Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mayors' Budget Veto Just May Be About Tax Increases - Its Certainly Not About A Balanced Budget

Mayor Vaughn usually pulls the strong arm stuff out of view of the public.  Threats, horse swapping, calling on Republican unity even when distasteful, cajoling with the greedy and ambitious.

Now his tactics are in full view with his veto of the balanced Council budget and his denunciation of the $15 M PILOT from the CIB, that leaves the door open for (gasp!) recruit classes for IMPD and IFD.  How awful of the Democrats !

Its not about the fiction floated by the Vaughn administration that the Council's budget is not balanced - because it certainly is.  For those readers who are number averse, just skip the rest of this paragraph and join me in a few sentences.  The Mayor's introduced budget spends $1.13 B while the Council's passed budget spends $1.12 B.  The Mayor's budget takes in revenues (excluding property taxes) of $676 M while the Council's budget takes in revenues (excluding property taxes) of $673 M.  They both raise $351 M in property taxes.  The Mayor spends down $106 M from fund balances while the Council spends down $99 M from fund balances.  None of the $15 M PILOT from the CIB, passed by the Council and opposed by the Mayor, is part of these numbers.

One quick aside - While the Mayors pretend to be disgusted by the one time infusion of the $15 M PILOT to cover operating expenses, they eagerly dipped into the downtown TIF for $30 M for the Pacers and $40 M to make ends meet in this year's budget AND have another $10 M to be used for next year's budget.  So, don't be buying their sudden alarm at the PILOT - its all an act.

Mayor Vaughn and his ally, Mayor Ballard, really really really wanted the Council to eliminate the Homestead Credit, which would save the City-County $8.7 M but foist $3.5 M in lost revenue on the various school districts in the County.

The Mayors really really really want more TIFs so that they have more slush funds to work with, even though they mean higher taxes for all of us and greater revenue losses for IPS, in particular.

There are two new taxes that will be on the table in the spring - increases of the car rental and admissions taxes are the last bits of the old CIB bailout from a few years ago.   The Mayors will want those to pass a Democrat controlled Council.

There will be an announcement soon of some sweetheart deal with the Pacers - the only question remains as to how much more of our tax money will be going to them instead of to fund police and fire protection, schools, libraries, IndyGo and the rest of services that impact most of us on a daily basis.

There is the push for a specific mass transit plan that spends more getting Hamilton County transit than it does on IndyGo.  The Mayors will want all on board to lobby for a tax increase public question on the 2014 ballot.

And, I grow more and more wary of an income tax hike being lobbied.  Councillor Ben Hunter has become the spokesperson for Vaughn in open Council meetings of late.  He pushed against the elimination of the Homestead Credit in committee (and voted against it there).  However, once the budget hit the floor of the full Council, he was all over the big bad Democrats for realizing, but not responding to, the impact keeping the Credit would have on the Council's lobbying 'on the other end of Washington Street'.  He also brought in the disingenuous and false arguement that the Credit amounted to poverty level wage earners subsidizing the mansions of the rich.

A push for income taxes split by workplace as well as residence would be welcome.  But the pushback from Senator Luke Kenley's home County, plus other donut counties, would be massive.  What I fear is a push for higher income taxes to be paid by residents of Marion County.

To make that work with the public, you would have to see exactly what we are  now seeing - an underfunded public safety budget that threatens to degrade the already low numbers of officers and firefighters.  So, the Mayors just may have a stake in not solving the recruit class problem, and not paying the raises that they agreed to in the IMPD and IFD contracts.  They just may have a stake in having the Feds claw back the COPS grant money spent here, because our officer number dropped below agreed to figures.

Its not that these are easy times; they are not.  But the Great Recession will pass and the income tax coffers will rise.  There are some, though, who would not want to waste a perfectly good crisis by simply making it through to the other side with the same resources, when you can use it as an excuse to fatten those resources.

The short leash created by the Mayors' vetoes of the Council budget can be used each time the Mayors want one of their taxes passed, or one of their issues lobbied, or one of their TIFs fully bonded and uncomplicated by TIF reforms.  That leash can be yanked when the Pacers deal becomes public and money flows from resources that should go to help all of us to instead be diverted to some of the wealthiest individuals in our area.  And, the leash will keep the Democrats from spending any money on that recruit class nonsense.  The PILOT money can just sit there an rot, instead.

This melodrama, created by the Mayors vetoes, never was about a supposedly unbalanced budget.  It certainly is about control of the Council.  How many times this leash will be yanked is up in the air.   But, beware - its going to cost all of us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We always knew it wasn't about balancing the budget but finding a mechanism to create new taxes or raise taxes but one does wonder where did all of the money go. Where has the 65% increase in COIT been spent? Those tax increases were alledgely for public safety as was the federal grant to hire more police officers. And yet today after a massive tax increase and a 50 million dollar federal grant the number of officers has drastically declined. How can anyone believe anything the politicians in this town say?