Thursday, July 16, 2009

Rush to the New Wishard

I watched the July 14, 2009 meeting of the Municipal Corporation Committee of the Indianapolis City-County Council where Matt Gutwein, Executive Director of the Health and Hospital Corporation and Dr. Lisa Harris, CEO of Wishard, presented the proposal for a new Wishard hospital.

I wanted some answers regarding the rush to do this project, and why the public referendum could not be postponed until the 2010 election so that an expensive special election would not have to be held. The only answer I received in that regard is that they wanted to apply for "Build America" bonds which are low interest bonds provided pursuant to the federal stimulus package passed by Congress. Those bonds have to be taken out by 2010, according to Gutwein. It is not clear how likely HHC is to qualify for the bonds, or what the turn around time is for applying for the bonds. It does not seem like having the referendum at the May primary or November general election in 2010 would preclude applying for the bonds.

I still think the push for the November 3, 2009 special election is nothing more than political strategy, pushing through a controversial proposal knowing voter turnout will be extremely low and to the advantage of those wanting a new Wishard. Gutwein seemed to take it for granted that the November 3, 2009 special election was a done deal. That's not what the law says. Several steps must be completed before a referendum question can be placed on the ballot at a special election, or any election for that matter.

I did notice Gutwein say that HHC is legally obligated to pay for the cost of the special election, since it would be held in an off-year. I read the pertinent part of the budget bill over and over. It appears that the legislature went out of its way to require the council to pay for the special election, specifically taking out the provision that says otherwise. I quote the pertinent language of the budget bill:

The fiscal body of the political subdivision that requests the special election shall pay the costs of holding the special election. [In a year in which a general election is not held and a municipal election is not held, the fiscal body of the political subdivision that requests the special election is not required to pay the costs of holding the special election.]
"Fiscal body" of a political subdivision is the council. I have emboldened the new language in the budget bill. My strike through formatting does not copy correctly so I have bracketed the language that was removed. There is another part of the bill that does the same thing. It is clear that the legislature intended that the taxpayers pick up the bill for the special election. However, even if HHC, a municipal corporation, picked it up taxpayers are still footing the bill, just indirectly.

In addition to the political strategy of a special election for this referendum, I wonder if there might be another reason to rush to a new Wishard. The U.S. Congress is strongly considering universal health coverage which could eliminate the need for the chief clientele to patronize Wishard, Indianapolis' hospital for the uninsured and indigent. Those folks could end up choosing to go to different hospitals instead of being confined to Wishard for their medical needs.

There are a lot of questions that need to be answered before the council and the voters sign on to this project.


jabberdoodle said...

Thanks for the heads up on the committee meeting. I shall log onto Channel 16's website and view it myself here today. Was there any action by the Committee -- I have been reviewing the proposals with some regularity and haven't seen anything about a new Wishard.

Yesterday I received a glossy, obviously expensive, 16 page booklet in the mail from H&H. It looks like they are sending them out to all the organizations registered with the City to receive notice of zoning hearings. A good PR move, I'm sure.

I could not find the cost of the new facility, nor any explanation of how they will avoid using tax money to pay for the building. No mention was made of applying for 'Build America' bonds. They did mention in a couple of places that delaying the project will cost $53M each year - no justification or explanation of the claim; it was simply stated as fact.

I await facts and figures before I decide what my position will be on the issue.

Have you heard anything as to why they went to the Legislature to get the referendum into the budget bill at the 11th hour of the Special Session? H&H seems to be telling folks that they are paying for the election, so what other advantage is there? Just curious, I guess. But, they could call for the referendum under the usual rules - either this year or next.

Paul K. Ogden said...

I didn't see any info. I think it was just informational.

They say they are going to pay the bonds out of the income flow during the meeting.

Jabber, I looked all through that budget bill. i did not see where the legislature did anything specific for HHC/Wishard in terms of this project. It looked like to me they just modified language concerning referendums relating to capital projects and it wasn't directly for HCC/Wishard. Of course the modified lanuage helps out HCC/Wishard.

Paul K. Ogden said...

I mean to say, no action taken. Just informational.