Tuesday, February 26, 2013

IndyConnect Eliminates Rail - But Keeps Hefty Budget [UPDATED]

Check the IndyConnect website and you'll see that light rail has been eliminated from both the phase 1 and long range mass transportation plans.  The light rail from downtown Indy to Noblesville was responsible for about half of the 10-year, $1.35 billion, budget.  Yet, the current budget remains at $1.35 billion over the 10 years of phase 1.  Go figure.

For comparison, I have uploaded onto Google Drive, the old phase 1 plan (that also shows the long range additions) that I got from the IndyConnect website on January 1, 2012.  Here's the link to the current phase 1 plan and the current long range plan.  The main routes have been color coded and reference to rail is out.

That does not mean that the rail can't be put back in the blink of a Board vote.  That is one of the frailties of the current mass transit bill (HB 1011) that now is before the Indiana Senate. They can tout any plan they want - including spaceships should they choose - before the public referendum.  But nothing ties them to any particular plan or philosophy of what any public money should be spent on.  Nothing.

Hopefully, the Senate will change that.

[UPDATED 2-27-13 The IndyConnect folks appear to be playing both sides of the fence.  Check out this entry from Urban Indy "Green Line Study Examines Downtown Alignments".  Among other items of discussion the option for laying light rail lines in downtown City streets is more than interesting.  The goal is to link the Green Line, evidently, to the new Transit Hub, slated to go in on the south side of Washington Street, across from City Hall.  Yet more reason for the Legislature to make sure the plan the public gets sold on, is the plan that is implemented, should a referendum be successful.]

Mass Transit - TIF Out, Eminent Domain Out, Other Good Ideas Avoided

First off, lets take a moment to celebrate that HB 1011 was amended to omit the option to establish a TIF district along any rail lines. This amendment was offered by Representative Cherrish Pryor. Whew ! One very bad idea down !

Now on to other good amendments - some that made it and others that didn't get far.

I tripped on a link to documents provided to Legislators on the ISL website (in.gov/legislative).  These apparently are the documents that are available on the Legislators desks at various hearing dates.  I poked on the mass transit bill (HB 1011) and the House Ways and Means committee and finally found a hearing on February 13 with several amendments, some voted on and others not.

In this group were some very good ideas.  Amendment 35 (here is the link, but it requires ftp and may not work for you) banned the use of taxpayer assets or forced employee time to promote the public question unless those assets were also made available to those opposed to the public question.  It also would have banned vendors from promoting the question. 

Amendment 35 was not heard - an author was not even found at the hearing.

Amendment 38 (click here - again I hope the link works for you) was heard and passed by consent.  It wasn't clear to me if Rep. Pryor authored it, but she certainly championed it in the House Ways and Means Committee meeting. It included the elimination from HB 1011, the transit authority use of eminent domain.  Discussion mentioned that the Cities and Counties have the authority and most of the right of way already.  It also included the additional requirement that any bonds floated by the transit authority must also be approved by the fiscal bodies of the Counties involved, and set minority and women hiring goals.  And also notable, the transit authority board would have additional seats appointed by the County Councils and County Commissioners.  The Marion County appointments would be 5 - 2 by the Mayor, 2 by the Council, and 1 by the Commissioners.

Amendments 37, 40, and 41 all included a township by township referendum vote.  The final evolution of this issue was to allow the outer townships of the outer counties to have individual referenda, but not the internal townships in those counties, and no township votes in Marion County at all.  Of course, they need the donors from Decatur, Perry, and Franklin Townships, who will not see any improvement in the lacking transit we now 'enjoy,' should this mass transit plan go all the way through.

HB 1011 did pass out of the House and now goes to the Senate.  Hopefully they will include language to limit taxpayer's subsidizing only the proponents of the public question, trim the costs in half, include township by township opt-in votes, and find a way to ensure that any plan implied in the public referendum be the plan that must be implemented with the tax revenue approved.

But, today, I intend to enjoy the fact that the TIF district is out.

Monday, February 25, 2013

City-County Council Meets Tonight

The Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council meets tonight and there are a couple of interesting items on their agenda.

Being voted upon tonight will be Prop 33, which seeks to allocate $3 million of RebuildIndy funds for infrastructure improvements in the Avondale-Meadows area.  The intention is for this expenditure to substitute for a TIF district proposed earlier, whose stated goal was to entice a grocery store to locate and serve the neighborhoods.  This same proposal was voted on at the last Council meeting, but did not get a required 15 votes either up or down (final vote was 14-13, with two absent Councillors).

Several items to be introduced tonight caught my eye.

First is Prop 58, which seeks Council approval for the MDC to refinance a series of old bonds.  From the proposal itself, it is impossible to say if the bonds are part of a TIF district or not.  But several characteristics of this refinancing are more than interesting.  The effect of the proposal would be to retire old bonds from 1999/2002, when the principle was $29,365,000.  During the intervening 11-14 years, the City managed to pay less than $2 million in principle, leaving the current principle at $27,445,000.  The hope is to float no more than $28.5 million and sell bonds with a term ending in 2029.  So, while the City managed to pay less than $2 million over 14 years, they'll have to pay at least that each of the next 16.   Lots of questions arise in my mind about the fiscal stewardship exemplified here. 

Another, somewhat alarming, feature of Prop 58, is the indication that the City just might take out bond insurance on this beast.  Is our ability to repay these bonds in jeopardy?  Isn't the $80 million sitting idling in the 'Stabilization Fund' enough to ensure our City's full faith?

Keep your eye on Prop 58.

Second is Prop 60, which is to my knowledge, the first time the Council has considered granting a 100% 10 year abatement of taxes on equipment likely to have a less-than-10-years lifespan.  If approved, Prop 60 would allow Exact Target to avoid paying taxes on 'information technology' it intends to install.  I have requested more information on this.

Third is Prop 72, which would appropriate $11,630,000 in the CIB's budget to allow them to give the City 100% of this year's proceeds from the two recent tax hikes, as well as a $5 million shuffle between the CIB-City-MDC.  This shuffle begins when the CIB pays the City $5 million instead of spending the money on repairs of the Capitol Commons garage - the repairs will be paid for by the MDC with TIF money. So, bottom line is that the City will get $5 million from the TIF for public safety - which I expect is not on the list of allowed expenses of TIFs.

Its all about spending money, shuffling money, not collecting money, and avoiding paying obligations in a reasonable time frame only to find that doing so has penalties. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Interesting Reading - SB325 - Would Increase Council Oversight of MDC Actions

It surely may have been discussed and I simply missed it, but SB325 is new to me and quite interesting.  Authored by powerful Senator, Luke Kenley, the bill's effect in Marion County would be to impose additional Council oversight of some actions of the Metropolitan Development Commission.  SB325 passed out of the Senate and now awaits action in the House.  The LSA review of the bill is also available.

If enacted, the legislation would require City-County Council review or approval whenever the MDC wanted to commit public funds for the payment of bonds, leases and any other 'loan' type obligation.  It would require approval in most instances.  It would require only review if the purpose was sale or acquisition of real estate for more than $5 million or for 3 years or longer term of payment - if less than either it would escape review and approval.

The bill makes the MDC budget subject to review by the Council and their books subject to audit by the State Board of Accounts.  Their meetings and documents would be subject to the State's open door and open records laws.

Of particularly strong interest to me was the provision that any obligation of TIF funds for bonds, leases, loans, etc., (unless for the purchase of real estate noted above) would require prior approval by the Council.  Also, for any TIF that generates more than twice the amount of money the MDC needs to pay the obligations of that TIF, the MDC would have to return the excess revenue to the regular tax stream, thereby going to help the schools, library, townships, etc.  Currently, the MDC can and does return some excess to the regular tax stream, but there is no threshold above which they must. The Council would have to approve the amount each year, AND, would have the authority to change the amount up or down.

I tried to find others who had an eye on this bill and found this statement from the Indiana Farm Bureau :
Indiana Farm Bureau supported the bill because it provides much needed checks and balances and much more transparency.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Democrats Have Time to Redraw Their Maps To Increase Black VAP Majority Districts

As I mentioned in my last post, both competing Council District maps lose Black Voting Age Population (VAP) majority districts.  Currently there are 4.  The Republican drawn maps drop that number to 3, and the Democrat drawn maps drop to 2.

This is an important point.  Districts should to be drawn respecting communities of interest, with reasonably equal populations, be contiguous and reasonably compact.  Roughly one quarter of the Marion County population is African-American, so one would expect fair representation of that community would cause more than 2 Black VAP majority districts to be created.

Also, it should be said, one would hope that this was important to the Democratic caucus, especially, where roughly half of their voters are African-American.

But, where is the evidence that saving Black VAP districts can be accomplished.

I send you to the Common Cause District Builder website, Draw Marion County.   Common Cause Indiana used national resources to establish this website, held training sessions all around the County, encouraged individuals and groups to draw and submit their own maps using the software, and even submitted a map of their own.  Now, for full disclosure, I am a Board Member of Common Cause Indiana, and I was involved in drawing the map they submitted.

But, there were other maps drawn and shared on the Draw Marion County site.  Click here to begin, click on 'Enter As a Guest' button, and then click on the 'Shared' button.  This will cause a list of 10 Council District maps to appear.  The top one is the D drawn map.

As mentioned above, there are currently 4 Black VAP majority districts.  The R drawn map has 3.  The D drawn map has 2.

Of the 9 remaining 'Shared' maps, 2 have three Black VAP majority districts, 5 have 4 such districts, and 2 have five such districts.  All preserved more than the D drawn map.

So, it is not only possible, others (who didn't get paid to do it, even) managed more than the Democrat's hired gun did.

I say the Democrat Council caucus should use its time, while the legality of the R drawn maps is being considered in the Courts, to generate maps that better fit with the ideals of the party and which better preserve this very important community of interest.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Comparing D and R Drawn Maps - Demographics & Politics

Inspired by Paul Ogden's great catch (see "Technical Flaw May Doom GOP Drawn Indianapolis Council Districts") on the Republican drawn Council district maps, I stopped putting off using the Common Cause software to look over the Democrat drawn district maps.
Here are pertinent links for all of the competing maps and Council proposals:
--- R drawn maps
--- R ordinance
--- D drawn maps
--- D proposed ordinance
--- Common Cause DrawMarionCounty - R drawn maps
--- Common Cause DrawMarionCounty - D drawn maps
The Common Cause online program is helpful as it can be used to compare the various statistics for each of the maps.

I did input all of the D drawn maps, and as a verification that I did so correctly, the population of each district matched exactly the numbers provided on the Council website.

I looked at both the political (R voters vs. D voters) generated with the Common Cause website, which uses 2008 voting data and which generates only percentages.  There were two differences with the numbers provided on the Council website for the D drawn map - Council District 12 shows a Democratic majority on the Common Cause website, but a Republican majority on the Council site & Council District 3 was just the reverse.

Using the Common Cause website, the R drawn maps create 16 D majority and 9 R majority districts.  The D drawn maps create 17 D majority and 8 R majority maps.  The Common Cause website projects 19 D and 6 R districts in the currently used maps.

Of more concern, though, is the loss of Black majority voting age population districts.

Again, using the Common Cause website, the R drawn maps create 3 Black voting age population majority districts, the D drawn maps create only 2.  Both are down from the current 4 districts.

Looking at the non-white minority voting age population districts, both the D and R drawn maps create such 8 districts.  Currently there are 7.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Councillor Zach Adamson Speaks Out Against Lopsided Executive Power

In a very well phrased letter to the editor in today's IndyStar, Councillor At-Large, Zach Adamson, pushes against proposed legislation that would transfer most, if not all, of the fiscal responsibility properly residing in the City-County Council, to the Mayor.  Here is his the letter:
 Stop political bullying for more mayoral control 
There’s a strange smell in the air at the west end of Market Street. There are several bills, specifically SB 621 and HB 1399, making their way through the Indiana legislature that should concern every Hoosier. 
A system of checks and balances within government is a cornerstone of our democracy to ensure that no single person or body can hold unchecked reign over the people and/or their resources (property, money, etc). Indianapolis already has a strong mayor system.  
Even so, both the aforementioned bills seek to consolidate even greater power within the executive branch. These measures would remove the legislative oversight from many critical areas such as confirmation of department heads and allow unelected persons to spend your tax dollars as they will. If passed, they will concentrate the power of the executive over the Metropolitan Development Commission, where many of our tax dollars are spent and important zoning and development decisions are made.  
Unbelievably, these bills allow the executive unchecked spending power — not only the authority to line-item veto parts of the budget, but the unprecedented ability to write in different amounts, to change spending priorities at will, deliberately circumventing the legislative branch’s historic duty as the fiscal body, thereby creating an imperial executive. 
When Indianapolis and Marion County were consolidated, the mayor became the city-county executive, but we gave up our seven-member county council for four at-large city-county council members in the new city-county government. We now have three few representatives than other Indiana counties. SB621 seeks to remove those few remaining county-wide seats because demographic shifts suggest they are trending democratic; and more to the point, with a supermajority in the General Assembly, because Republicans can. 
These moves are nothing more than political bullying and it’s up to you to stop it. Please call your legislators and let them know your feelings on these issues. 
Zach Adamson
City-County Councilman, At-Large

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Council Democrats File Suit Over Redistricting Maps

This afternoon, City-County Council Democratic leadership file a lawsuit over the Council district maps.  Here is their press release:

 INDIANAPOLIS - This afternoon, President Maggie A. Lewis, Vice-President John Barth and Majority Leader Vern Brown, filed a lawsuit in the Marion Superior Court against the Marion County Election Board citing violations of Indiana law regarding mandatory redistricting.  
"State law requires redistricting during the second year after new census data has been reported. The maps enacted by the lame-duck council in December 2011 violate this requirement.  Those maps also made drastic and illogical changes to the current districts for purely partisan reasons,” stated Councillor Lewis.  “This council passed maps that made only minimal changes to the current districts, but the Mayor vetoed them. This means there are no legally valid maps in place, so we are asking the court to draw the district maps, as it did in 2003." 

"The redistricting maps we have created correlate directly with the new data and offer a balanced representation of the various constituencies we represent.   The maps we have drawn are balanced, compact, honor natural boundaries, and areas of interest," she added.

Results From Last Night's Council Meeting

Others reported much of this last night - see Gary Welsh over at Advance Indiana's first and second post, and Jon Murray at the IndyStar.

First, Prop 54, which was to be both introduced and heard last night, was instead sent to committee for a hearing, as is the usual procedure.  It has been assigned to the Rules committee, which will take the matter up at its March 12 meeting.  Many thanks to Council Clerk, NaTrina Debow for that information.  Prop 54 seeks to split the proceeds from the two new tax hikes between the CIB and the City (links to prop 54 and exhibit of the agreement between the CIB and OFM).

Second, Prop 48, which seeks to change the organization responsible for administering the Crime Prevention grants from the Indy Parks Foundation to the Central Indiana Community Foundation, was pulled from the agenda entirely.  Both this blog and Advance Indiana commented on the conflict of interest resulting from Council President Maggie Lewis being both the sponsor of this proposal and Executive Director of a grant recipient organization.

Third, Prop 33, which seeks to apply $3 million from RebuildIndy funds toward infrastructure improvements in the Meadows/Avondale area with the ultimate goal of enticing a grocery store to locate in the area, failed to muster a majority vote either for or against.  Democrat Vop Osili and Republican Ben Hunter were absent from the meeting.  The vote was 14 for and 13 against Prop 33.  Democrat Angela Mansfield joined all the Republican Councillors in opposing the proposal.  Since there was no majority, the Proposal is still alive and can be voted upon again at the next full Council meeting, February 25.

IMS Tax Givaway Would Affect Local Tax Revenues To City and (Gasp!) the CIB

A lot of misinformation is swirling, regarding local tax revenue implications of SB91, the $100 million giveaway to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

From the bill itself (page 6 of the pdf, lines 24-34):
Sec. 5. As used in this chapter, "covered taxes" means the part of the following taxes attributable to the operation of facilities located in a motorsports investment district designated under this chapter:
(1) The state gross retail tax imposed under IC 6-2.5-2-1 or use tax imposed under IC 6-2.5-3-2.

(2) An adjusted gross income tax imposed under IC 6-3-2-1 on an individual.

(3) A county option income tax imposed under IC 6-3.5.
(4) An admissions tax (if any) imposed under IC 6-9.
Unfortunately, no estimate of the fiscal impact has been done by the Legislative Services Agency.  But, out of respect to the taxpayers of Indianapolis, let's at least stop with the erroneous information that this is only a State Tax giveaway.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Council President Maggie Lewis - Conflict of Interest

Indianapolis City-County Council President, Maggie Lewis, has a conflict of interest in Prop 48.  The only question is, is that a conflict real or an appearance?

Prop 48 will be introduced at tonight's Council meeting.  She is the sole sponsor of this proposal that seeks to switch the Crime Prevention granting authority from the Indianapolis Parks Foundation to the Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF).  Gary Welsh over at Advance Indiana remarked on this the other day.

The conflict arises because Lewis is the Executive Director of Dove Recovery House, a facility that has received Crime Prevention grants the past 3 years and which lists "Indianapolis Foundation (a CICF Affiliate)" as a 'Partner'.  When you visit the CICF website you find that CICF is a partnership between Indianapolis Foundation and the Legacy Fund

Dove Recovery House was awarded a $75,000 Crime Prevention grant in 2010, a $100,000 Crime Prevention grant in 2011, and a $160,360 Crime Prevention grant in 2012.  The 2012 grant was the highest amount awarded to any organization that year.

From tax returns posted on GuideStar.org, it appears that Lewis became affiliated with Dove Recovery House some time in 2010.  No 2011 tax return is yet available on this site, and the previous years tax returns do not mention Lewis in any capacity.  For 2010, Lewis is named as the person who has the organization's books.  Unfortunately, the page that would list the names of Board Members and significant employees (like executive director), is missing, and the expenses are not itemized.  According to the summary page of that tax return total funding grew from $54,885 the previous year to $120,759 in 2010, largely as a result of the increase in grant funding from $16,690 to $68,910.  Meanwhile, aggregate salaries grew from $1,378 to $76,574.

It would seem that the Crime Prevention grant allowed salaries to be offered by Dove Recovery House, and likely, Lewis was one of those salaried employees.

The Dove Recovery House website lists 7 employees and 13 'Partners'; the latter of which are likely funders or providers of in-kind donations.  Again, "Indianapolis Foundation (a CICF Affiliate)" is one of those listed under 'Partners'.

Whereas the Crime Prevention grants seem to have offered the extra cash to Dove Recovery House to reinstate salaries, thereby directly benefiting Lewis, would seem to be conflict enough for Lewis to have found someone else to sponsor Prop 48.  But given the relationship between CICF and one of Dove Recovery House's 'Partners', it is additionally troubling and could easily call into question the impartiality of CICF, should Dove Recovery House again apply for a grant.

As I stated at the beginning, this is either the appearance of a conflict of interest on President Lewis' part, or a real conflict of interest.  In either case, she should step aside from Prop 48.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Miles the Moocher - Beggin' For Speedway Handout

Anyone without a lobotomy knew this was coming.

Miles was put on the Board of the Speedway.  That famed, holy, altar to, well, speed.  Four wheel.  Two wheel.  Iconic.  American.  Speed.

But, Miles the Moocher; his appointment signaled a change of course that would embarrass most Hulmans.

It turns out, the Speedway wants Irsay's deal.  They want the Simons' deal.  They want $100 million.

Pay up Hoosiers.  Otherwise it is end times for Indiana itself.

In an exclusive - intrepid IndyStar reporter Jon Murray and his bi-line co-author Alex Campbell, report that the Speedway has taken the road more travelled - the road paved with taxpayer dollars - and are requesting a modest $100,000,000 dollars from you and me.

Feeling tapped out by the Pacers and the CIB's secret agreement?  Feeling unsympathetic because of the Irsay deal under Peterson?  Feeling verklempt at the thought of a new soccer stadium of all things?  Well, know that I feel your pain.

Just get on the damned phone and tell your State Legislature - un-ahh, no-way, not-happening.

Geez.  I'm going to go throw up now.

Council Meets Monday - CIB Agreement Fast-Tracked

The Council agenda for Monday night's meeting is now available (click here).

Being set for introduction AND final vote this night, is approval of the CIB/OFM agreement for the CIB to kick back 100% of the first year revenue from the increases of car rental and ticket taxes approved last month by the Council, and 25% of those revenues until 2017.  Unless one side backs out in writing, the agreement extends another 4 years.  This is Prop 54 which is posted as a Proposal and an Exhibit A; the latter of which as all the details.  The agreement does say that these monies will go to public safety, but it does not require that it cause an increase in the public safety budget.  So, there is no guarantee that there is any real benefit to public safety.  It is unusual for any proposal, other than those recognition type proposals pronounced with fanfare at the beginning of each Council meeting, not to be sent to a committee for a more thorough review than can be conducted at a full Council meeting.

Being introduced Monday night and sent to committee, are two that caught my eye.  Prop 44 changes the Charter School Ordinance to require the Deputy Mayor for Education to report to the Council whenever it reports to the Indiana State Board of Education on the 4 IPS schools just put under Mayoral control.

Prop 48 changes the body that 'decides' who gets Crime Prevention Grants from the Indy Parks Foundation to the Central Indiana Community Foundation.

On the agenda after going through committee, is Prop 33, which would direct that $3 million in RebuildIndy money go to infrastructure improvements in the Meadows/Avondale area.  The proposal is accompanied by a map of the area in Exhibit A.  This is to supplant the previously tabled TIF proposal. 

Not on the agenda are two proposals tabled indefinitely by the Metropolitan & Economic Development committee.  Prop 274 and 275 urge the MDC and State Legislature, respectively, to adopt the recommendations of the TIF Study Commission.  This Commission was the best thing the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council ever did in the 25 years I've been in this town.  This is the death knell of all that excellent work, killed off by greed and ambition disguised as helping neighborhoods in need.  What the recent work of the Council really does is pull anticipated tax revenues from already developing areas, and uses that money for favored developers and puts basic services at risk - services provided not only by the City, but by the Library, schools, and IndyGo.  The City gets tax dollars from other taxes besides property taxes - the Library, schools, and IndyGo do not.  So, the bottom line is that this Mayor and this Council are quite happy to line the pockets of the favored few, at the expense of the rest of us.

[edited to note:  Councillors Adamson and Mahern voted against the Mass Ave TIF, and Councillors Adamson & Mahern were joined by Brown, Holliday, and Scales in voting against the Mid-North TIF.  Credit should be given where credit is due.]