Monday, October 19, 2009

Wishard Referendum - Role of Legislature and Added Information

I want to take a short detour into the actions of the Legislature, that in the 11th hour of the last night of the 2009 Special Session, gutted the democratic process inherent in a referendum. Representative Bill Crawford and Senator Luke Kenley are the two names that arise most often as the major players in the special law written for Wishard. Whoever the players were, shame on you.

The referendum law for large capital projects requires the following wording:
"Shall ________ (insert the name of the political subdivision) issue bonds or enter into a lease to finance ___________ (insert a brief description of the controlled project), which is estimated to cost not more than _______ (insert the total cost of the project) and is estimated to increase the property tax rate for debt service by ___________ (insert increase in tax rate as determined by the department of local government finance)?".

The midnight insertion for Wishard provides that they can use the following wording:
"Shall the Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, Indiana, issue bonds or enter into a lease to finance (insert the description of the project)?".

The additional specifics must be provided in a legal notice that links the project information to the referendum. Of course, few people will see or read the legal notice. It has been provided at HadEnoughIndy previously. Unlike with other referenda, nowhere is the total cost of the project required, just the amount of the bonds that will finance the deal. So, as Matt Gutwein, CEO of the Marion County Health & Hospitals Corp., likes to brag about, there is a savings account with $150 million that H&H has managed to squirrel away. According to the Wishard project website, that $150 million will also be spent on this project and add to the bonded amounts that require disclosure and which were disclosed not to exceed $703 million. That website, by the way does not describe the project at all - no number or uses of the buildings - nothing - not even the artist renderings Gutwein has been hauling around the County. check it out, its just a PR piece.

Required of all referendum questions, is specific details, including per square foot charges, that are to be posted on the State Department of Local Government Finance website. The per square foot charges listed there for the Wishard project are:

Hospital building and ambulatory clinic - $635.96 (estimated).
Administrative office building - $286.43 (estimated).
Parking garage - $56.69 (estimated).
Central utility plant - $1,335.55 (estimated).

The per square foot information would be far more valuable if there were also an estimate of the total square footage of each structure. But, even the above information has value.

The 'central utility plant' has received very little attention. The only question I have heard posed, but not answered, was if it was going to be based on 'green' energy. Given the cost per square foot, renewed efforts to gain clarification of its purpose and usefulness, especially since there is access to electricity from more conventional sources, should be undertaken.

The Administrative office building is listed on the artist rendering, available through the IBJ, as 'Faculty Office', as in an office building for IU Medical Instructors. So, a good question is, why should Marion County taxpayers be on the hook, either through proceeds of its Health & Hospital Corp. or through increased property taxes, for a building to benefit the IU Medical School? Which, by the way, is contributing nothing to the project, either for construction or for ongoing operations, even though it is a vital asset as a teaching hospital for IU and provides its faculty with the opportunity to also have a private practice.

More questions to come in a future entry entitled "What If..." But, for this moment, lets not forget that the Legislature allowed our first public referendum to be watered down to essentially say "We do good works. Shall we continue?" Hopefully the democratic process promised by referenda will not be gutted for any future project and the rights of the voters will be held in higher esteem than shown for the Wishard project referendum.

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