Monday, March 4, 2013

Welcome to the Republican World

We are witnessing what happens when Republican elected officials get full reign in our Statehouse.

Don't like a Democrat running the White House ?  Call for a Constitutional Convention.

Don't like that a Democrat was elected to the State Department of Education?  Change that Department's authority.

Don't care for a Democrat majority on the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council and in County offices?  Change the rules to favor Republicans, in particular the sitting Mayor.

While all are important with detrimental ramifications, it is the last item that I want to address today.

Two bills were introduced, fashioned after a wish list made by Mayor Ryan Vaughn.  The totality of the bills is to increase the likelihood of a return to a Republican majority Council in the near future, and in increase in the ease with with our City coffers can be looted for those with 'special' connections with the Mayor's office.  Let's face reality - this is likely the last Republican Mayor to serve the City of Indianapolis.  They thought he would be a one-termer, and sold as many of the taxpayer's assets as they could get their hands on during his first term.  Now, they are setting about constructing new slush funds from which to reward their supporters.  Sadly, they are getting a lot of assistance from Democrats on the Council, a point to which I will return later.

The two bills are SB 621, by Senator Mike Young, whose district sits on the southwest corner of Marion County, and HB 1399, by Representative Cindy Kirchhofer, whose district runs from Beech Grove to the eastern border of Marion County.  SB 621 was approved by the Senate and has moved to the House.  HB 1399 has not had any activity.

All that is in HB 1399 was included in SB 621, which had one item amended out of it.  SB 621, however, contains a few items extra.  Both originally would grant the Mayor the authority to change, not just veto, any line item amount of the budget approved by the Council.  This was amended out of SB 621.  Both codify that IMPD would be under the direction and control of the director of public safety, which is what actually happens right now.  Both would remove the requirement that the Mayor's appointments for Director and Deputy Director positions in his/her administration be approved by the Council.  Both remove the authority of the Council to get a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) payment from the CIB.  Both take two appointments to the Metropolitan Development Commission (MDC) from the County Commissioners and give them to the Mayor - making that body composed of 6 appointees of the Mayor and 3 of the Council.  And finally, both require all agency and department budgets be 'allotted' quarterly by the City Controller - essentially giving that person the authority to lower the budgets passed by the Council at his/her whim.

SB 621 also includes the elimination of the 4 At-Large seats on the City-County Council.  If they were eliminated today, the Council majority would shift to Republican control.  If SB 621 passes, there would not be another election for At-Large seats and 2015 would be the last year they serve.

SB 621 goes further, mysteriously dropping the residency requirement to serve as Mayor to 1 year (down from 5 years) and as Councillor to 1 year (down from 2 years).  It reduces the number of seats on the Township Boards from 7 to 5.  It tosses in a weird requirement that the method of choosing Judges to review any appeal of the Council district maps, be made a public record.  And last but not least, it throws in another opaque requirement that absentee ballots be counted in a central location instead of at the precincts, unless the Election Board unanimously agrees otherwise.

That's a lot of stuff.  Vaughn insists he didn't ask that the At-Large seats be eliminated, but that is as much effort as he put in to getting that section removed from the bill.

In my humble opinion, the most onerous aspect of SB 621, as it now stands, is the authority it would grant to the City Controller to amend the budgets after the Council appropriates the funds.  Currently, the Controller must sign off on any contract, stating that there are sufficient funds to pay the obligation.  Should tax receipts be lower than expected - a condition highly unlikely given the way the State Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) already holds some funds back to ensure all funds promised are actually delivered - the Controller can simply decline to sign off on new contracts.  This line by line, quarter by quarter, ability to modify any department or agency's budget simply moves the actions out of the light of day.  We saw this year how vindictive Vaughn can be, when he slashed the Democrat controlled agency budgets, leaving the Republican controlled department budgets alone. To have that accomplished behind closed doors is to place a huge burden on democracy.  We elected Democrats to County offices.  They have a legal budget.  Now to let the Republicans unfettered access to vindictively slash their budgets, or threaten to do so for its extortion potential, out of the light of day, is an example of how far Republicans will go to subvert the will of the electorate in order to benefit the Republican party.

The At-Large seats are similarly being eliminated by SB 621, for the sake of the Republican party.  When UniGov was instituted, the At-Large seats were created to ensure Republican control of the Council.  Now that they work to the advantage of the Democrat party, the Republicans want to change the rules.   I would have had more sympathy on the At-Large issue, had the Democrats not pulled their own version of turning the will of the electorate on its ear with their drastic change in the composition of Council Committee membership - dropping the number of minority party members from one less than the majority party, to only 3.  These lopsided committees have caused less representation for those districts that elected Republicans.

All tit-for-tat aside, there should be a compelling reason to change the representation on the Council.  No real argument has been made to eliminate those 4 At-Large seats.  Until a compelling reason is brought forth, one would hope the seats would remain.  But, again, this is not about good government, its about the Republican party changing the rules to maximize its authority when the elections did not go their way.

The third aspect that should cause concern is the change in appointments to the MDC.  This would give the Mayor control of the Airport, the CIB, and the MDC.  The MDC is the body that creates TIF districts and controls how the revenue is spent - and who gets those contracts.  The County Commissioners are among the few who 'get it' when it comes to the negative consequences of unfettered TIFs and who see a reason to get analytical when it comes to reviewing them.  On their behalf, their appointee Ed Mahern, has asked tough questions and made tough statements.  This impertinence has angered Vaughn considerably.  It is not enough for Vaughn that he gets his way regardless, as many of the Democrats on the Council push for one TIF after another, even though the districts pull money from basic services.  This aspect of the bill is likely as much targeted for Mahern's removal as it is to Mayoral control of the MDC.  This is not in the best interest of the taxpayers.  But, it is being pursued not for the taxpayers, rather for the Republican party.

Removing the CIB from the list of municipal corporations that can have a PILOT levied against them is simply pulling the authority from the Council after it had the audacity to think for itself and not do what Vaughn told them to do.

Much of the rest of this bill is simply weird.  Why change the residency requirements or make a bit more paperwork targeting judicial review of challenges to Council district maps?  Five instead of seven Township Board seats is almost irrelevant.  As is the approval of Department heads by the Council.  And, why does Vaughn care where the absentee votes are counted?  Certainly the Election Board could count them at a central location right now, if it so chose.  But, the Democrats have two votes on the Election Board and the Republicans only one.  So, its time to change the rules.

As I noted much earlier, this is how Republican rewrite the laws when the voters have the temerity to elect Democrats.  Its not about good government, not by a long shot.  Its about Republican party dominance - by hook or by changing the rules after the game has begun.


Anonymous said...

Personally, I'm fine with eliminating the at-larges, but only if we let some neutral design the districts on some arbitrary criteria (sales of girl scout cookies?) Since, on the whole, Councilors aren't the brightest kids on the block, I'd gladly accept fewer of them.

I also don't mind losing the Supt. of Public Instruction as an elected position, but could we throw in Sec. of State, Treasurer, Atty. General and the rest of the ministerial jobs?

Paul K. Ogden said...

I definitely think the AG should be an appointed position under the Governor.

Right now we have an AG who takes the position that he and only he gets to decide how the state handles and resolves litigation. In other words, his position is that he is not only the attorney for the State of Indiana, he is the State of Indiana.

I don't agree with that. If the Governor wants to settle X case, I think the AG has to do what the client, the Governor as representative of the State, tells him to do.

guy77money said...

To be honest by 2016 Indy will probably trend even more to the Democratic side then Republican. If the Democrats keep getting stronger I suspect that they should keep control of the council and doing away with the at large positions will not hurt them. The Republicans don't seam to have a clue how to run contested council races. Paul Ogden has written a tremendous amount on how bad the Marion County Republican organization has become.

The Democrats biggest priority is they have to find someone who can take out Ballard. To do that the candidate will have to buck the downtown establishment. It may be harder especially since the Pacers and Colts are playing well. Where you can attack Ballard is on TIFFS, the bad parking lot and downtown parking deals. Kennedy did a horrible job in her ads, you have to educate the public not yell at them.
As much as I hate to say it the soccer stadium may bring in the Hispanic vote for Ballard.

Pete Boggs said...

Locally, republican failure is an infection that won't be cured with state treatments of symptoms. It's an inside-out problem.

Anonymous said...

OOK, then eliminate the COUNTY clerk, the COUNTY treasurer, the COUNTY assessor, the COUNTY coroner and all the other illogically elected positions.

Had Enough Indy? said...

anon 9:27 - they weren't "illogical" offices when held by Rs.

Anonymous said...

They would have been illogical offices of they were held by farm animals. Ministerial offices populated by elected officials are a cross between political training pants and sending kids out to sell Sally Foster to raise money for schools.