The Indiana Legislature is overwhelmingly Republican at this point. During much of recent history they have been mostly Republican in the Senate and see sawing with Democrats for the majority in the House.
What happens when you want Republican control ensconced in Uni-Gov? You create 4 At-Large positions to ensure that Republicans will enjoy the majority in the Council. The County wide elections for all other offices ensure Rs will control all divisions of Indianapolis for generations.
What happens when a Republican Mayor of Indianapolis simply doesn't pay into the police and fire pensions that are still the City's obligation? Nothing.
Then what happens when a Democrat Mayor of Indianapolis faces having to pay the promised retirement money due to actual retirees, and the money is not there in the pension fund? Nothing. At first. Then, the Legislature tells him he can raise taxes.
When raising taxes sinks that Democrat Mayor and he is followed by the accidental and now ceremonial Republican Mayor who bumbles in his testimony before the Legislature, what happens? The Legislature take the pension obligation off his hands and let him keep the tax increase anyway.
What happens when a lawyer turned Councillor turned lobbyist finally morphs into Chief of staff/non-ceremonial Mayor? That's when all the mean spirited, mud wallowing, take no prisoners stuff hits the fan. That's when the budgets of duly elected Democrat officeholders are slashed in a blackmail bid. That's when passing two tax increases must include 8 Democrat Councillors, and not just enough to gain a majority on top of all Republicans voting in favor. That's when 'cooperation' turns into capitulation.
The Democrats on the Council (with a couple of exceptions) have done little except capitulate. They and their Republican brethren have not been very interested in securing and protecting the role of the Council as a body independent of the Mayor's office.
So, now we see the logical extension of a power grab that has been operating for some time. Get rid of the 4 Council At-Large positions, now likely to remain Democrat, and hope you can still manage to get a slight majority of Republicans to again win the 25 District seats come 2015. Get rid of the County Commissioners', now likely to remain Democrat, appointments to the MDC and hand them to the Mayor. 'Allow' the Council to consolidate the Sheriff's Department, now likely to remain in Democrat hands, with IMPD and put it under the Mayor. If revenues dip, allow the Controller, under the Mayor, to cut any budget he likes in order to match revenues with expenses - without going back through the Council, which heretofore was the fiscal body of the City.
The bill, SB 621, passed both chambers and now is in Conference Committee to work out differences in the versions passed. IndyStar Legislative beat reporter, Mary Beth Schneider, tells us how things went in that Committee.
When the bill was heard earlier in the session, lawmakers heard from dozens of people opposing the bill, including one GOP councilwoman, Christine Scales. Only two people spoke in favor of it: Joe Loftus, the lobbyist for Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, and Rep. Mike Speedy, an Indianapolis Republican who formerly served on the City-County Council.They brought in the star-studded duo of Republican Councillors Holden and McHenry (Gooden appointed to replace Ryan Vaughn on the Council a year ago, and McHenry who always sides with the Republican party) to testify against the At-Large positions. Councillor Shreve would be the only Republican Councillor they could choose who might have less gravitas than these two. No doubt Gooden and McHenry's oratory and logic were stunning, because the At-Larges are back on the chopping block. Personally, I suspect it has less to do with purported anonymity and meddlesomeness, than simply because those offices are held by Democrats and that is inconvenient to the Republican Party.
Republicans used a joint House-Senate conference committee to try to erase any impression that there is little support for the plan. In a hearing that lasted six hours, other Republican members of the council, including Janice McHenry and Will Gooden, indicated at-large council members are anonymous at best and meddlesome at worst.
The two Democrats on the Conference Committee say they will not vote in favor of this version of SB 621. Interestingly, in a game of chess way, Conference Committees have no majority party. Two Senators, one of each party, and two Representatives, one of each party, compose these committees. Obstinate appointees can be replaced. In this case, obstinate Ds can be replaced by cooperative Rs, who are in abundance in both chambers. No telling if swaps will be made. And, there is no telling if the revised version that comes out of the Conference Committee will pass both chambers in that new form.
This Legislative session is drawing to a close; with April 29 being the last day it can adjourn. So the current heavy handed Republican reach into Indy's governance will soon end. But, do not expect this to be the last chapter; it wasn't the first, second, third or fourth chapter.