Saturday, March 21, 2009

The City-CIB Legislative Game Plan: Shut Out Public Input

Today's Indianapolis Star opines on the lack of progress made in the legislature's efforts to deal with the enormous hole in the budget of the CIB:

The financial challenges facing the Capital Improvement Board, and by default the entire city, don't appear demonstrably closer to resolution now than when the extent of the board's budget deficit was revealed nearly two months ago. And, with the General Assembly scheduled to wrap up its 2009 session in less than six weeks, time is not on the CIB's side.

Before a final, and perhaps frantic, push for a solution begins...

The Star is wrong in its declaration that time is not on the CIB's side and in incorrectly assuming that the lack of a legislative proposal or public announcement, means that there has been no progress toward a CIB "solution." What the editors don't get apparently is that is exactly the strategy being employed. Even when a deal is reached on the CIB, it quite likely won't be publicly announced before the conference committee when it's inserted in the bill. Certainly the proposal will not be introduced in a standing committee where it will be subject to public testimony or even a floor amendment where the sponsoring legislator would have to take heat. Rather the plan was from day one to slip the CIB provision into the biennual budget during a conference committee meeting during the final days of the legislative session. There is not going to be a "frantic" push for a "solution." Rather the time frame the City/CIB is working on to get this done is exactly the one their lobbyists outlined from day one.

People who know the legislature, know the strategy well. When lobbyists and legislators want to pass something that is highly unpopular, they stick it in a bill like the budget bill during a conference committee meeting during the last days of the session. Conference committees consist of four individuals, two appointed by Senate President Pro Tem and two appointed by the Speaker of the House. The four individuals work out a compromise on a bill that has generally passed both chambers but in a different form. The four sit around a table in an open meeting and discuss the bill. (Don't for a second though think that things like a CIB bailout won't be decided by the conferees in advance of this public meeting.) No public testimony is allowed. Once the bill comes out of conference, the compromise bill (which is called a conference committee report) goes to the floor of the House and Senate for a straight up or down vote. No amendments are allowed on the floor at this stage.. Even if a legislator didn't like the newly-added in CIB provision in the budget bill, the legislator could not offer an amendment to take it out. Again, it's a straight up or down vote on the compromise bill.

If the Indianapolis Star editors believe that legislative leaders would, well in advance of the conference committee, release the result of any CIB backroom deal, they are naive. The timetable the CIB and the City's lobbyists are working on has always been part of their plan. The CIB deal will be sprung on people at the last minute, and shoved down their throats whether they like it or not. You can count on it.

To its credit, the Star recognizes how unfair this would be:
Finally, the legislative process must be open to public scrutiny. So far, the discussions have taken place largely behind the scenes.

Business owners, residents and other interested parties should have the opportunity to be heard before the General Assembly moves forward with legislation. With 40 days before the legislature adjourns, the public discourse needs to begin now.
Yes, the public discourse about the proposed solution should begin now, but it won't. And that is exactly the plan.

1 comment:

Jon said...

So on one side of the editorial page we have the Star's article on the CIB and on the other side an article By Dorson and Welsh "Keep Downtown asset afloat so tide still rises". And what have we heard from our mayor, nada. We have had op-ed pieces by Mr. Early and Mr. Grand crying for more support, think taxes, but Mr. Grand is the lawyer or the Simons and Mr. Early who has been on the CIB board for 17 years is part of the CIB problems.
Dollars to donuts, there will be no taxpayer input until a deal is struck. Were that to occur any claims by our mayor, the CIB and the legislature as to transparency in government and citizen's input will be just more hyperbole.