Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Council Committee Votes 5-1 Do Pass on Prop 285

Warning: Rant ahead

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.

Blame decisions past and push problems forward seems to be the name of the game. But, make sure you get the CIB all the money it wants.

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.


M Theory said...

This is the best coverage of last night's event I've read from the perspective of The People. You write very well.

I'm very upset over the length of that dog and pony show and the fact that THE PEOPLE, those footing the bills, didn't get a chance to express their concerns and had to wait a very long time.

Moreover, the Rule of Law - straight from the Indiana Constitution - was read to them and they ignored the fact that they are not lawfully allowed to enter into these contracts.

I want to copy this piece your wrote word for word and republish it over at HOOSIERS FOR FAIR TAXATION and hopefully some of our readers will pick up your blog.

--Melyssa for HFFT

Had Enough Indy? said...

Thanks for the kind words, Melyssa. You are welcome to copy this on HFFT. I have added an edit note that I received word Joanne Sanders was not present because she was out of town for work. If and when I hear why Monroe Gray missed the meeting I will be sure to let you know so you can add that to your copy.

I loved your comment about the $300 shoes last night. A spot of levity that spoke volumes.

M Theory said...

I'm hearing from another Councilor that Sanders had plenty of notice on the meeting. I also am hearing that the Republicans did not change the meeting time as the democrats exec director explained to me in an email yesterday.

We're gonna get to the bottom of it. And it is likely that Sanders is not going to get away with it.

Never forget that whatever we post on our blogs comes up in google searches. We can also use the links 2 years down the line as documented history to show taxpayers what really happened.

We are literally writing history as it happens! :)

Anonymous said...

Speaking of the Mayor's Office, you should try obtaining the KMPG study that is supposedly finished. They were supposedly studying how the city could be more efficient. However, it has not been distributed to anyone lower than Director, it appears.

Two of their recommendations involve centralized cashiering and centralized customer service despite the fact city services are provided in multiple buildings. Intra-departmental and inter-departmental Committees are being set up to work on implementation strategies for the various recommendations.

While you are getting the report, you also might want to find out how much the city paid KPMG for their sound analysis (and watch to see who leaves the city to become employed by them or how much KPMG contributes to someone's campaign).

Anonymous said...

This committee meeting represents Indy's version of the mob. Under the pretense of generally following a public process (blithely ignoring laws that no one will enforce or prosecute), certain people are allowed to rob the city blind - "legal theft".

Anonymous said...

E-mail from Bob Lutz:

Subject: Direct Economic Impact of our Convention Center and Convention Business
Date: Wed, 29 Jul 2009 15:34:51 -0400

Good Afternoon everyone:

Thought you might be interested in the attached report. This was prepared by the Indiana Business Research Center of the Indiana University Kelly School of Business in Bloomington, Indiana. It is a report I requested IU prepare regarding the direct economic impact of our convention center and its expansion. I asked Dr. Jerry Conover at IU to review the data that researchers would think relevant and give me his opinion of a broad overview of the direct economic impact of our convention center. Good or Bad, I wanted an opinion that I know would be objective from business researchers who had nothing to gain or lose from the outcome.

The reason I asked the Indiana Business Research Center to prepare this report is because we have all heard a lot of numbers being thrown around and I had no idea were most came from. It also bothered me that I only heard them from people who had a stake in the outcome or who had something to gain or lose in the convention business. I was always worried about the objectivity of the reports I heard. I wanted to share Dr. Conover's report with you.

There was another report completed in 2006 that makes a statement I found amazing. That statement is: "If tourism did not exist in Indianapolis, taxing authorities around Indianapolis would need to generate an average of $613 in State & Local taxes from each of the 658,423 households in Indianapolis, in order to maintain the current level of tax receipts."

Robert B. Lutz

City County Council Dist 13

home: (317) 247-7370

office: (317) 241-4020

cell: (317) 432-9212

Had Enough Indy? said...

The attached report did not come through. I will see if I can post it in its entirty tomorrow in a new entry.

Meanwhile -- let me say:

Please note that the numbers reported in this admittedly week long analysis, are about one-tenth of those claimed by the ICVA and proponents of the CIB bailout passed by the Council committee chaired by Lutz (who I actually personally like – just don’t agree with him in this debate).

Also, there is an entire spectrum of possible universes between the sports/convention/tourist/hospitality industry we have and none at all. It appears if we do not accept the hotel tax, state loan, and the inevitable 2013 tax increases, plus whatever else folks can wrestle from the Legislature, it is the end times for downtown and Indy’s tourist trade. This is an old debate tactic to pretend there are only two alternatives when many outcomes are entirely possible. It is not always a choice of the lesser of two evils.

Since Lugar and Hudnut, the citizens of Marion County and beyond have poured an ever increasing amount of tax dollars into our sports industry. Proponents want to link it to the convention/tourist/and hospitality industry. So be it. But, the taxpayers have every right to expect an exit strategy from higher and higher donations to one segment of our economy. They deserve a plan to make this industry self-sufficient.

It isn't either all or none. It isn't even thrive and survive or bankrupt everyone else -- with a well considered plan, it can be a solution that works for everyone.

If the Councillors were considering raising $12M in new annual taxes for sidewalks, streets, parks and sewers, do you think they would have spent all this time on debating it? No. It would not have had two minutes before it was tabled into oblivion. So, why is the quality of life for a few more important than the quality of life for the many?

It is high time we find real solutions AFTER we determine exactly what the problems are. As I have said many times recently, the poster child for the bad decisions of the CIB is that we still owe $70M on the Hoosier Dome that cost $55M to build and which no longer exists. Tell me that there is nothing wrong with that picture.

Had Enough Indy? said...

I have been unable to post this report on jobs related to the Convention business. It is a short document, but it is a very long blog entry.

If the Council posts it on their website I will post a link to that. So far they haven't.

If you would like a copy of this report, email me a and I'll be happy to forward it to you.