Monday, February 28, 2011

Council Considers No-So Deal Tonight - Hold On To Your Wallets

The Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council meets tonight, beginning at 7 pm, in the Public Assembly Room of the City-County Building. Their agenda again includes Prop 292. This is the proposal that would put the taxpayers in the banking business and loan $98, plus provide $40 million in actual taxpayer investment, to the proposed developer of the North of South project. Said developer only has to come up with $6 million for their part of the deal.

A number of proposals are being introduced tonight. These caught my eye:

Prop 46 -- Would approve a property tax installment plan for those who have homestead property in Marion County. After approval by the Council, the State Department of Local Government Finance would also have to approve the plan. Mike Rodman, County Treasurer, drafted the plan. The plan would be voluntary, and presumably appeal to those homeowners who either have no mortgage, or those whose mortgage company does not escrow funds for property tax payments.

Prop 47 -- Would establish a $100 cash fund so that the Assessors office could provide change to those who make small, cash payments for services.

Prop 52 -- Would amend the sign ordinance to allow two types of signs on IndyGo bus shelters and City-owned benches at bus stops - advertising signs and transit related signs. It is hoped that more bus shelters would be erected to City specifications by firms interested in selling ads for the City, and that the ads would bring in some additional revenue for the always struggling IndyGo.

Prop 62 -- Would add licensing requirements and regulation of flea markets into the ordinances.

Prop 77 -- Would give $2 million to the Indianapolis Parks Foundation for crime prevention grants. I assume that most, if not all, of this amount would be passed on to crime prevention grant awardees. But, the proposal as posted online, does not specify how much of this money is intended to be used by the Foundation for administration and evaluation of the grantee projects.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

No-So Field of Dreams - Lie and They Will Build It

There are fine people of integrity who work in high positions within the Ballard administration, and I do not want to impugn them, by any means. But, it must be said that the public presentations of recent Ballard proposals, including the sale of the parking meter system and now the bankrolling of the North of South project, have crossed the line into outright lying in order to move the proposals forward. The buck for complete integrity of the Ballard administration must stop at Ballard's desk.

Headed to the next full Council meeting on Monday night, is Prop 292, which would bankroll the North of South development to the tune of nearly $140 million. (see previous blog entries "North of South - Details of Proposed Deal", and, "MDC to Vote on No-So Deal Today" for full details)

It is one thing to disagree about the relative merits of any proposed deal. It is quite another for the administration to allow lies to the Councillors, lies to the media, and lies to the public, be the standard operating procedure to push through any deal - much less one so preposterously detrimental to Indy's taxpayers as this one is.

Here's the roundup of lies and disingenuous implications...

Lie #1 -- Prop 292 would allow the floating of up to $98 million in bonds. It has been stated that these bonds would carry an early termination penalty. The lie is in the statement that prepayment penalties are normal for City bonds.
a) the City refinances bonds continually, as interest rates change, as the City thinks it can capture extra cash through an elongation of the term of a bond - for any number of reasons. An early termination penalty would be a ludicrous impediment for the City to voluntarily walk into.
b) a key term of the No-So deal is that at the 10 year mark, the developer would refinance the project on their own hook, with any financial institution they can convince at that time, in order for the City's bonds to be paid off. Why is the City deliberately placing a poison pill into its future ability to pay the 30 year bonds off after 10 years?

Lie #2 -- The No-So development is not receiving an abatement.
The deal stipulates that any property tax revenue generated by the development during the first 10 years, will be applied as a credit toward the developer's obligation to make each year's bond payment. So, say in year 5 the development is generating $1 million in property taxes, and the bond payment due that year is $6 million. The developer would only have to pay $5 million to the City and the City would apply the $1 million in property tax revenues to the bond payment. This is an abatement. And, it amounts to a 100%, 10 year abatement at that.

Lie #3 -- The City is only contributing $9 million to the project.
The deal calls for $9 million in infrastructure improvements. But, it also calls for the repayment of $14 million to Lilly that is being handed over to the developer. It calls for $5 million from the State due to the shenanigans to call this project a 'Certified Technology Park' - money that would flow to the City and be handed over to the developer by the City. The its-not-an-abatement abatement of property taxes is estimated by the City to amount to about $12 million. That's $40 million by my count. What also needs to be added, although I can't be sure how much, is the cost of additional fire and police protection needed for the area. Since the property tax revenues from the project would be used to pay off the bonds, the rest of us will have to pay for the additional services needed for the area.

Lie #4 -- There is no real risk to the City's taxpayers because the City will hold the first mortgage on the development.
So, let me get this straight... If the development doesn't happen either on time or to completion, the City can take ownership of it? Then what? Pour even more taxpayer money into it? Even banks only let out portions of a loan for a new building over time, as the building progresses - in order to reduce their risk.
This development is too risky for a financial institution. Yet the taxpayers should now act like bankers and fund this project. The taxpayers are being asked to put nearly $140 million at risk, while the developer only has to come up with $6 million. I conclude that the taxpayers are being asked to carry far more risk than the developer.

Implications for the City go beyond this, as well.

Statements are being made that imply this is the best way for the City to invest in downtown development. Let's assume for the sake of argument, that the City ought to put any or all of excess TIF revenues into one project. How was it determined that this project had the most merit? In short, there was no competition to establish any supremacy or advantage.

Let me propose two alternatives - please note that I am NOT backing these, just suggesting that the No-So deal is inferior to other possible uses of TIF revenue. I strongly back using excess TIF money to pay off the TIF bonds as early as possible, so that the TIF district can be retired and the wealth shared with all taxpayers.

The first would be to bankroll, in a similar fashion, the redevelopment of the old MSA site. This project has languished and it is not generating any taxes, due to the CIB's ownership of the land.

The second would be to build the long desired criminal justice center - perhaps even on the old MSA site. It would cost about $50 million total, but, it would allow the termination of a number of leases currently required due to lack of space for City-County functions. The taxpayers would be buying an asset.

The new attitude toward TIF district revenues is actually scary for the taxpayers. Under Ballard's leadership, they are now being used like slush funds. When established, they were sold to the public as means of priming the economic pump. Start development, and more development will follow. The TIF districts have also been sold as being of limited duration - the TIF districts would be retired ASAP and their tax revenues would soon be used to enrich all of Indianapolis.

North of South is a bad deal for the taxpayers of Indianapolis. But, the lies told about the project in order to sell it, the lack of competitive analysis for any project, and the new attitude toward TIF districts, creates a situation that is an even worse deal for taxpayers.

Tully's Posts Continue On Arlington Woods Turnaround

Next in the series regarding the Turnaround at Arlington Woods Elementary is online now in "High expectations inspire high goals".

The entire series:

Feb. 13: Two teachers develop a plan to transform a struggling school.
Feb 16: Higher standards and weekly tests are keys to the turnaround.
Feb. 20: The school discipline team works to prevent disruptive behavior.
Feb. 23: Cameron is only 12, but he has a plan for college.
Feb. 27: Can the success achieved at Arlington Woods be replicated elsewhere?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

In a Democracy, The Public Comment Period Never Ends

Stealing a motto from the I-69 movement - In a Democracy, the public comment period never ends.

Today I am heading to the Statehouse to support the Democrats in their efforts to protect working Hoosiers.

I will attempt to provide updates throughout the day as to what is happening.

[edited Feb 25, 2011 to add: links to video I shot while attending the Labor Rally at the Indiana Statehouse on February 23, 2011

Raising Voices in Song
Chants Through the Day ]

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

IndyStar Reporting Breaking News - Indiana Democrats Trigger Showdown

The IndyStar website is reporting that Indiana House Democrats have left the State in order to kill so-called 'right to work', also known as 'right to work for less' legislation.
Seats on one side of the Indiana House were nearly empty today as House Democrats departed the the state rather than vote on anti-union legislation.

A source tells the Indianapolis Star that Democrats are headed to Illinois, though it was possible some also might go to Kentucky. They need to go to a state with a Democratic governor to avoid being taken into police custody and returned to Indiana.
Today, the union members who have filled the Statehouse — an estimated 4,000 according to the Indiana State Police — held a rally, chanting such things as “Ditch Mitch” and “Save Our Families,” which he must have heard as he worked in his nearby Statehouse office.
More as it develops.

Tully's Fantastic Series Continues

IndyStar columnist, Matt Tully, has an stellar ongoing series on the turnaround in one IPS school - Arlington Woods Elementary.

Sunday's newspaper had the third installment "School's peacemakers are key to its turnaround". It is now posted online. Again, this series is a must read for all those interested in improving education in our State.

The entire series:

Feb. 13: Two teachers develop a plan to transform a struggling school.
Feb 16: Higher standards and weekly tests are keys to the turnaround.
Feb. 20: The school discipline team works to prevent disruptive behavior.
Feb. 23: Cameron is only 12, but he has a plan for college.
Feb. 27: Can the success achieved at Arlington Woods be replicated elsewhere?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Union Busting Reaches Fever Pitch In Indiana

Union busting is all the rage these days, and the backlash is just about to be ramped up in earnest.

At the Indianapolis International Airport, CEO John Clark has announced his intention of revoking collective bargaining rights for airport employees. Make serious note here, that nothing happens at the airport without the full consent of Mayor Ballard, who appoints 6 of the 8 board members. IndyStar reporter Bruce Smith, reported on Thursday (Feb 17, 2011):

Jeff Withered, business agent for Operating Engineers Local 399, was blunt in saying negotiations ended abruptly after Clark became involved. He said that smacks of a betrayal of promises by Clark and the Indianapolis Airport Authority board to allow collective bargaining.

"John Clark stopped it and told us to go away for two years," Withered said.

Clark will ask the airport board Friday to begin steps to repeal the ordinance passed in December 2008 that granted collective bargaining rights for airport employees.

The board is expected to hold a hearing March 11 on an ordinance to repeal those collective bargaining rights.

At least three employee groups have shown interest in forming unions.

Airport Board meeting agendas can be obtained by visiting the Board's webpage and clicking on the calendar for board meetings in the upper right hand corner of the page. As of right now, no Board meeting has been added to the calendar for March 11, so keep checking.

Meanwhile the Republican-controlled State Legislature is pushing forward on a large number of bills, all of which hack at one key component after another, of workers rights to collective bargaining or union operations. They want to make collective bargaining illegal for all state workers. They want to prohibit union/government negotiated project labor agreements. They want to increase the size of a project wherein a common wage would have to be determined. They want to limit what can be part of the negotiated package for union contracts in educational institutions.

The idea that a group of American individuals should be legally prohibited from associating with one another and joining together to improve their work environment and pay, is in direct contradiction with the inalienable rights enunciated in our Declaration of Independence.

The real aim of all of these legislative efforts is not to make Indiana more competitive in attracting business. It is to bust the unions, and allow employers to do whatever they want in work conditions and wages. It is also, to reduce the ability of unions to lobby for better laws and to contribute money and manpower to Democratic candidates.

For much of this week, the Central Indiana Labor Council plans rallies at the Statehouse. The schedule is:
Monday, February 21 -- 9 am
Tuesday, February 22 -- 10 am
Wednesday, February 23 -- 10 am
Thursday, February 24 -- 10 am

The Central Indiana Jobs With Justice is focusing on the hearings on HR1468, the so-called 'right to work' bill. That hearing begins at 9 am, Monday, February 21, in room 156A in the basement of the Statehouse. If you cannot be there, even though Monday is a holiday (thanks to unions, by the way), you can watch live video feed from the Statehouse through the Legislature website, by clicking on the 'Watch Indiana General Assembly Live' button in the right hand corner of the home page.

Unions may represent a small fraction of workers in our State. But there can be no mistaking the positive influence of those contracts on the rest of us.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Airport To Recieve Property Taxes - Make No Mistake About Their New Plan

The Indianapolis International Airport Board has okayed the long term land use plan developed over the past year. (see Chris O'Malley's,IBJ reporter, take on the deal "Airport could land $63 million annually from land development")

Nothing happens at the Airport that is not okayed by Mayor Ballard. The Mayor gets to appoint 6 of the 8 members.

This plan depends upon the Airport holding on to vast tracks of land that it no longer needs for its own operations. That would include the old terminal and adjacent parking and car rental facilities. Much of the land in question is situated in Wayne Township, but some is inside Decatur as well.

O'Malley reports:
The potential of generating up to $63 million for the airport annually is based on land-rent income only, Berta Fernandez, executive vice president of Landrum & Brown, told the board.

But it’s likely the airport, in conjunction with other governmental entities affected by the airport, will have to offer incentives to lure businesses. Competition is already robust among other communities and other states waving around tax abatements and other lures.
It always amazes me that Republicans claim to be so committed to the free market, yet continuously set up these types of unfair competition situations that taxpayers ultimately are funding.

If the land were returned to the tax rolls, property taxes would be paid on the land as well as any improvements built on the land. In this scenario, the companies would pay taxes only on their improvements and lease the land from the airport. The whole thing hinges on the lease payment for the land being less than the property taxes that would have to be paid if the Airport sold off the land to private developers.

In effect money that could have gone into property taxes would flow instead to the Airport. The remainder would constitute a permanent property tax abatement.

This most assuredly affects Wayne and Decatur Township, whose property tax levies unfairly tilt toward homeowners, as the Airport controls so much land. Half of all property taxes go to the schools in each township.

Other consequences, though, include the unfair competition that comes about when one company sits on Airport property, and its competitor does not. This is exemplified by gas stations that now sit across the street from each other in Wayne Township. The subsidy envisioned to 'lure' businesses to Airport property will also unfairly compete with the full development of Ameriplex.

While the burden of an airport for central Indiana falls on Wayne and Decatur Townships, that burden should be no more than is absolutely necessary. The abject failure of the Ballard Administration and the Airport Authority to return unneeded property back to the tax rolls places just such an unnecessary burden on Wayne and Decatur taxpayers. But, make no mistake about it, City coffers, Library coffers, IndyGo coffers will also be lightened by this misguided plan to divert new money to the Airport. The City-County government takes in roughly a third of all property tax revenues. If the deal means $63 million a year to the Airport, it would mean at least a loss of $20 million a year that could have gone to our City and County government. And not a single new tax would have to be levied nor rate increased. All it would take is for the Airport to do exactly what it should to - return the unneeded land to private develoment and commerce.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

No-So Deal Back At Committee Tonight

The North of South deal, Prop. 292, goes back before the Economic Development committee of the Council tonight. The meeting begins at 5:30 pm in room 260 of the City-County Building.

Matt Tully In Process of Hitting One Out of the Park

Star columnist, Matt Tully, is running a series of articles on stellar progress by students, staff, and parents of Arlington Woods Elementary school. The centerpiece is a teacher-crafted plan they call Project Restore with a core principle of high expectations for students.

Sunday's segment : "When every minute counts"

Today's segment : "Students rise to challenge of Project Restore's rigorous tests"

Must read for all those interested in improving education.

Dubbing the series " The Code Breakers of Arlington Woods", here are the topics Tully will present
Feb. 13: Two teachers develop a plan to transform a struggling school.
Feb 16: Higher standards and weekly tests are keys to the turnaround.
Feb. 20: The school discipline team works to prevent disruptive behavior.
Feb. 23: Cameron is only 12, but he has a plan for college.
Feb. 27: Can the success achieved at Arlington Woods be replicated elsewhere?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

This Goes For Decatur School Board Members, Too

Today's Indianapolis Star has this fantastic post, authored by Steve Key, General Counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association.

Here is what he had to say about Wayne Township School Board members:

Some Wayne Township School Board members have decided not to speak to reporters. Their voice will now be that of paid district spokeswoman Mary McDermott-Lang.

The media serve as a proxy for citizens – attending public meetings that a citizen’s schedule might preclude. Reporters ask questions that would be on the minds of those who voted for the School Board.

These questions posed by a reporter and included in a newspaper article or news broadcast help citizens understand the quality of representation they are getting from an elected official.

Those citizens are not well served by a board member who refuses to articulate the reasons behind a policy decision, but prefers to hide behind the practiced and professional tongue of a spokesperson who did not cast a vote and can’t speak to the personal motivations of any individual board member for a vote taken.

If Wayne Township School Board members can’t handle the heat of media questions, then they need to get out of the proverbial kitchen.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I'll Jump In -- Indiana's Proposed Constitutional Amendment To Limit Marriage Defies Common Sense

Democrats are rightly taken to task by Matt Stone of IndyStudent (see "To My Democrat Friends"), and Bil Browning of The Bilerico Project (see "What They're Saying: Indiana's Marriage Discrimination Amendment"), for remaining mute as HJR0006 sails through our State Legislature. This bill would change our State Constitution to include this definition of marriage:
Section 38. Only a marriage between one (1) man and one (1) woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.
I do not speak for the Party, nor, do I imagine they would ever ask me to. What I am, is a Democrat.

I don't get it, pure and simple. I cannot understand why anyone cares who gets married to whom. Much less can I grasp even a glimmer of why some people feel compelled to post preemptive strikes against personal freedoms in our State Constitution.

The unfettered Republican majorities in the Indiana House and Senate, have pushed forward this immoral and unAmerican piece of legislation while pretending to singularly occupy the moral high ground and be the stalwarts for what made America great. They are wrong. They are out of step with history. The Party that revels in slogans like "Don't Tread On Me", often revels in treading on others.

Passage is certain. I don't know if Governor Daniels has to sign off on it, and if so, what impact a potential run for the White House might have on a veto or not.

At least all Constitutional amendments must be passed by two successively constituted General Assemblies and ratified by a majority of voters. If speed bumps exist, they are the next two elections and the voters who make it to the polls.

Monday, February 7, 2011

No-So Sent Back to Committee

Just seconds ago, the City-County Council voted to send Prop 292 back to the Economic Development committee. This is the proposal that would float a $98 million bond and finance the North of South development.

Due to the short notice, this was absolutely the right thing to do. Congratulations to all.

The committee will take up Prop 292 again at its next regularly scheduled meeting on February16, beginning at 5:30 in room 260.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

No-So Passes Out of Committee - Council Agenda For Monday Night

Yesterday afternoon, with a ten minute committee meeting, the members of the Council Economic Development committee first amended, then voted to move Prop 292 to the Council with a do-pass recommendation. The amendment limited the interest rate to 6.5%, requires Council review should the project be substantially changed, and a couple technical points. This proposal would allow Mayor Ballard to float $98 million in bonds and use the money to fund development just north of Eli Lilly's headquarters - a project that could not qualify for a bank loan. Property tax revenues from the consolidated downtown TIF district would be used to secure the bonds. I could not hear the voting by the committee members, so I do not know the final vote.

Monday night's full Council meeting agenda includes Prop 292. The final committee vote is left blank. Two other proposals also are listed with blank final committee votes. The Rules committee will meet Monday night at 5:15 pm in room 260 to consider Prop 14 and Prop 15, which would certify referenda questions for Franklin and Perry Township School Districts, respectively.

Also on the agenda is Prop 18, which is a Council resolution in favor of State legislation to allow County Option Income Tax revenues to be allocated to the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library. This proposal passed out of the Municipal Corporations committee by a 6-0 vote.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

No-So Hearing - Is the Council Skirting State Law?

As I noted earlier this week, the Economic Development committee was scheduled to meet on Wednesday. This was not a regularly scheduled committee meeting date and the only item on the agenda was Prop 292, which would authorize Mayor Ballard to float a $98 million bond, backed by property taxes from the consolidated downtown TIF district, and loan it to the developer of the proposed North of South project - a project which was not considered worthy of a loan from any financial institution.

The ice storms caused cancellation of Wednesday's meeting.

But, lo and behold, notice put out just today (Thursday, February 3), says that there will be a meeting of this committee Friday, February 4.

State law mandates 48 hour notice of public meetings in Indiana.

[edited 2-4-11 : the meeting is set for 4:30 pm in room 260]

Perhaps the rush is due to the full Council meeting set for Monday night. But, at least they can follow state law. It really isn't asking too much from our elected officials.

Is the committee's chairman, Jeff Cardwell, skirting or even outright violating Indiana's public notice laws?