Last night, the City-County Council Rules & Public Policy Committee voted 5-1 to move Proposal 285, 2009, to the full Council with a do pass recommendation. Aye votes were from Councillors Lutz, Cockrum, Plowman, Malone, and Pfisterer -- all Republicans. The lone nay vote was from Councillor Mansfield, the only Democrat Committee member present.
The meeting, Chaired by Councillor Bob Lutz of Wayne Township, was a grueling 4-ish hour affair that was an orchestrated parade of 'invited witnesses' with unlimited time to disgorge all of their thoughts, followed by a brief public comment period where speakers were limited to 2 minutes (more on that below) but who were 'graciously' allowed to dribble over that time limit in 5 second increments. Of the parade of maybe two dozen 'invited witnesses', all save three had a personal financial interest in more money being thrown at the Capital Improvement Board and all save two were in favor of the Proposal.
At the conclusion of the public testimony, Councillor Lutz feigned a let's get this over with and let the chips fall where they may attitude, fully knowing he had the votes to get this out of committee. Why did he know he could accomplish his goal? Because two Democratic Councillors, Sanders and Gray, were no-shows. Lutz had indicated he would likely not take a vote last night, but re-convene in a week to give the Committee members time to mull over the testimony they had heard. This probably was because the Committee is composed of 5 Republicans and 3 Democrats; certainly the Committee most likely to produce a positive outcome for the Proposal. Even so, Lutz could not count on Councillor Malone to vote do pass. With all three Democrats present, that could have caused a tie vote which would leave the Proposal in Committee. But, with the two MIAs, the math moved in his favor and he was guaranteed that his reliable 4 votes would serve his needs.
Some random thoughts:
The public deserves an explanation from Councillors Joanne Sanders and Monroe Gray for their absence on this critical Committee meeting and vote. I see that the blog, Indianapolis Times, which is the mouthpiece of the County Party, remains silent on the hearing, in contrast to their seeming interest leading up to last night (see here, here, and here). This makes me to wonder if Sanders and Gray are holding their aye votes in the wings for a last minute save of Prop 285 at the full Council. Politics as usual - play 'smart' at the public's detriment. But, I don't know why they were not there and maybe there is an explanation - we deserve one. [edited to add: I have received word that Sanders has been out of town on business and was unable to attend.]
The public was done a disservice, as is usual when more than two people show up, in the public comment period. Chairman Lutz' should have given the public the same time limit as his parade of invited witnesses. His handling of comment time may have been generous by Council Committee standards, but that bar is set very low. In all of these committees it is as though the public point of view is not as worthy as that of proponents of a proposal. From my perch in the cheap seats it often seems as if the attitude of the Chairmen is that the problem with the public comments is that they drag the meeting out too long. While the Council does the public's business, I believe they need to be much more accommodating of the time in which they give the public to express its views. As I mentioned in a comment to Paul Ogden's blog, I challenge Committee Chairs to try to speak to an issue for 2 minutes with buzzers going off every 5 seconds thereafter.
The proponents of Prop 285, save one or two, hid behind the skirts and aprons of the service workers in order to shill for more tax money for the CIB. As I mentioned earlier, these folks have a personal financial interest in the ever increasing investment of more and more tax money into the sports/convention business. Folks like Tamara Zahn of IDI, Susan Williams of ISC, Barney Levengood of the CIB, and Bob Welsh of ICVA are even more outrageous, as they haul down fat salaries derived almost exclusively from tax revenues. As reported by Paul Ogden, Zahn makes around $200,000 a year while IDI has squirrelled away over $7M in savings living lavishly off the public dole, and Welsh makes about $350,000 in salary and benefits while the ICVA had 'only' $4M in assets in 2007. Meanwhile Williams makes over $130,000 (poor thing) with ISC holding assets of nearly $7M in 2007, and Levengood makes $221,000 per year while the CIB takes in over $100M in taxes each year. These folks are pulling down the more than generous salaries from the public trough and have little real accountability for how well they do their jobs. Compare that to the maids who average a mere $15,000 a year in Indianapolis. To pretend that this CIB bailout is for the little guy, is bold faced lying. Its to keep the good times rolling for a select few living large off taxpayer largess.
There has been and will be NO examination of how the CIB got into this mess. Each Councillor is apparently quite content to believe it is the Mayor of the opposite political party, or the Governor, who caused this supposed catastrophe. This attitude will never identify the problems with the CIB in its fiscal and policy structure that will continue to bleed the taxpayer. The Councillors all acknowledged last night that this is only a two year 'fix' and ignored the obvious conclusion that it is therefore not a real fix of the real problems. Only Councillor Malone expressed an opinion that indicated that a real fix was important to her - enough to influence her vote at the full Council.
There is no interest in doing the public a service and creating a plan to make the sports/convention/tourist/hospitality industry self-sufficient. Speaker after speaker tossed around numbers in the range of hundreds of thousands to billions of dollars. I kept thinking - so why aren't we rich already and why are these guys back begging for more tax revenues?
Passage of the hotel tax and acceptance of the state loan, if successful at the full Council meeting on August 10, will trigger the necessity to increase two more taxes, car rental and ticket, in 2013. This is putting the onus on the next Council. Quite irresponsible in my view and it smacks of politics. The public good should count for something and it never seems to be weighted very high when elites have their hands out for the public dole. The public good is all the rage as a foil when the discussion is more money to help those who struggle to put a meal on the table or clothe their children or what to do about those pesky panhandlers who inconvenience us at stoplights. It takes the EPA to force Indianapolis to fix the sewer overflows that push human feces into our river and streams like some third world cesspool. But, all it takes for the wealthy overseers of our sports empire to get more, is to claim a need for an additional $47M on top of the $100M they already get and the only topic for discussion among our elected officials becomes how to land that money for them. Again, no request for an examination of what the CIB did wrong to put it in the position it is in now. That is the only way you can determine what to fix.
I hope the significance of the August 10th Council meeting is not lost on the Councillors. Mayor Ballard will present the 2010 budget proposal with something like $30M in cuts. Proposal 285 will be voted upon with its increase of $12M of tax revenues and a $27M loan from the State to add to the $100M in tax revenues the CIB already gets. Contrasting what City services are to be cut with the bailout of our sports empire, will shed a clear white light on what is really important.