joe Hogsett has barely begun to get used to the view from the 25th floor and he's trying to ease the public psyche toward yet another tax increase.

Fox 59 reporter, Russ McQuaid, has published his interview with Mayor Hogsett, where taxes and spending and budget deficits and wishes and wants were all discussed.  At the end of it all, Hogsett said his staff will analyze the fiscal house left by outgoing Mayor Ballard and will come up with a plan within 90 days.

But, talking of a tax increase?

Too soon.  Especially since Hogsett supports a tax increase for public transit through a referendum this year.

Too soon.  And to mention building a new jail in the next breath is a bit of a jarring juxtaposition.  New jails don't finance themselves.

Hogsett said at his inauguration that there is a $50 M structural deficit - meaning the City-County takes in $50 M less than it must spend each year.  In McQuaid's piece, Councillor Jack Sandlin says the Council Democrats and Mayor Ballard agreed to spend down the fund balances for the last few years until we are at the unhappy place where "we don't have fund balances to spend down anymore...".

Well, I beg to differ with both gentlemen.

I pulled a few numbers from the 2012-2016 budgets to examine the changes in fund balances from January to December, and to see how the estimates of fund balances changed before and after the year's budget was passed.   The first is how much of a deficit the City-County expected or did run each year, and the second is how well they estimated how much money would be in the bank at the end of the year.

For those who don't like graphs and numbers, the bottom line is that, while we have been treated to expectations of deficit spending each year from 2011 through 2016, we have not actually spent more than we took in (after money from the sale of the water/sewer utilities is accounted for).  In addition, projections of future fund balances made before the budget is finalized, always get substantially improved a year later.

Every year the budget process begins mid-summer.  Year end fund balances are estimated at that time.  So, the numbers are estimates of money coming in and money going out in  6- 18 months in advance.  The budget book contains a summary of the previous few years' budgets, moving from 'adopted budget' to 'revised budget' to 'actual budget' as the years progress.  I pulled these numbers and found that the adopted budget nearly always predicted deficit or near-deficit spending each year.  By the time actual revenue and expenditure numbers where known, the bleak picture had not developed.

Let me pause for one second to note that I am using 'deficit spending' to mean spending more money than you take in.  This means that the year end fund balances should go down between January and December if there is deficit spending.

The numbers for changes in fund balance I used are those reported after one-time money is accounted for.  For instance, the water and sewer utilities were sold in 2011 - giving the City a huge cash influx.  That money was spent over time on infrastructure and cricket fields and $80 M was set aside in a 'fiscal stability fund', intended to recession-proof the City's AAA bond rating.

Below are the expected and actual changes in fund balance over the last few budget years as reported in the annual budget book.



As you can see, while the predictions of fund balance changes were consistent with deficit spending, the actual fund balance changes have been positive - meaning we spent less than we took in.  Of course, we await the actual fund balance changes for the 2015 and 2016 budget years.






Here we see that the estimated value of fund balances actually increase when recalculated after the budget passes.  The budget books don't report the actual fund balances, so I can only show you the two predictions.  I include this information only to note that the doom and gloom estimates at budget time don't hold up - at least if the last few years are any gauge.

True, nearly $40 M was taken from the consolidated downtown TIF in 2012 - but that was when the City was trying to wean itself off the infusion of funds Obama sent out to municipalities across the nation as the Great Recession settled in - they had gotten used to the money and the feds weren't sending as much by 2012.

True, the latest budgets have been 'balanced' with 'management reserves' - forced savings across the enterprise.  But, a simple budget cut would accomplish the same thing, as budgets were crafted with the expectation that 'savings' would be captured by years end.  So, its not exactly overspending the revenues.

Taxpayers have endured one tax increase after another - the latest round supposedly for public safety.  Yet, its hard to track whether or not these tax increases have gone to the expenses the public was told they would. We will soon have a referendum on a tax increase for public transit.  Stormwater management fees have gone up and will do so automatically for a while.  Water rates - up.  Sewer rates - up.

The last few months of the Ballard regime saw tens of millions of dollars that weren't budgeted, spent on unwise contracts signed without any public review.  These monies may cost us, but surely should not be used to claim any 'structural deficit'.  Unwise spending on unwise contracts should be avoided in the first place.

If the Hogsett administration is looking to make some changes to the way things are done for the benefit of the fiscal health of the City, I would offer the following suggestions:
Assign a sunset date to the consolidated downtown TIF, so future mayors and taxpayers have the financial resources the TIF was supposed to create. 
Ditch the idea of a new jail until the resources are identified and a tax hike is demonstrated as unnecessary to make ends meet or to fund the jail.  Neither should it be financed with job loss.
Change the 'management reserve' system of budgeting and replace it with a 5% across the board cut - its the same thing, but deficit spending would be harder to confuse with spending within one's means.
Pull jobs from high priced lawyers and consultants and cultivate those resources in house.  Review all contributions to local not-for-profits that do work for the City that could be done by City employees at a fraction of the salary.
It will be interesting to see what Hogsett's people come up with.

But, for right now, its too soon to hint about tax increases.  The data just aren't there that any structural deficit exists.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Inaugural Ball a Campaign Finance Affair

Joe Hogsett is joining what now appears to be a tradition for Indianapolis Mayors - holding a dual purpose inaugural ball; a campaign fundraiser combined with a great party.

Just in case anyone who might want to be on a newly seated Mayor Hogsett's good side failed to donate to the campaign, you still have the opportunity to toss in anywhere from $100 for a single ticket to $10,000 to be a 'gold sponsor' and attend the Inaugural Ball.  The information is posted on RSVP.JoeHogsett.com which is paid for by his campaign.  The information gathered for registration is identical to the campaign finance information that is to be gathered for public disclosure purposes.

The adherence to the letter of the campaign finance laws is a good thing.  And, the fact that those ponying up the cash will be listed in a future campaign finance report for all the public to peruse is awesome.

For those of us who were heartened by Hogsett's campaign that, in part, spoke against the same old deal for the same old downtown insiders, the price tags raise the hair on the back of one's neck.  It doesn't help that 'The Inaugural Committee' and 'Browning Investments' are co-hosts of the affair.  My attempts to find out who comprises the Committee have not been productive - but at some point I expect that list will be publicly disclosed.  What I do know is the Browning Investments has been a beneficiary of City Government largess in the past - and some might very well think they are one of the downtown insiders the campaign commercial alluded to.

Maybe a new Mayor, some day down the road, could add a 'less than affluent - less than influential - just as important' ball that same night.  The new Mayor could hop from party to party and all of us would have a chance to celebrate the hope and good will that a new Mayor sweeps into office with them.

Keeping my fingers crossed that January 1, 2016, will actually be a new day for Indianapolis and its neighborhoods....  But, I'm not tossing in $100 to attend a fundraiser disguised as a black tie optional ball.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Say No To the Mayor and Council Raises

At tomorrow night's City-County Council meeting, Prop 413 will be introduced.  If passed it would increase the salary of the Indianapolis Mayor and base compensation of Council members.  The Mayor would receive $125,000 per year, up from $95,000 - a 31.6% increase.  The Council would untether its compensation to whatever the Mayor makes and opt for a $16,400 base salary.  That would increase their base from $11,400 to $16,400 - a 43.9% increase.  Both receive other, smaller categories of compensation as well.

The press is reporting that this would put the Indy Mayor closer to the salaries of certain donut-county Mayors.  This does not convince me of the wisdom of the proposed raise.  $95,000 is still high enough to put bread on the table.

While we are at it, the Deputy Mayor salaries should be rolled back to pre-2014 levels, or just less than the Mayor makes.  While I often hear that those at the top positions in government need to be paid enough to keep them from moving on to the private sector - I find that is usually what they intend to do all along, and that they are using the government position as a key stepping stone, no matter the salary for those 'lean' years.

According to the US Census, fewer than 5% of Indianapolis residents made over $100,000 in 2014.  This "over $100,000" category is a catchall for the upper limit earners.  So, the Mayor and Deputy Mayors are not grievously harmed by receiving compensation less than $100 grand.  Methinks there are other reasons to be Mayor or one of his closest advisers - public service among them.

Mayor-elect Hogsett should ask that the increases instead be applied to an effort to bring all City-County employees up to a living wage as serving a greater good.  Combining the proposed increases for Mayor and Council with a rolled back Deputy Mayor compensation would provide well over $200,000 a year in seed money.

It is unclear how many city employees do not earn a living wage - and that ignorance in itself is not a good thing.  The lowest salaries listed in the budget ordinance do cover a living wage for a single person with no children - just over $20,000.  The living wage doubles with the addition of one child.  I doubt the city can afford that much as a minimum, but we need to have our City Government be a good employer, too.  That means we need to know where our employees stand, whether we are equipping them with knowledge and skills to move forward in life, and how to best compensate all of our employees.  We need to look at the reality of the job holders, too - are they entry level workers developing their skills for better paying jobs elsewhere, or are they on a career path that will become problematic as their families increase?

Every year, select employees get raises - usually those with union contracts and some with higher salaries who could earn more elsewhere.  In the near decade I have been following the budget process, only once was a comprehensive compensation review conducted, followed by raises to move some employees out of poverty wages.  Most every year, most employees get no raises.

This is an opportunity for Mayor-elect Hogsett to set a positive tone for his Administration - that all employees matter and that a living wage is a goal worth evaluating, setting and meeting for the City of Indianapolis.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Invisible Hand(out) of the (Taxpayer Financed) Market

The war between cities and regions to attract business development generated the handouts known as 'incentives', 'tax increment financing', 'abatements', and more - a virtual cottage industry in how to funnel taxpayer funds to well connected developers.  There are more noble goals in play at the same time, like, hoping for a catalyst to spur private sector investment.  But the subsidies don't seem to ever end.

We have seen this cottage industry begin to morph from incentives to entitlements - industries that are begging for land upon which to develop, still expect hefty abatements to "level the playing field" and they no longer even try to tie job gains with those tax benefits.

Now, quietly yet out in the open, there is another transformation happening - the perpetual enrichment of favored landowner through taxpayer funded inducements for development upon leased real estate.

The North of South/City Way investment of about $100 M of taxpayer money involved development of the housing/retail/hotel/fake tech park built on top of land leased from Eli Lilly.  How much cash flow that provides Lilly is - well - none of your damn business, Ms. Taxpayer.

While the land lease model worked out in City Way, it does not always go so smoothly.  The airport has been trying to lease prime real estate where its old terminal used to be.  It has prominent frontage along I-465 and enviable access, not to mention an already existing parking garage.  Plus the old building has been torn down and hauled away.  Height restrictions do play a role here, but there is also the ingredient of who would want to lease the land upon which to construct a building.  Even a fifty year lease will find a day when the tenant must either re-up the lease or move on -- and at what cost?  The only offer they have noted in public has been a casino complex - which I personally root for, but the point here is the paucity of interest.

Last night the City-County Council voted to float $75 M in TIF bonds for the 16 Tech project.  Roughly $55 M would go to move water lines, power lines, and gas lines, and build a bridge and a park - all of which will make the land owned by IU Foundation, IU, Beurt R & Corena J  Servaas, the Benjamin Franklin Literary Medical Society, Health & Hospitals Corp. of Marion County, and Methodist Hospital much more valuable.  Yet, this land will be leased to eventual developers, not sold for the development.  But, it gets even better for these entities - 16 Tech Community Corp has been set up and will be funded by the rest of the bonds to the tune of just over half a million a year (with salaries ranging from $30,000 to $200,000) and their job will be to market the property to developers - so that these not-for-profits don't have to lift a finger or pay a single salary in order to cash in on the taxpayers' largess.

All that said, this one kind of amuses me.  I like the area in question getting a leg up and I like trying to promote biotech for the long run.  I do wonder, though, how viable the land-leasing model will be. In worst case, Mass Ave and Union Station and Circle Center Mall and the rest of the consolidated downtown TIF can all contribute to paying off the bonds.

I've wandered off the point of this post.  What we now have are the taxpayers being expected to fund a quarter to a third of all downtown development AND sustain abatements that need not include increased employment ALL THE WHILE our investments are quietly generating a perpetual revenue stream to well connected landowners.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

IHPC Delays Digital Billboard Decision

I just posted this entry on the IBJ's Indiana Forefront.  I would only add - many thanks to Councillors Joe Simpson and Zach Adamson for supporting the broader community interest by asking that the digital billboard variance be delayed until after the sign regulations are reviewed in a vigorous, transparent, and public process. ---


Last night, as reported by Hayleigh Colombo in the IBJ, the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission continued to October 7, both the building design and the digital billboard variance proposed for Mass. Ave.
I was in the audience, waiting to speak to the digital billboard variance on behalf of the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations.
From November to June, 59 organizations joined forces to move the digital billboard debate from behind closed doors to the appropriate public venue – the upcoming Department of Metropolitan Development review of the entire sign ordinance.  After all the meetings and all the debate, the Council agreed.
The proposed ‘digital canvas’ envisioned for the building that would replace the Mass Ave fire station needs a variance expressly because it would be a digital billboard.  They propose posting ‘sponsors’ information either on 20% of the space or 20% of the time.  Motion and sound would be allowed.
A continuance was proposed by two Councillors – Joe Simpson, whose current district includes the site, and Zach Adamson, who is running for reelection to the new district boundaries that will include this site – via letter to the IHPC.  Initially the Commission was moving toward a continuance until after the Council passes the new sign ordinance, presumably some time next year.  Then the developer and his representative asked for the October 7 date so they could discuss it with the two Councillors.
Continuing this variance request is wise for a couple of reasons.  The broad community deserves its hard fought and hard won vigorous public process that would decide if digital billboards are right for Indianapolis.  If lifting the ban was found in the community’s best interest, then issues such as how to measure and regulate light levels, size, motion, sound, appropriate locations, interactivity with the driving public, and other safety issues would be discussed and appropriate parameters would be set.
If the Mass. Ave. digital billboard variance comes first, it could create a precedent and set a standard that became the tail that wagged the dog.  That, undoubtedly, was why John Kisiel, Vice President of Clear Channel, was in the audience for 5 hours last night.  Kisiel has stated that he was assigned to Indianapolis by Clear Channel to open Indy up to digital billboards.
Let’s face it, the billboard industry is a litigious group.  They have shown they will take cities to court if they can find any chink in the rules or application of the rules.  Indy’s billboard ban has successfully weathered their attempts to gain variances and prevailed in the subsequent lawsuits.  Granting this digital billboard variance would demonstrate uneven application of the ban.  Given these are the waning months for the Ballard administration, who know whether the variance would be challenged.  As they did in other cities, the biggest mess being in Los Angeles, this would give the billboard industry just the opening they need to seek unfettered and unregulated access to Indy’s streetscapes.
Some will say this is only relevant to the Mass. Ave. neighborhoods.  But, given the dynamics at play in the digital billboard arena, the digital billboard variance is about all of our neighborhoods.