Thursday, October 1, 2009

Backroom Budgeteering for Telecom & Video Services Agency -- Part 5 of Series

The actions surrounding the budget for the Telecom & Video Services Agency (TVSA) are actually far more important than the budget numbers themselves.

TVSA is the agency that is responsible for the two government channels, educational TV, and auditing the Cable TV providers' numbers to be sure they actually send the full amount of franchise fees owed to the City. The franchise fees are at the core of the real issues surrounding TVSA's budget. For 2010 they are expecting these fees to bring $8.25M to the City-County coffers. Some think we should be getting tens of millions more.

TVSA's budget weighs in at only $472,373 for 2010; decreased by $154,000 from 2009, which results in cutting the executive director and his assistant's jobs. The explanation offered was that state law changed a few years ago, pulling much of the responsibility of Cable TV provider oversight to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, even though that organization has no real oversight duties assigned to it. In effect, the State Legislature replaced excellent local oversight with basically no State oversight of the Cable TV industry. Guess the lobbyists' stories were too compelling to ignore. But, the reduction in duties here in Indy's TVSA were what was said to result in the decision to cut the Executive Director position in 2010.

The alternate explanation is far more troubling and that is : Rick Maultra, the man who holds the soon to be cut Executive Director position, has been pushing for AT&T to fork over their share of cable franchise fees which he estimates could be in the $10s of millions of dollars at this point. Joe Loftus, who advises Mayor Ballard as his Counsel, is also a lobbyist for AT&T. Connecting the dots was going on for a full month with primarily Republican Councillors decrying the 'accusations going around' and the lone Libertarian and primarily Democrat Councillors decrying the role that politics was playing in the TVSA budget. None of them spoke directly on the matter while the cameras were rolling.

Paul Ogden has done a masterful job of laying it all out on his blog - see here and here. Let me just say that more important than the $154,000 cut from TVSA's budget is the question of whether Mayor Greg Ballard allowed anyone to work through his budget process to secure an advantage for a private company at the expense of the taxpayers of Indianapolis.

During the Administration & Finance Committee's review of the TVSA's budget, Joanne Sanders moved that the TVSA's budget be supplemented with an additional $154,000 to be taken from newly added money given to the City by the Water Company -- a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) amounting to $1,390,571 for 2009 amd $721,695 for 2010. The motion passed when Councillor Malone (R) joined Democrats Sanders, Nytes, and Batemen in voting aye. Nay votes came from Republicans Pfisterer, Vaughn, and Day.

At the full Council meeting, the TVSA budget was amended with a motion by Councillor Bob Lutz (R), to pull the $154,000 back out from the budget. It passed with a vote of 19-8. The 8 voting against the amendment were Cain (R), Coleman (L), Gray (D), Malone (R), Mansfield (D), Nytes (D), Oliver (D), and Sanders (D). Councillors Minton-McNeill and Smith were absent all night. The remainder of the Councillors voted in favor of the amendment -- thus removing Maultra from his job, letting AT&T provide cable TV without paying the fees other cable companies must pay, and letting additional right of way fees, perhaps amounting to tens of millions of dollars, to slide from Indy's grasp.

I think it important to reiterate the real problematic issue presented by the TVSA budget story. Did Mayor Greg Ballard allow his budget process and key Department heads to be used to secure a benefit for a private company to the detriment of the taxpayers of Indianapolis?


Unknown said...

The answer to your is obviously Yes.

Unknown said...

Oops! Question left out.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Of course he did. I think lack of institutional control sums up Mayor Ballard's management of his administration.

P.S. Thanks for the plug.

Had Enough Indy? said...

The problem with backroom deals is that, unless a participant spills the beans, you can't prove anything. Sure, you can hear a duck quacking. Hell, with this one you can hear a whole flock quacking. But, you can't prove anything.

This administration has been particularly holier-than-thou-Bart-Peterson. Seems like they are accumulating more than their share of skeletons in their own closet.

Paul K. Ogden said...

The fact that an AT&T representative was making calls to council members and showed up at the council hearing where an amendment did away with Maultra's job, shows completely what the move was all about. Otherwise, why would AT&T be interested in Maultra getting the axe?

Had Enough Indy? said...

quack - quack - quack, quack - quack