Thursday, July 14, 2011

Star Columnist Fails to Honestly Address Concerns Over Using 30 Year Loan to Fund Short-Term Infrastructure Improvements

Star Columnist Matthew Tully
As someone who used to pen a political column, I'm inclined to give columnists like Matthew Tully a ton of slack.  The job of the columnist, after all, is not to report, but to comment, to stir up debate.  I don't expect a completely even-handed treatment of the facts from a columnist. 

Still that doesn't mean that a columnist should ignore the very legitimate arguments on the other side of an issue.  It's a matter of intellectual honesty to recognize the issues raised by the other side and address those issues.

Enter the Indianapolis Star's Matthew Tully.  Tully has never opposed any corporate welfare scheme proposed by the Ballard administration.  $33.5 million for the Pacers?  Good idea, Tully says.  A 50 year parking deal in which the City gives away hundreds of millions of dollars to a politically-connected company?  Tully says the deal "makes sense."  Or how about the $100 million guarantee taxpayers gave for the North of South development, that every private investor passed on as too risky?   Tully didn't have a problem with it.  Or how about the Broad Ripple Parking Garage, a deal cloaked in secrecy that involves the city paying to build the garage while a politically-connected company gets the ownership and the revenue off the building. You can bet when Tully does write a column on it, it will to be a cheerleader for the deal.

The most recent example is a column Tully wrote on infrastructure this week.  Here's a bit of it:
... I'm a self-professed infrastructure junkie who believes this city can't let its streets and sidewalks crumble while our suburban counterparts build fresh neighborhoods filled with fresh concrete. So even when I was stuck on Meridian Street behind a paving truck recently, and even when I had to wait through several light cycles to get through 16th and Pennsylvania streets a while back, I didn't mind.

This country has fallen woefully behind when it comes to maintaining its infrastructure. That's what makes the recent local splurge of activity -- financed largely by Republican Mayor Greg Ballard's deal to sell the water company -- something worth celebrating. This is important, nuts-and-bolts work that needs to be done.

Anyone who has been in a car this summer or spring likely understands the sweeping scope of the construction. Projects big and small, on major thoroughfares and in neighborhoods, have led to much-needed improvements that were years or even decades overdue. A project list on the city's website stretches for 14 pages, documenting more than 350 projects in Democratic and Republican precincts in every township.

It's led to headaches, no doubt. Cruise through Downtown and you'll hit a slowdown caused by a construction project at just about every turn. Closed lanes and torn-up roads can be found in every part of the city.

But that's progress. And while it is every driver's duty to complain about traffic snarls and inconveniences, just remember that without such headaches our roads, sewers, sidewalks and bridges would never be repaired. And don't expect it to end soon. The city has announced $142 million worth of projects in the past year -- that's equal to several years' worth in normal times -- and will have an additional $400 million or so to spend in the next five, assuming the state approves the water deal.


On one hand, I've rarely found people who share my passion for infrastructure. It doesn't get people as fired up as, say, a new stadium -- although it should. And many people disagree vehemently with the way Ballard has funded the projects and his unfortunate decision not to target any of the money toward mass transit. Additionally, many drivers argue the city is haphazardly doing too much at once, creating widespread annoyance and, in some cases, confusion -- such as with the harrowing new traffic pattern at 16th and Delaware streets.

But if you live on a block that waited decades for new sidewalks, you're probably feeling pretty good about the mayor. If you have a job rebuilding roads or sidewalks this summer, or appreciate the long-term value of infrastructure investment, you're probably a fan. If you like to bike, you probably appreciate all the new bike lanes. Regardless of how you plan to vote, one thing is clear: this type of old-fashioned investment in cities is a good thing.
Here's what Tully says in the emboldened section:  "And many people disagree vehemently with the way Ballard has funded the projects."  That is the sole acknowledgement by Tully that there might be concerns regarding how the infrastructure projects are funded.

What is that opposing argument that Tully fails to outline?  Here it is.  The City sold the utilities to Citizen's Energy, a publicly owned company.  Citizens paid a boatload of money for the utilities that the company is financing with a 30 year loan to be paid in higher rates.  Translation:  the public, i.e. Indy taxpayers, sold the utilities to the public, i.e. Citizens' ratepayers.  The taxpayers and ratepayers are pretty much the same group of people.

Ballard is using a 30 year loan to fund infrastructure improvements. The problem comes when the Mayor uses that pile of money for short-term projects, such as road paving that lasts 5-7 years.  It's the same thing as taking out a 30 year mortgage on your home and using the money to buy a car that will only last a few years.   To do that would be fiscally irresponsible.

Obviously this is an enormous problem with how short-term improvements are being funded in this city, a problem which suggests Mayor Ballard is mortgaging our future for short-term political gain.  How does Tully respond to the issue of using of a 30 year loan to fund short-term improvements?  Tully ignores it, plowing ahead with his cheerleading.

It's just intellectual dishonesty and there's no excuse for it.


Nicolas Martin said...

Tully's an establishment mouthpiece. All of his work is calibrated to keep him in good stead with his political sources; to not bite the hand that feeds him. The corporate press is full of Tullys who prosper by brownnosing the grifters who comprise the ruling class. Try to imagine anyone paying attention to Scully's writing if it were not served up by McPaper.

Cato said...

What Nic said.

guy77money said...

Kick the can down the road! This is the favorite past time of politicians in Indianapolis. The sobering truth is as you keep raising the hidden taxes better known as rate increases on goods,services and infrastructure that the government provides you better hope your taxpayers can shoulder the load. That load keeps dropping on the individuals and small businesses that are not connected politically to enjoy the tax loop holes that the privileged businesses enjoy. Colt's, Pacers, Simon's and all the other businesses that either get free money, inflated business contracts and of course tax abatement's.

Many local low income Hoosiers have already hit the breaking point. The problem being is our politicians never go out into the city to see the people it is affecting. They don't care as long as they can put as much taxpayer money into the pocket of their friends and financial supporters.

Citizen Kane said...

Tully has no reason to produce excellence. He is paid to coast and so he does.

He could care less whether the citizens of Indianapolis are becoming debt slaves to fund the present ambitions of the elite. He just wants to be part of that group and parlay his corporate commentaries into a more lucrative position in the future.

He is a hack; he'll never be anything more.

Citizen Kane said...

"Many local low income Hoosiers have already hit the breaking point. The problem being is our politicians never go out into the city to see the people it is affecting. They don't care as long as they can put as much taxpayer money into the pocket of their friends and financial supporters."

You got guy77money!

I try to explain this to my liberal friends who clamor for transit and other expensive boondoggles, while trying to pretend somehow it will be inexpensive to use and maintain.

Just as with the ever increasing water and sewer bills, many do not seem to realize how impactful these increases and expensive "wants" are on people who are just trying to make it from one day to the next - they seem to forget that many people do not have discretionary income.

IndyDem said...

Make no mistake about this. Just because the mayors office makes a distinction between fine line that is tax payers and water/gas rate payer, you can be assured it is you and me who are paying for those streets. Water deal or not. Tax hike or rate hike. Take the money out of my left pocket or right pocket.. Its still my money. So if I thank anyone for the new streets and sidewalks.. It'll be in the form of a nice thank you note to myself.

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