Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mayor Ballard Deserves Criticism for Absymal Fiscal Record, Including 140 Tax and Fee Increases

Indianapolis Star
Columnist Matthew Tully
Once again, Indianapolis Star Matthew Tully gets it wrong.  In today's Star he pens a column suggesting that Democratic mayoral candidate Melina Kennedy is wrong for bringing up the 140 plus times Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard has raised taxes and fees:
First of all, the attorney in me would point out that it is "undisputed fact" that Ballard has raised taxes, rates and fees more than 140 times.  Neither Ballard or Tully disputes that fact. Tully though offers a defense:
Does Mayor Greg Ballard have a record of wildly raising taxes? No, not even close.

Still, his Democratic challenger in this year's mayoral campaign, Melina Kennedy, is trying to convince voters otherwise. In statements, interviews and press releases, she repeatedly has tagged Ballard as some sort of reckless pro-tax Republican.

"More than 140 taxes, rates and fees have been levied on the backs of our residents and our small businesses, stifling job creation," Kennedy said last week.

But for Kennedy -- a candidate whose ideas and vision have largely impressed me -- it's an ineffective and disappointing message that few voters will buy.
Really, Matt?  Few voters will buy that?  Not sure where Tully learned about campaign politics, but if I were advising a candidate who raised taxes and fees more than 140 times, a fact that can be easily be condensed into a TV commercial, I'd be worried.  Plus, with Ballard it strikes at the heart of his support. The majority of Republicans in Indianapolis vote for the GOP because of fiscal conservatism.  If the Ballard's poor fiscal record gets publicized, Ballard will have Republicans voting against him or staying home.  Unless Ballard loses say 20% of his Republican base, his goose is cooked.

At the outset Tully notes that Candidate Ballard did promise to lower the county option tax and failed to do.  Tully suggests this broken promise is okay because it was the Peterson administration that raised the tax and, well, the City needed the money.  In Tully's world, campaign promises shouldn't mean anything.

Tully proceeds to raise the issue of the utilities sale as faulty evidence of a tax increase asserted by Kennedy.  Once again, Tully flat out refuses to acknowledge the fact that the money generated by the sale comes from a thirty year loan that we the public, as the owners of Citizen's Energy, are obligated to pay back.  It's not found money, Matt.

Tully next turns to talking about the parking meter increase.  When the 50 year parking meter contract with a private vendor was proposed which would give away hundreds of millions of dollars to ACS, architect of Indiana's failed Medicaid privatization program, Tully declared it "made sense."  Giving away hundreds of millions of dollars in parking meter revenue, not being able to control future increases or parking for the next 50 years, that "makes sense?"  In Tully's world, yes.

Tully concludes his objection to Kennedy's claim:
Ultimately, though, the bulk of Kennedy's claim centers on a 2010 ordinance that raised more than 130 license fees to perform jobs such as massage therapist, trash hauler and taxi driver, as well as to receive various construction permits and for code violations.
The rates and fees hadn't changed in a generation, and the increases were so reasonable (an extra $3 to renew a building permit, for instance, and $60 more to be a pawn broker) that only two Democrats on the City-County Council opposed them. The increases have not stifled job creation, and the goal behind them was to shift the cost of regulating and inspecting specific industries from all taxpayers to the industries themselves.
So the goal was to make businesses pay the taxes, er "fees,"  instead of people?  That's funny because just a few weeks earlier, the Ballard administration strongly opposed requiring telecoms that use the City's rights of way from paying for that privilege, unlike other cities.  The reason offered was that the telecoms wouldn't pay the fees, people would.  I wonder why this philosophy suddenly shifted.  Could it have been that AT&T, a huge telecom, is represented by Barnes & Thornburg Partner Joe Loftus, who is also paid to advise the Mayor?    Anyway, I won't hold my breathe on the Tully column on this issue.

I would also point out that while the Ballard adminstration claims these increased business fees took the pressure off of ordinary taxpayers, the administration did not actually lower any taxes on those taxpayers to offset the increased revenue from the business fees.
Tully also mocks Kennedy for pointing to a "minor increase" in the hotel tax.  As is usual, with Tully he leaves out important details, such as that "minor" additional 1% increase  makes Indianapolis tied for the highest combined hotel/sales tax in the country, certainly not a good position to be in when marketing the city for conventions.  Plus Tully fails to note that the revenue was used to bail out the CIB.  When it came to bailing out the CIB Ballard supported raising the hotel tax, the rental car, the food and beverage tax, the alcohol tax, and the ticket tax.  Ballard had no problem asking for tax increases when it came to the CIB.  But when it came to asking that the CIB be accountable for what the Board had done and honest in the numbers the it publicly disclosed, Ballard was MIA.

Of course, here we've only focused on the tax and fee increases. Another part of Ballard's fiscal irresponsibility is reflected on the spending side.  Ballard gave $33.5 million to the Pacers.  Ballard put taxpayers on the hook for $100 million for the North of South project, a project no private lender would support because it was considered too risky.  Ballard is proposing that taxpayers put up $6.25 million to build a garage in Broad Ripple and then give that garage and the revenue it generates away to one of Ballard's largest contributor, Keystone Construction.  On all these matters, Tully remains silent or approves the move.  Of course Tully said nothing but any of this.  The only thing Tully loves more than tax and fee increases is the City handing out taxpayer money to wealthy insiders on the claim they'll do something good for the City.

Ballard has spent about 44 months proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is not a fiscal conservative and is not a good steward of our tax dollars.  Republicans who believe in fiscal responsibility would be foolish to vote for Ballard for another term.


Jon said...

I readily concur that Ballard isn't a fiscal conservative, in fact he acts just like a liberal. So in November we have a race between two liberals, Ballard's problem is that the other liberal has a larger political base in Marion County.

Paul K. Ogden said...


That's pretty well said. People underestimate the size of the D base when they say Ballard will waltz to a second term.

I would point out though that the Council Democrats have sounded a lot more fiscally conservative than the Council Republicans of late. I realize when power shifts, as it will after this election, both parties may change their tune. Republicans will suddenly become fiscal conservatives again while it will be D's supporting tax increases and more spending.

M Theory said...

Liberals only sound fiscally conservative when they are not in power. As soon as they get power, they exercise no control.

Jon is right...we have a choice between two liberals.

Citizen Kane said...

"Ultimately, though, the bulk of Kennedy's claim centers on a 2010 ordinance that raised more than 130 license fees to perform jobs such as massage therapist, trash hauler and taxi driver, as well as to receive various construction permits and for code violations."

As usual Tully has no idea what he is talking about. First of all, the Department of Code Enforcement (formerly the Division of Compliance) has always been self-supporting. Not only were they self-supporting, they contributed $800,000 to support the Division of Planning. After leaving DMD and despite raising their fees, in virtually all categories, that support to the Division of Planning dropped by about 2/3rds, resulting in the Division of Planning to significantly raise their fees. Meanwhile DCE added additional layers of high-salaried employees.

But according to Tully, there is nothing to see here.