Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Some Kumbaya at Last Night's Council Meeting - Some, Not So Much

The Council Voted 17 times last night, and all but 6 of those were unanimous.  IndyStar reporter, Jon Murray did a nice summary of some of the issues in one of his articles in today's Star.  By the by, it gets harder and harder to find local news stories on indystar.com, that you have seen in the print version.

Included in the unanimous votes were votes to
return to committee for further consideration the CIB agreement that would send money to the City from two tax increases recently approved by the Council.  The intent is for the committee to amend the proposal so that it specifies that public safety will be the actual beneficiary of these monies.
 postpone the public hearing for the zoning matter at 460 Virginia Avenue

strike the City Government anti-fraternization proposal

adopt the requirement that the Mayor's Office report to the Council on turnaround schools on a regular basis
 Not so unanimous were some curious and some important issues.

Two reappointments were expected to be handled by the Council as a whole, instead of being referred to committee, as is usual.  John Beaman's reappointment to the Common Construction Wage Committee for Center Township (Prop 91) and James Ochs appointment to the same group for Speedway (Prop 102) were the two people named.  Prop 91 was sent to committee by a vote of 20-9.  Voting no were Democrats Adamson, Barth, Brown, Hickman, Mansfield, Mascari, Oliver, Simpson, and Talley.  Prop 102 was sent to committee by a vote of 25-4.  Still voting no were Democrats Brown, Mascari, Simpson, and Talley.

Prop 58 was the refunding of $28.5 million of bonds with a bit of history.  In 1992 bonds were floated for the Circle Center Mall and are repaid with TIF money from the consolidated downtown TIF.  These 1992 bonds were broken up and the individual pieces refinanced at different times.  In 2002, a piece weighing in at $29.3 million was refinanced - and this is the subject of Prop 58.  Of that $29.3 million, less than $2 million in principle has been paid since 2002.  According to testimony before the MDC on March 11, even the bonds floated through Prop 58 would have a balloon payment, where the very last payment due in 2029 would be $24 million.  This course is being pursued, even given the fact that there are only 4 years left on the remaining the Circle Center bonds.  Five years from now, the money now spent on those bonds could be used to pre-pay, perhaps in full, any remaining amount on the 2002 bonds - OR - the downtown TIF could pay off all $27.5 million now owned.  That TIF easily generates an extra $20 million a year.  If paid off, we would be out from under the debt.  But, the City powers that be would rather we kept paying the bond issuers and the bond holders instead of realizing real savings from paying off the debt when possible.  The vote on Prop 58 was 26-3.  The three no votes were from Democrats Brown, Gray and Mahern.

Prop 33 was the proposal to spend $3 million of RebuildIndy funds on infrastructure in the Avondale-Meadows area, primarily to lure a grocery store.  You may recall that this proposal did not garner a majority either for or against back on February 11, when two Councillors were absent.  This time the proposal was defeated with a vote of 14 for and 15 against.   Voting for were Democrats Adamson, Barth, Brown, Gray, Hickman, Lewis, Mansfield, Mascari, Moriarty, Oliver, Osili, Robinson, Simpson and Talley.  Voting against were Democrat Mahern, former Democrat Evans, both of whom previously voted for prop 33, who joined Republicans Cain, Freeman, Gooden, Holliday, Hunter, Lutz, McHenry, McQuillen, Miller, Pfisterer, Sandlin, Scales, and Shreve.

While Prop 44, the turnaround school reporting proposal, passed unanimously, an amendment offered by Councillor Mahern did not.  It appears that the State Department of Education will send money to the Mayor's office to monitor turnaround schools, which are IPS schools taken from that Board as failing schools.  Initially, these turnaround schools were put under State guardianship and later transferred to the Mayor's guardianship.  Charter schools, which are established by the Mayor and attract students from traditional public schools, are expected by the State to pay management fees to the Mayor's Office for their oversight.  The Mayor has declined to require those fees, instead preferring to use general City money for the cost of Charter school oversight.  Mahern's amendment would require that any money sent to the Mayor's office to cover the cost of turnaround school oversight be distributed among those schools, so that Charter and turnaround schools are treated identically.  The proposed amendment failed by a vote of 3-26.  The three who voted in favor of the amendment were Democrats Brown, Mahern, and Oliver.

Prop 60 is the first of a two step process to grant a 10 year 100% abatement on $35 million worth of certain types of high tech equipment to be purchased by Exact Target.   In return, Exact Target agrees to create 500 jobs, retain 856 more, and tacitly agrees to stay in specified properties in downtown Indy.  Prop 82, introduced last night and which is the 2nd step of this process, has all the details.  In comments, Mahern stated that this type of economic incentive should be used to encourage companies to expand into areas of the City that are struggling, rather than simple use it to keep their expansions downtown, which is thriving.  Prop 60 passed with a vote of 25-3-1.  Democrat Brown did not vote.  Democrats Gray and Mahern joined Republican Lutz in voting against Prop 60.

Zoning Hearing Call Down Gets Weird - part 3

Thanks to an alert reader of this blog, I have an update for all of you on that February 25th meeting of the City-County Council - in particular the calling down of a zoning matter at 460 Virginia Avenue (see "Monday Night Meeting May Include Zoning Hearing" and "Council May Review Zoning Matter - part 2")

It seems that about 5 minutes after the vote to call down the zoning case (meaning the Council would hope for a negotiated settlement, but plan for a full blown Council hearing on the petition) there was a vote to reconsider the earlier vote.  A vote to reconsider is extremely rare and I did not scan all the votes taken that night for such an eventuality.

Councillor Gray, one of the yes votes, stated that he voted incorrectly and wanted the record to reflect his true position.  The procedural decision was made that a vote to reconsider should be taken, and if successful, a new vote on calling down the zoning matter would be taken.  Here is the clip of this part of the Council meeting:
The vote to reconsider was 20 yes to 8 no votes (Councillor Brown was absent).  Democrat Councillor Lewis joined Republicans Cain, Freeman, Hunter, McHenry, Pfisterer, Sandlin, and Scales in opposing the new vote.
The new vote on whether or not to call down and schedule a public hearing for the zoning petition was 16 for and 12 against, as the earlier count had been.  BUT, those voting yes and no changed.  In the first take, three Democrats (Adamson, Gray and Mansfield) joined all Republicans in favor of hearing the zoning petition.  In the second take, Gray withdrew his support, voting no instead - and - Lewis switched her no vote for a yes vote.  She did not explain her change of heart.

The hearing was continued at last night's Council meeting.  It is now scheduled for April 22.

Sometimes the Public Process is Just As Important As the Public Policy

The more important a public policy is, the more important it is to have a robust public process to gauge the wisdom and details of that policy.

So it is with SB 621, which would do many things, including taking Council authority over the City budget and giving much of that real authority to the Mayor through his Controller, taking Commission appointments to the MDC and giving them to the Mayor, and eliminating the 4 At-Large positions on the Council - among other things.  This bill, authored by State Senator Mike Young at the behest of Mayors Ballard and Vaughn, passed out of the Senate and is in the House for consideration.

There are legions of folks lining up to oppose SB 621, but whether or not the Legislators will listen to any of them is yet to be seen.

One thread in the comments of the most recent opponents is the public process, or lack thereof.

Commenting only on the elimination of the At-Large positions, former Senator and Mayor, Richard Lugar, told WFYI that the public process used to create Uni-Gov provided protections to all voters.   "This was a good way when we brought together the entire community to make sure that the entire community had a vote."  (thanks to Jon Easter at Indy Democrat for the quote and link).

Ruth Hayes, on behalf of the Nora Northside Community Council, recently sent a letter to House Speaker Brian Bosma:
Dear Sir:

I write as president of the Nora-Northside Community Council, Inc., (NCC) a 46 year old community "umbrella" organization in North Central Washington Township, Marion County.  With a roughly 12 sq. mile area of interest, we have long been active in working with Marion County government on issues of concern to the 25 to 28 thousand citizens of the area. We are nonpartisan in all matters.

This note is to respectfully call your attention to what I consider a reasonable and thoughtful letter in the March 23 Star by Prosecutor Curry regarding SB 621.  I believe that the most important sentence in the letter states:  "I am opposed to a bill  that seeks to permanently alter the structure of local government without a shred of public outreach and input."  The community has been given no opportunity to discuss, approve or not, revise, etc.  this major reorganization of Unigov.  Dr. Beurt SerVaas, Charlie Whistler, and Richard Lugar gave great thought to the legislation which created the current form of Marion County governance, seeking to assure important checks and balances and provide representation for all citizens and areas of the county .  There were public hearings and media coverage to explain the initiative.  No less should be done now.

Trusting in your sense of fairness and commitment to open and transparent government, we respectfully urge you to not call a hearing on what many community leaders consider to be an ill-conceived and blatantly partisan proposal.  If it's a good idea, then it can surely stand the test of summer study.  We will welcome the opportunity to review and discuss the pros and cons of this initiative.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.
"There were public hearings and media coverage to explain the initiative.  No less should be done now....  If it's a good idea, then it can surely stand the test of summer study."

Councillor Christine Scales, a Republican member of the City-County Council, penned a letter to Senator Young which stood up for the power and authority of the Council itself.  It said in part  (Paul Ogden at Ogden on Politics reprinted the entire letter) :
If SB 621 passes in its current form, the fundamental commitment to a system of governmental checks and balances will be severely eroded.  The Council’s oversight and advisement of budgets and departmental appointments and other policy decisions is already compromised by politics. There always exists a tension between what’s good for a political party and what comprises good governance. Votes for desired initiatives can be bartered for with promises of political perks or threats of punishment.  This sort of vote kowtowing already offers undue leverage and control to an executive branch of government- a tighter grip on power does not favor the public that is served. Extra care must be taken to ensure that processes providing accountability and transparency in government are not trampled on.

If there is a determined desire to reset the equation of county governance, then let there be a commitment to more time and input as to what a new city-county government model would look like and what weight voices of elected officials would carry. It is imperative that crafting of new policies doesn't conflict with traditional tenets of a democratic republic, which I fear SB621 does.
All of these comments honor and value the public process, especially in crafting or dissembling these proposed changes in policy and governance.  The public deserves to be heard; not just through letters, but out in the open where the pros and cons can be discussed by those who will be affected.  The public is not well served by this power grab by the Mayor ensconced in SB 621.  It is even less well served by the lack of an open and honest public process airing the wishes of the citizens of Indianapolis.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Council May Review Zoning Matter - part 2

Here is the clip of the Council debate on whether or not to call down the Virginia Avenue rezoning petition for hearing before the entire Council.

The final vote on calling it down was 16 to 12 in favor (Councillor Brown was absent). Joining all of the Council Republicans in voting yes, were Democrats Adamson, Gray, and Mansfield.

Monday Night Council Meeting May Include Zoning Hearing

I have been reviewing the Council agenda for Monday night and got sidetracked by an interesting zoning matter that was called down by Councillor Jeff Miller at the February 25th meeting, and set for hearing tomorrow night.

This matter is 2012-ZON-060, 460 Virginia Avenue, which went before the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission and the Metropolitan Development Commission; both of which approved the zoning change from heavy industrial to mixed residential/commercial.

The parcel is 0.67 acres and the developer has applied to the State for tax credits to help finance the construction of 50 apartments on the site.  The application for tax credits is highly competitive, with only so many dollars available in any one year.  Applicants are expected to offer lower rents due to the financial help to build the apartments in the first place.  The deadline for submitting the application apparently was last November, but the proper zoning must be in place before any application can 'win' the tax credits.  The deadline for the proper zoning to be in place was the end of February.

IHPC staff made clear that it was only approving the zoning change, and that any proposed apartment/commercial plan would have to return for review and approval at a later date.

By calling the case down, the Council has effectively caused the developer to lose out on the tax credits this year, and forced him to reapply for next year's funds - should the MDC's zoning decision not be overturned by the Council and the developer and property owners are still interested.
The staff report can be found on page 9 of the MDC's February 6 agenda.  This was the second day of testimony, the first concluding with a continuance so that the developer could review whether he could amend his tax credit application by dropping the number of units from 50 to 32, as suggested by remonstrators who opposed the zoning change due to density issues.

The MDC voted 7-1 to approve the zoning change.

Because of some technical glitch with Blogspot, I still am unable to post two different video clips on the same entry.  I will post the debate on whether or not to call down the zoning in the next entry on this topic.  Here's a link to part 2.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Parks - How Indy Stacks Up Against Other Cities

Parks clearly are one of biggest contributors to quality of life in a City.

Think of New York.  Didn't Central Park come to mind?  Boston - the Commons and Public Gardens.  San Francisco - Golden Gate Park.

A recent post by Paul Ogden over at Ogden on Politics, referred to The Trust for Public Land's survey of U.S. cities by population density.  The mission of the Trust focuses on conserving land for recreation - passive and active.  As part of that mission, they aggregate information so that communities can size themselves up from a number of angles.

In their 2012 City Parks Facts, they look at parks acreage, spending, and more.

Here are some of the Indianapolis rankings:

Acres as percentage of city area - 18th of 29
Comparing the 29 cities ranked with 'Low' population density, Indy ranked 18th with 4.8% of is total area used as parkland. The median of this group was 5.5% and the median of all 101 cities was 7.9%.

Within the 'Low' population density group, Anchorage weighed in with 46.0% of total area and Corpus Christi had only 2.1% of total land devoted to parks.
Acres per 1000 residents - 22nd of 29
Again comparing only those 29 cities ranked with 'Low' population density, Indy ranked 22nd with 13.6 acres of parkland per 1000 residents.  The median of this group was 20.5 acres per 1000 residents.  The median of all 101 cities was 13.1 acres per 1000 residents.

Within the 'Low' population density group, Anchorage was abnormally high with 1719.3 acres per 1000 residents and Corpus Christi was lowest with 7.0 acres per 1000 residents.
Acres of parkland by daytime population - 17th of 27
Again, cities were ranked in groups, this time according to the daytime influx of population. Indy finds itself in the 'Intermediate' group that have anywhere from 16% to 30% population growth during the day. Indy has 17% influx. Of this group of 27 cities, Indy ranked 17th for number of acres of parkland per daytime occupant, with 11.6 acres per daytime occupant. Median for this group was 15.9 acres per daytime occupant. Median of all 100 cities was 11.5.

Highest of this group was New Orleans, with 73.1 acres of parkland per daytime occupant. Lowest of the group was Norfolk, VA, with 1.9. 
Park playgrounds per 10,000 residents - 75th of 100
Comparing the 100 larges cities, Indy ranked 75th in playgrounds per 10,000 resident with 1.6.  The median was 2.2 playgrounds per 10,000 residents.

Highest was Madison, WI, with 7.1 playgrounds per 10,000 residents.  Lowest was Laredo, TX, with 0.1 playgrounds per 10,000 residents.  Honolulu/Honolulu County and Fremont, CA, did not have information available for the study.
 Total spending on parks and recreation per resident - 83rd of 89
Comparing the 100 largest cities, Indy ranked 83rd with $35 per resident.  Median spending was $82 per resident.

Highest was Washington, D.C., with $397 per resident.  Lowest was San Bernardino, CA, with $24 per resident.

11 cities were listed as not having information available for the study. 
Total spending on parks and recreation per resident adjusted for the cost of living index - 80th of 89
Even after adjusting for cost of living, Indy came in 80th with $37 adjusted dollars per resident.  Median spending was $82 adjusted dollars per resident.

Highest again was Washington, D.C., with $275 adjusted per resident.  Again, San Bernardino was lowest with $21 adjusted per resident.

The 11 cities without sufficient information above, were not included.
 Percent of city population with walkable park access - tied for 36th of 40
Comparing the 40 largest cities, Indy tied for 36th with San Antonio and Louisville at 32% of population with walking access of a park.  Park access was defined as "the ability to reach a publicly owned park within a half-mile walk on the road network, unobstructed by freeways, rivers, fences, and other obstacles".  Average access was 68%.

San Francisco came in first with 98% and Charlotte/Mecklenburg last with 26% of its population having walkable access to a park.
I've said it before and I'll say it again - Indy should be as nice a place to live as it is to visit.  Our priorities need to be adjusted to improve those things that most impact the quality of life of our residents. Parks, be it number, spending or access, are one of those things that need to be improved.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Transit Bill is Getting More Interesting

The transit bill got a lot more interesting this morning as I read Chris Sikich's article in the Star ("New roadblocks may loom for Indianapolis mass transit expansion").

No, it wasn't Governor Pence's tepid
“I’m someone who believes this economy is still struggling and we ought to be reducing the tax burden on Hoosiers,” Pence said, adding he would keep an open mind.
No, it wasn't the Koch brothers backed 'Americans for Prosperity Indiana', which is anti-tax, anti-tax, and more anti-tax, and which has money to pour into any referendum fight on mass transit.

What made the mass transit bill a lot more interesting, was State Senator Jean Breaux's use of the mass transit bill to push back on SB 621, which sucks much of the power out of the City-County Council and hands it gift-wrapped to Mayor Ryan Vaughn (see this blog's "Welcome to the Republican World").  Briefly, SB 621 would eliminate the 4 At-Large Council seats, give unprecedented and ill-advised budget manipulation to the Mayor, and hand a super majority of Metropolitan Development Commission appointments to the Mayor, among other things.

I have to admit right up front, I am one of Senator Breaux's biggest admirers.  She is one of a handful of Democrats who keep my hope alive that the Democratic Party is still rooted in principle and pragmatism - not greed, ambition, and power mongering.

And while I'm admitting things, let me also say that the mass transit bill would have to remove the rail option (dubbed the 'Stadium to Paladium' route by fellow blogger Fred McCarthy over at Indy Tax Dollars) [edited to add: Fred tells me I got the route wrong.  The Stadium to Paladium is the red line, rapid bus route] and not create the regional authority to get my support.  I don't mind my taxes going up to pay for a beefed up IndyGo, even if my neck of the woods won't gain anything from it.  But, I can't see pushing for a super sized mass transit in a low density region.

Breaux is willing to use the mass transit bill, which one of the very few pieces of legislation that actually needs Democratic support in order to pass, to leverage against the power grabbing SB 621.  As Sikich reports :
Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, said she would “love to have mass transit and I think it’s very important,” but would vote against the transit bill if Senate Bill 621 advances. And she would try to persuade her fellow 12 Democrats to follow suit.

She says Mayor Ballard wants both bills to pass, and he likely will need Democrat support to get the transit bill through a Republican-dominated Senate that is growing increasingly skeptical about transit.

“He has to decide which is most important, which is he the most concerned about,” she said. “And I would hope he would be most concerned about mass transit ... and that he would consider it to be more important than controlling government.”
Democrats like Breaux want mass transit improvements to make life better for a whole lot of people.  Mayor Vaughn wants it for its slush fund value, and if it happens to make life better, fine.  A few people will be beneficiaries of that slush fund.  And the Mayor of Indianapolis will control the new transit authority and to whom it gives its contracts.

The trouble with the Mayor's office is that it thinks it can get both the transit and power bills made into law.  It rather easily managed to roll enough of the Council Democrats over the recent budget battle; some because they agree with Vaughn and some because they have no backbone.

Mayoral spokesman Marc Lotter told Sikich :
Marc Lotter, Ballard’s spokesman, said Ballard is still hopeful transit will pass. Lotter said transit and the Marion County government bill are separate issues. The mayor, he reiterated, wants all of the provisions in Senate Bill 621 except the elimination of at-large seats. However, he does not plan to ask the legislature to stop the attempt to eliminate those seats.
I think they have a very differ battle on their hands when Breaux is standing on the other side, and they underestimate her at their peril.

Someone needs to stand up to the Republican majority, especially in the abuse of power exemplified by SB 621.  I'm glad it is Senator Jean Breaux.  I'm not surprised it is her, but I am glad.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Marion County Population - Is it Up or Down?

So, what happens when the Indy Star runs two population shift articles in two days?  The first says the population in Indiana and Marion County grew in 2011-2012.  The second cited a Ball State study that said more people moved out of Marion County than moved in during the three 1-year periods, 2000-2001, 2006-2007 and 2009-2010.  Well, it seems that many people will just lament the loss of Marion County population and call for all sorts of remedies.

I located the Ball State study, authored by Dabney Faulk, Director of Research, Center for Business and Economic Research.  A couple of statements caught my eye and may suggest we look more closely at the take-home message of his study:
According to the US Census Bureau, the population of
Indiana between 2000 and 2010 grew by more than 400,000
people due to natural increase and migration.
Indiana’s overall net migration was negative in 2000-2001 (-4,113) and again in 2009-2010 (-6,763). However, in the pre-recession time period of 2006-2007, net migration was positive at 2,594.
If you look at the three 1-year time periods, Indiana lost population, but within the entire decade, actually gained 400,000 real people.  Hmmm....  Just how can that be?

One caveat of the study is laid out by Dr. Faulk quite early.
With the use of IRS data, there are cases that lead to migration flows being undercounted or overcounted. First, households of the poor and elderly may not be required to file a tax return. This results in undercounting this portion of the population. Next, the migration flow data requires back-to-back years of tax returns to match up. When there are mismatches of returns resulting from marriage, divorce, or foreign in-migration, these numbers are not counted in the migration flows. This results in undercounting. Undercounting also occurs when the mailing address on the tax return is in a different county than the home address.
It seems this migration pattern may have its uses, but it also has some limitations.  Anyone who does file a tax return, (the poor, the elderly, the youth) are not counted by this methodology.  So, what are we left with?  If the three 1-year periods are suggestive of population loss in the State when we know there was actually growth in the decade, what are we to make of the suggestion of population loss in Marion County?

We have to look at the census data.

The US Census estimates that between April 1, 2010, and July 1, 2012, Marion County population grew by 1.7% (from 903,393 to 918,977).  In fact, the Census estimates Marion County grew between 2010 and 2011, too.

According to Census data recorded on the Indy.Gov site, Marion County grew 5% in the first decade of this century (from 860,454 to 903,393).

So, bottom line, Marion County is not losing population.  So, lets stop with using population loss to boost pet 'remedies'.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ahhh Spring - Its a Magical Time of Year

Tell me now, what is better than Spring?

It is wondrous, fabulous, awe inspiring, magical and miraculous.

Even though the astronomical date for Spring is March 20 this year, the trees are already setting their leaf buds, the crocuses are up, and the daffodils are making one of many attempts to rise from their winter dormancy.

This is the time of year when the groves and woods and forests literally pull tons of nutrients and water from the soil and convert it into tons of that new-green leafy canopy - and in only a matter of weeks !  How impressive is that? 

Scouring the Google, I finally landed on a couple of papers that gave me some of the numbers I was looking for, and which I then converted into pounds of tree canopy per acre of forest, wet weight.

17,843 pounds of leaves per acre of mixed forest are sprouted each spring, or so.  That's 2675 pounds of dry weight, or nutrients pulled from the soil.  And, 15,168 pounds of water weight, or 1821 gallons of water from the soil.   Per acre.  In a couple of weeks time.  That's a lot.  That's fast.

A single healthy, 100 foot tree, can put out 200,000 leaves.  In a couple of weeks time. That's a lot. That's fast.

With or without the numbers, the metamorphosis of our tree scape in Spring is magnificent to behold.  Ahhh, Spring.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Indiana Gaming - How the Lottery is the Worst Bet

It amuses me how much hand wringing Indiana legislators can do about the evils of casino gaming, when the government-run lottery is the worst bet offered by legal gaming in the state.

All it takes to see the disparity is to review the 2012 annual reports of the State Lottery Commission of Indiana and the Indiana Gaming Commission.

Combining both the scratch off tickets and lottery drawings, 62% of the money wagered was returned by the Lottery to players in the form of wins.

Compare that to 80% of table game wagers and 91% of electronic game wagers returned by Indiana's casinos to players.

The State got $205 million in "distributions" from the Lottery and $809 million in taxes from the Casinos.

There is much consternation in many quarters lately is about the Gtech ads for the Lottery that emphasize the hope of winning despite the high probability of losing.  Meanwhile, the Legislature is looking to reverse the erosion of Casino-paid taxes by dinging the local government's take and easing up on the taxation of free play awarded by casinos to their players and the requirement of being boat-based.  Governor Pence has indicated that he is deeply troubled about any changes at all.

The sin quotient for gaming is quite high in this state, as are the taxes paid.  In any other industry, Indiana's legislators would be all about cutting those tax rates in order to encourage investment by the industry.  They also would not block expansion.

The Indiana Gaming Commission annual report has an interesting look at gaming in other states - the 'competition'.  Only Illinois and Pennsylvania have higher tax rates for gaming - while Pennsylvania has no admissions tax on top of the gaming tax.  The emerging gaming competition from Ohio, where the tax is considered onerous at 33%, will bring pressure on the Ohio River casinos in Indiana, where the gaming tax is upwards of 40% in addition to the $3-4 per person admissions tax.

As of the 2012 annual report, no admissions numbers were available for Pennsylvania.  Given that caveat, of the 8 other states Indiana competes with, 4 had higher admissions numbers and 4 had more floor space than Indiana casinos.  Only two, including the mighty Nevada, had higher taxes paid.

Indiana's casinos (excluding nearby Indiana Grand and Hoosier Park who don't report those numbers) had nearly 25 million admissions in 2012.  Some of those sinners are probably Hoosiers, who in 2010 numbered 6.5 million.

I'm not going to hold my breath for the State of Indiana to treat gaming like any other industry and create conditions that are ripe for jobs growth.  But, I do have to at least laugh at the State, when it appears to be comfortable with simultaneously gouging the sinners who buy the State's product while wringing its hands about the sinners who buy the casinos' product.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Observations on the Mid-North Hearing - clip 4 included

Here are Angie Steeno's comments:

Observations on the Mid-North Hearing - clip 3 included

Here are my comments regarding the base and the misconception relayed by Bruce Donaldson:


Reflections on Mid-North TIF Hearing Last Week - clip 2 included

continuing to post the various clips from the MDC hearing on the Mid-North TIF

Bruce Donaldson's take on what can happen to the base:

Reflections on Mid-North TIF Hearing Last Week - clip 1 included

I have a few thoughts lingering after last week's MDC hearing on the North Midtown TIF.  Of course, it went through with a 7-1 vote (Ed Mahern being the lone no vote).  But, there were some interesting points made that are worth noting.  You will see how the fairy tales about TIFs continue to be repeated - to folks charged with deciding whether or not to create them by folks considered experts.

First, let me say how outstanding it has been to work in concert with the good folks from Meridian Kessler Neighbors Helping Neighbors.  These folks (Clarke Kahlo, Paula Light, Ellen Antoniades, Terry Sanderson, and Doug Sherow) understand the connection between TIF proliferation and cutbacks in funding for basic services like police, fire, and schools.  They know the Meridian Kessler does not want for much, and presented the facts and figures that clearly demonstrated that the northern half of the North Midtown TIF should be removed from any consideration of a TIF.

Of concern is the fact that the only representatives of the City, who were in fact consultants, did not understand the wider view of TIFs beyond their particular focus of expertise.  I refer to Barnes & Thornburg attorney, Bruce Donaldson, and Crowe Horwath's Angela Steeno. 

Donaldson evidently writes up the documents that lead to the creation of  TIF districts, and likely does a masterful job with that.  Yet, when asked about erosion of the base by turning it into TIF increment, he was way off the mark.  He relayed to the Commissioners the mistaken impression that the annual filing by the County Auditor of a form known as the "TIF neutralization" form, only causes the base to float up and down with normal fluxuations of assessed values.  His lack of understanding of the actual effect of these forms is damaging.  He helps perpetuate the fairy tale that the tax dollars flowing from a TIF district the day before the TIF is created, will always flow to fund the schools and police, etc.  He had not heard anything about nearly half a billion dollars of base being converted into increment this past year.  (see "TIF Fact #2 --- $490 million of property value was transferred from the base to the increment this year" and click here to review the forms for yourself [edited to add - line 7 reports the old base assessed value and line 13a the new base AV determined through the form]).  I was given a few minutes to respond to his error.  Hopefully, the Commissioners will follow up on this matter with Deron Kintner so that they are fully informed on how this aspect of TIF districts actually functions.

One brief comment by Donaldson surely sent a chill up the spines of many of the proponents.  He told the Commission that they didn't have to do any projects in Broad Ripple (as a for instance) if they didn't want to.  They could, instead, use TIF revenue from Broad Ripple to fund projects in other parts of the district.

Steeno had a couple of interesting moments.  Her focus was on the impact of the Broad Ripple parking garage (that was paid for with $6.34 million of taxpayer dollars) on the amount of tax revenue that could be generated, the amount of bonds that revenue could secure, and the effect of its inclusion in the increment on the circuit breaker penalties tied intimately with TIFs due to the property tax caps.  She seemed unaware that the owners of the garage could appeal an assessment using the cost to build, by arguing that the cash it generates should instead for the assessment - and leading to a lower assessed value than she was predicting. 

More importantly are two numbers she reported, but failed to link together.  She stated that the garage should generate $317,000 a year in property tax revenue to the TIF.  She also stated that the garage would cause "only" about $200,000 a year in circuit breaker penalties throughout the County. 

This is important as it predicts the minimum effect of this TIF on cuts in property taxes that our various governmental units qualify for, but cannot collect due to property tax caps.

The minimum effect is that for every dollar generated in the North Midtown TIF district, circuit breaker penalties will rise by 63 cents.  That's pretty substantial.  So, if the TIF generates $10 million, expect penalties to rise by $6.3 million a year.  That's $6.3 million less in services - from schools, to the Library, to IndyGo, to police, and to fire - and more.

The failure of those in control of the money in our City to come to terms with the reality of how TIFs really operate, is likely to haunt our community for at least one more generation.  It is curious indeed, that those who promoted this TIF because of executives fleeing our more affluent Marion County neighborhoods, have likely exacerbated the underlying reason.  The reason families flee the county is not for a lack of commercial development, it is often because of the lack of good quality schools. Inappropriate TIF districts make the problem worse for schools, not better.

I am having technical problems loading more than one clip from the hearing.  I will attempt to added the other clips to subsequent posts.   You can view the entire hearing by clicking here.

Meridian Kessler Neighbors Helping Neighbors comments, plus my own.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Welcome to the Republican World

We are witnessing what happens when Republican elected officials get full reign in our Statehouse.

Don't like a Democrat running the White House ?  Call for a Constitutional Convention.

Don't like that a Democrat was elected to the State Department of Education?  Change that Department's authority.

Don't care for a Democrat majority on the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council and in County offices?  Change the rules to favor Republicans, in particular the sitting Mayor.

While all are important with detrimental ramifications, it is the last item that I want to address today.

Two bills were introduced, fashioned after a wish list made by Mayor Ryan Vaughn.  The totality of the bills is to increase the likelihood of a return to a Republican majority Council in the near future, and in increase in the ease with with our City coffers can be looted for those with 'special' connections with the Mayor's office.  Let's face reality - this is likely the last Republican Mayor to serve the City of Indianapolis.  They thought he would be a one-termer, and sold as many of the taxpayer's assets as they could get their hands on during his first term.  Now, they are setting about constructing new slush funds from which to reward their supporters.  Sadly, they are getting a lot of assistance from Democrats on the Council, a point to which I will return later.

The two bills are SB 621, by Senator Mike Young, whose district sits on the southwest corner of Marion County, and HB 1399, by Representative Cindy Kirchhofer, whose district runs from Beech Grove to the eastern border of Marion County.  SB 621 was approved by the Senate and has moved to the House.  HB 1399 has not had any activity.

All that is in HB 1399 was included in SB 621, which had one item amended out of it.  SB 621, however, contains a few items extra.  Both originally would grant the Mayor the authority to change, not just veto, any line item amount of the budget approved by the Council.  This was amended out of SB 621.  Both codify that IMPD would be under the direction and control of the director of public safety, which is what actually happens right now.  Both would remove the requirement that the Mayor's appointments for Director and Deputy Director positions in his/her administration be approved by the Council.  Both remove the authority of the Council to get a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) payment from the CIB.  Both take two appointments to the Metropolitan Development Commission (MDC) from the County Commissioners and give them to the Mayor - making that body composed of 6 appointees of the Mayor and 3 of the Council.  And finally, both require all agency and department budgets be 'allotted' quarterly by the City Controller - essentially giving that person the authority to lower the budgets passed by the Council at his/her whim.

SB 621 also includes the elimination of the 4 At-Large seats on the City-County Council.  If they were eliminated today, the Council majority would shift to Republican control.  If SB 621 passes, there would not be another election for At-Large seats and 2015 would be the last year they serve.

SB 621 goes further, mysteriously dropping the residency requirement to serve as Mayor to 1 year (down from 5 years) and as Councillor to 1 year (down from 2 years).  It reduces the number of seats on the Township Boards from 7 to 5.  It tosses in a weird requirement that the method of choosing Judges to review any appeal of the Council district maps, be made a public record.  And last but not least, it throws in another opaque requirement that absentee ballots be counted in a central location instead of at the precincts, unless the Election Board unanimously agrees otherwise.

That's a lot of stuff.  Vaughn insists he didn't ask that the At-Large seats be eliminated, but that is as much effort as he put in to getting that section removed from the bill.

In my humble opinion, the most onerous aspect of SB 621, as it now stands, is the authority it would grant to the City Controller to amend the budgets after the Council appropriates the funds.  Currently, the Controller must sign off on any contract, stating that there are sufficient funds to pay the obligation.  Should tax receipts be lower than expected - a condition highly unlikely given the way the State Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) already holds some funds back to ensure all funds promised are actually delivered - the Controller can simply decline to sign off on new contracts.  This line by line, quarter by quarter, ability to modify any department or agency's budget simply moves the actions out of the light of day.  We saw this year how vindictive Vaughn can be, when he slashed the Democrat controlled agency budgets, leaving the Republican controlled department budgets alone. To have that accomplished behind closed doors is to place a huge burden on democracy.  We elected Democrats to County offices.  They have a legal budget.  Now to let the Republicans unfettered access to vindictively slash their budgets, or threaten to do so for its extortion potential, out of the light of day, is an example of how far Republicans will go to subvert the will of the electorate in order to benefit the Republican party.

The At-Large seats are similarly being eliminated by SB 621, for the sake of the Republican party.  When UniGov was instituted, the At-Large seats were created to ensure Republican control of the Council.  Now that they work to the advantage of the Democrat party, the Republicans want to change the rules.   I would have had more sympathy on the At-Large issue, had the Democrats not pulled their own version of turning the will of the electorate on its ear with their drastic change in the composition of Council Committee membership - dropping the number of minority party members from one less than the majority party, to only 3.  These lopsided committees have caused less representation for those districts that elected Republicans.

All tit-for-tat aside, there should be a compelling reason to change the representation on the Council.  No real argument has been made to eliminate those 4 At-Large seats.  Until a compelling reason is brought forth, one would hope the seats would remain.  But, again, this is not about good government, its about the Republican party changing the rules to maximize its authority when the elections did not go their way.

The third aspect that should cause concern is the change in appointments to the MDC.  This would give the Mayor control of the Airport, the CIB, and the MDC.  The MDC is the body that creates TIF districts and controls how the revenue is spent - and who gets those contracts.  The County Commissioners are among the few who 'get it' when it comes to the negative consequences of unfettered TIFs and who see a reason to get analytical when it comes to reviewing them.  On their behalf, their appointee Ed Mahern, has asked tough questions and made tough statements.  This impertinence has angered Vaughn considerably.  It is not enough for Vaughn that he gets his way regardless, as many of the Democrats on the Council push for one TIF after another, even though the districts pull money from basic services.  This aspect of the bill is likely as much targeted for Mahern's removal as it is to Mayoral control of the MDC.  This is not in the best interest of the taxpayers.  But, it is being pursued not for the taxpayers, rather for the Republican party.

Removing the CIB from the list of municipal corporations that can have a PILOT levied against them is simply pulling the authority from the Council after it had the audacity to think for itself and not do what Vaughn told them to do.

Much of the rest of this bill is simply weird.  Why change the residency requirements or make a bit more paperwork targeting judicial review of challenges to Council district maps?  Five instead of seven Township Board seats is almost irrelevant.  As is the approval of Department heads by the Council.  And, why does Vaughn care where the absentee votes are counted?  Certainly the Election Board could count them at a central location right now, if it so chose.  But, the Democrats have two votes on the Election Board and the Republicans only one.  So, its time to change the rules.

As I noted much earlier, this is how Republican rewrite the laws when the voters have the temerity to elect Democrats.  Its not about good government, not by a long shot.  Its about Republican party dominance - by hook or by changing the rules after the game has begun.

We're Not as Big as They Say

Bravo - This researcher from IUPUI puts it all in a nutshell.  Arthur Farnsley II penned the following letter to the editor, which ran in this morning's IndyStar

We're not as big as we think, but that's OK

By any common-sense measure, Indianapolis is not the 12th most populous city in America. This is not a matter of academic nit-picking. When we think about urban issues like traffic, crime, mass transit, professional sports or Downtown jobs, we need to see ourselves as we really are.

A recent story in The Star, “Why you can’t see a good indie flick in Indy,” repeats this unhelpful “fact” about us being 12th biggest, but the misinformation routinely shows up elsewhere too.

Indianapolis is in fact the 12th largest “incorporated area” in America. Unfortunately, “incorporated area” is not a useful way to think about cities. As the name says, this category has mostly to do with how city limits are drawn.

Uni-Gov created a uniquely large incorporated area for Indianapolis, so by this measure we seem very big. But to accept that Indianapolis is 12th, you would also have to accept that Boston is 21st, Baltimore is 24th, Washington, D.C., is 25th and Atlanta is 40th. That’s right. Judging by “incorporated area,” Atlanta is half the size of Indy. But our common sense about cities tells us that is not true.

Much more useful is the measure is of primary statistical area (PSA), which takes in all of the outlying areas that are part of a city and pays no attention to arbitrary city limit signs. The Indianapolis PSA, for instance, includes Anderson and Columbus.

By this measure, the Baltimore-D.C. corridor moves to fourth, Boston moves to fifth and Atlanta to 10th, which we all know is closer to the truth about their relative size. The Indianapolis-Anderson–Columbus PSA ranks 29th, which we all know is also closer to the truth. (If you like, you can use the even-broader combined statistical area, by which Indy ranks 23rd.)

Here’s the thing: Being 29th is not a problem. I love the size of Indianapolis. I live here by choice. For the 29th biggest city in America, I love that we have hosted the Super Bowl, have the greatest motorsports venue in the world, and have two major-league sports teams. I love that we have a great urban public university and several great private ones. I love that you can walk safely Downtown and we have excellent arts venues, shopping, and restaurants, all with cheap parking and moderate traffic.

When we think about indie films or mass transit or Downtown employment, we should not make the mistake of thinking “12th most populous,” which means comparing ourselves to cities more than twice our size. Our comparison group is not Houston or Atlanta, but Kansas City, Columbus and Cincinnati.

In our hearts we know this. But somehow we keep using “12th most populous” either to make ourselves sound bigger or to lament how such a metropolis can be lacking whatever it is the speaker thinks we need.

We’re 29th biggest, and I’d take us over any other cities in our weight class. But let’s be realistic about who we are as we think about who we can be.
Farnsley is a research professor in the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI.