Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Richest Man in the World Profits Off Program that Provides Cell Phones for the Poor

Bloomberg reports:

Congressional Republicans want to rein in a $2.2 billion U.S. mobile-phone subsidy for the poor, saying it’s riddled with fraud and benefits the world’s richest man, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.
Richest Man in the World Carlos Slim

Slim’s TracFone Wireless Inc. received about a quarter of the funds from the U.S. government’s Lifeline program, according to the latest figures. ...

Billionaire Carlos Slim owns Mexico’s biggest phone company America Movil SAB, which offers mobile service in 17 Latin American countries and the U.S.“...
Slim owns Mexico’s biggest phone company, America Movil SAB (AMXL), which offers mobile service in 17 Latin American countries and the U.S. Its TracFone unit is the largest recipient under the U.S. Federal Communication Commission’s Lifeline program, taking in $451.7 million, or 28 percent, of payments in 2011, the last year for which records are available.

The Lifeline program subsidizes monthly service, and carriers give away phones. Recipients generally can’t earn more than 135 percent of the federal poverty line, which in most states is $23,550 for a family of four.


The program has seen “explosive growth,” said Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, at the hearing. “It’s why so many of our constituents are questioning the program and are questioning the use of the ’Obama phones’ as they are commonly called.”

Started in 1985, Lifeline pays companies $9.25 per customer per month. It disbursed $772 million in 2008 and $2.2 billion last year, according to the Universal Service Administrative Co., a Washington-based nonprofit that oversees the subsidies.

TracFone is the largest prepaid wireless company in the U.S., with 23.2 million customers at the end of March and $4.8 billion in revenue last year. Lifeline accounts for about 3.6 million of those customers, Fuentes said.

Monday, April 29, 2013

TV Shows Migrate to Internet As Television Medium Continues to Evolve

I found this story on-line.  It reveals how television continues to evolve, becoming a more online medium:
In Soap Opera Land, a character who dies isn’t always dead. Just think of Bobby Ewing on ’80s nighttime soap “Dallas” whose demise was just a bad dream of wife Pamela after actor Patrick Duffy announced he wanted to return to the show
And so it appears to be with two popular soaps, “One Life to Live” and “All My Children.” ABC pulled the plug on OLTL last year and AMC in 2011, after each program had run more than 40 years on network daytime television.

Now the shows are back, resurrected on the Internet as the debut offerings of the Online Network. ..

New 30-minute shows of each program will premiere Monday through Thursday, with a recap offered Friday that features interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. You can watch for free at Hulu.com on your computer or, if you subscribe to Hulu Plus, on other devices, or buy the shows from iTunes for download.

What time are the shows on? Anytime. That’s the beauty of online television. Touted as “anytime” soaps instead of daytime soaps, the shows offer a flexibility for viewers who no longer have the freedom to sit down each day at a regular time for “my story.”


 “As few as five years ago, this move of an established TV series to online exhibition would have sounded like folly,” Jim McKairnes, a former CBS executive and now TV consultant, college professor and author told me. ”But in today’s quickly changing world of pipelines and platforms and new-business-models, of ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Hemlock Grove’ and ‘Arrested Development’ on Netflix, of content rather than programming, it seems merely to represent the next phase of storytelling,” McKairnes said.

CIB's Recent $2 Million Gift to the Colts Owner is Cited as Reason Legislature Voted to Sunset CIB Taxes

In the story that I've followed on this blog, the Indiana General Assembly voted to sunset the CIB tax increases passed earlier this year by the Indianapolis City-County Council.

To refresh the readers' memory, the Council voted earlier this year to raise the admissions tax on tickets at CIB venues by 67% and the local car rental tax by 50%. The first year, this additional revenue is to go to public safety. After the first year, 75% of the money goes to the CIB's coffers.

Sen. Michael Young (R. Indianapolis)
Members of the General Assembly had complained that when they gave the CIB the authority to raise these taxes in the 2009 bailout legislation they passed, the taxes were only to be increased if necessary to pay back a state loan.  Fast forwarding to 2013, while the CIB didn't need the money to repay the loan, the CIB wanted the taxes maxed out anyway.  Members of the Council dutifully complied voting in a pre-arranged vote where exactly 8 Democrats and 8 Republicans voted for each of the taxes.

In response to the Council's action taken on behalf of the CIB, Sen. Michael Young (R-Indianapolis) authored legislation to sunset the taxes at 10 years, the length of time the CIB had to repay the state loan.  While the measure easily passed the Senate, it wasn't heard in the Senate.  It was, however, added in as part of the budget which passed Friday night.

Jon Murray of the Indianapolis Star reports on what transpired:
State lawmakers have revived a bid to put limits on recent Marion County admissions and auto rental tax increases that were enacted locally to support the Capital Improvement Board.

That’s the city agency that runs its sports venues and convention center, and the leader of the legislature’s crackdown says the CIB’s decision this month to pay for a $2 million luxury suite expansion at Lucas Oil Stadium only strengthened his case.

In the closing hours of the General Assembly session that ended early Saturday morning, language putting 10-year sunsets on the twin tax hikes was inserted into the two-year state budget bill by a conference committee. The tax increases are expected to raise $6.7 million a year initially, with most of it going to the CIB after the first year.


Young said his goal was to get the tax limits approved by session’s end because he wasn’t convinced the recent increases — allowed by a 2009 state bailout package for the then-ailing CIB — were necessary for the CIB’s long-term survival.

Only providing more evidence that the CIB is flush with cash, he said, was news of the CIB’s agreement to add two luxury suites and two kitchens to the stadium, at the request of the Indianapolis Colts.

He also cited longstanding discussions about a potential CIB contribution to help pay for a multimillion-dollar renovation of the Natatorium at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis; a bipartisan budget deal between Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and City-County Council leaders in January that called for the city budget to receive a portion of the new tax proceeds; and council Democrats’ failed bid last fall to extract a $15 million one-time tax from the CIB, eying its high reserve fund.
“I think it made the case that they didn’t need these tax increases,” Young said of the CIB. “They had the cash. ... The rest of the state didn’t want to pay for helping the CIB out any more than they had to.
The lengthy article then goes on to detail members of the administration complaining about the immediate the impact the sunsetting of the taxes would have on the CIB, including the ability to borrow money on that tax revenue..  It's so hard to feel sorry for the leadership of an entity that is constantly lying to the public in order to get its hands on more of our tax dollars.  While the sunsetting of the tax increases is unfortunately 10 years down the road, hopefully it is a first step in the General Assembly taking much-needed action to reign in the CIB.

Why Vetoing SB 621 is Good for Marion County Republicans and Good for Governor Pence

This week Senate Bill 621 will land on the desk of Governor Mike Pence.  He will be faced with the decision to sign it, veto it, or let it pass into law without his signature.  While Indiana's Governor has a very weak veto - it takes only a simple majority in both houses to override a gubernatorial veto in Indiana - it is still a veto.   Given the large number of Republican defections (14) on the SB 621 vote in the House, it is doubtful that that the majority that passed the bill would stick together to override the Governor's veto.
Governor Mike Pence

Governor Pence should strongly consider that veto.  Here's why.

The most objectionable part of Senate Bill 621 is that it strips the Indianapolis City-County Council of virtually all authority when it comes to budgetary matters.  Although the Council still passes the budget, the Mayor, acting through his Controller, can change the budget at a whim, increasing or lowering various appropriations.  It is extraordinary sweeping power not given to any other mayor in the State of Indiana.

Why does this hurt the Marion County Republicans?  The Republican baseline numbers have been declining consistently every election for about the last 20 years.  During the last election, the GOP baseline in Marion County was down to 38%.  The days of Republicans' winning countywide races - like Mayor - is virtually gone if not already gone.  It is most likely that the Mayor sworn in in 2016 will be a Democrat even if Ballard were to run for re-election and ran a good race. 

So if the Republicans don't have the Mayor's Office in the future, where might their power lie?  The answer is the Indianapolis City-County Council, the very body being stripped of power.   According to the maps that GOP operative David Brooks drew, 15 of the 25 council districts have Republican majority baselines according to the 2010 election.  While I was not able to duplicate that analysis due to reprecincting after 2010, I doubt the accuracy of Brooks' numbers.  When I ran the 2012 baseline numbers in those districts I found only 8 are Republican majority seats and the vote spread in many of those districts had declined 10 to 20 points off the 2010 numbers Brooks was claiming.  Of course, 2010 was an unusually good Republican year and 2012 had substantiallly higher turnout due to it being a presidential election year.  Neither Brooks' numbers or my analysis necessarily reflects what would happen in a low turnout municipal election, which is usually better for Republicans.  Most certainly the GOP council numbers after the 2015 elections will number between Brooks' 8 and and my 17 of the total 25 districts up for election.

Indianapolis Councilor Christine Scales
Nonetheless, Republicans will have clout on the Council either with a majority or a significant minority.  But the problem is that SB 621 strips the Council of its budgetary power.  Republicans on the council will be powerless to stop an Indianapolis Democratic Mayor come 2016.

The obvious question is why a Republican Mayor would support such a measure which hurts his party long-term?  Reaching an accurate answer to that question requires an understanding of local Marion County GOP politics. While most of the grassroots workers in the local GOP are motivated by fiscal or social conservatism, the leadership of the party has for years been dominated by people who simply do not care about conservative principles.  Instead they are active in the party because it is a way to get their hands on the taxpayers' money, particularly through government contracts and corporate welfare.  The best way to get those government contracts and corporate welfare is to control the Mayor's Office.

The profiteers aren't dumb. They know the Ballard era is coming to an end.  They want him to have as much power as possible for the next 2 1/2 years so that they can make more money.   Short-term SB 621 increases the power of a Mayor Greg Ballard, while long-term Ballard's political party suffers from the Council being stripped of power.

Only one Republican councilor - Christine Scales - had the courage to step up and publicly criticize SB 621. But there were, in fact, several Republican councilors who opposed it but were intimidated from publicly speaking out about it..  Further, fourteen House members voted against SB 621.   I have never seen so many Republicans voting against as a partisan GOP bill.   That's undoubtedly because many of them knew the bill actually hurt the Republicans long-term.

Finally, I would be remiss by not considering the political consequences to Governor Pence for vetoing SB 621.  If he vetoes SB 621, he will make some insiders in the Indianapolis GOP, the aforementioned profiteers, unhappy.  While they are in leadership of the local GOP, they are only a small part of the Marion County Republican Party.  More importantly those insiders have no ability to deliver votes in Marion County to statewide candidate as evidenced the extremely poor job they did delivering votes for Pence in 2012.  Governor Pence would be better off thinking long-term and doing what is in the best interest of the Ballard-less future of the Marion County GOP.  That means vetoing SB 621.

There is an additional benefit of vetoing SB 621 to Governor Pence.  He will make a statement that he will do what is right, regardless of party.  If he vetoes SB 621, his leadership will be praised in newspapers throughout Indiana, including the Indianapolis Star.  It will help start him on a path of developing a reputation as a fair, thoughtful leader who also happens to be a conservative. Vetoing SB 621 certainly doesn't violate Pence's conservative principles.  If anything, the bill is anti-conservative as it seeks to strip a legislative body of power in favor of the executive.

Yes, a veto of SB 621 would be a solid win for the Governor.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Indianapolis Star Desperately Tries to Regain Readers by Publishing Salacious Stories Involving Former Public Official

Today, the Indianapolis Star published a fourth story on the Curt Coonrod saga involving a younger woman.  Coonrod is a former Indianapolis City-County Council member and is a former Marion County auditor.  He has since left the public world and took a job in the private sector.

It seems that Curt, a single 58 year old, took a liking to a 21 year old woman he met on a dating website.  There relationship may or may not have been platonic, but at the least Curt viewed it as a friendship and endeavored to help the young lady.  Apparently the woman didn't appreciate Curt's help.  She plotted with her new 24 year old boyfriend, who she also found on line, to rob Coonrod while she pretended to also be a victim.  The police didn't buy it and they both have been arrested and charged with robbery. 

Given Coonrod's status as a former public official, the story was certainly deserving of a mention.  But the Star didn't stop at a mention. It has now published four lengthy front page stories, with every aspect of the story and those involved detailed in print.

Coonrod is a private citizen and like all private citizens he deserves more privacy than the Star has afforded him.  Coonrod is not accused of any criminal wrongdoing.  Further, he is not accused of misusing the public's money to carry on an affair or to help the young woman out financially.   In fact, he's not accused of doing anything wrong with the young lady, other than perhaps showing bad judgment.

Certainly there are aspects of Coonrod's current career worthy of coverage.  Coonrod's role with the Carmel Redevelopment Commission and his advising Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard on finances are fair game.   Ironically though the Star is not interested in doing any story on Carmel that might put it in a negative light..  Instead they have chosen to use their front pages to report to provide salacious details on a private relationship that is nobody's business except those people involved.

Yes, a former Marion County Auditor and Councilor getting tied up and robbed is worth a mention.  But that's where the coverage should have ended.  There is no journalist merit behind running four lengthy front page stories exploring every detail and accusation relating to what happened.  It appears nothing more than a desperate attempt to highlight a juicy story to sell newspapers.

While the Indianapolis Star is enamored with the details of Coonrod's private life, state legislators five blocks away at the Indiana Statehouse are passing laws that will greatly affect people's lives.  A real newspaper would be reporting on those developments instead of the tawdry details of a purely private adult relationship.

Indiana Legislature Set to Hand Same Sex Couples Big Victory by Eliminating Inheritance Tax

As the Indiana General Assembly brings its act to a close, it is interesting to remember what dominated the early days - whether to pass a proposed constitutional amendment that defining marriage as being between a man and woman.  That proposal had already passed the General Assembly once before, but under our amendment process it has to pass a separately elected legislature a second time before going to the voters for ratification. Because of a pending Supreme Court decision which might affect the issue, the legislature decided to put the issue off until 2014.

Same sex couples wanting the benefits of marriage figured that getting a hold on consideration of the amendment was the biggest victory they could hope for from the GOP-dominated legislature. But they were wrong.

Yesterday's budget agreement included an elimination of Indiana's inheritance tax.  In a previous post, I touched upon how extraordinarily complex and time-consuming the tax is to calculate.  But in my posting of some of the instructions about the tax, I failed to mention that it is an enormous and discriminatory tax on gay men and women who want to leave their estate to their partners.

Let's take a look at how the Indiana Inheritance Tax applies to two two situations.

Jack and Jill are married.  Jack passes away with $500,000 in assets he leaves for Jill in his will.  Under Indiana law, Jack's estate does not have to pay there is no tax owed as the surviving spouse is 100% exempt.

Bruce and John are gay men who are long-time partners. They would like to have gotten married, but are not permitted to in the State of Indiana.  Bruce passes away leaving $500,000 to John.  What is the inheritance tax on the bequest to John?
Because they were not allowed to marry (and assuming they are, hopefully, not related) John only is considered to be a "friend" and thus in the lowest class, Class C.  Class C recipients receive only a $100 exemption.  So he's taxed on $490,000.   Because Class C applies his inheritance tax is "$10,000 plus 15% of the net taxable value of the estate over $100,000.  Doing the math, 15% of $399,900 is $58,500.

So Bruce's Estate has to pay $10,000 + $59,985 = $69,985 on the $500,000 Bruce wants to leave to John.  For those keeping score, the surviving spouse of the married couple pays $0.  Meanwhile, the surviving partner of the of the same sex relationship pays $69,985.

Some of my conservative friends point to the fact that private agreements can afford the benefits of marriage without there actually being a traditional marriage.  Sometimes, but not always.  In this case there is no way for Bruce and John to legally contract to avoid the tax.  It doesn't matter if the $500,000 passes via intestate (without a will), with a will, or by a trust.  The inheritance tax, which is a transfer tax, still has to be paid. 

Those who support same sex marriage should celebrate this unexpected victory brought courtesy of the Republican-dominated General Assembly.

NOTE:  In the previous post, I tried to copy and past the state inheritance tax tables to give a hint on how confusing calculating the tax is.  Unfortunately, the formatting got stripped away which only made reading the complicated table even worse.   People can check out the Indiana Inheritance Tax instructions here.  Those instructions include the tables on page 3.

Governor Pence Gets Big Victory on 5% Tax Cut; State Wisely Eliminates the Inheritance Tax

I apologize for not blogging lately.  I had to file 7th Circuit brief due by midnight that Civil Discourse Now co-host Mark Small and I have been working on for a few days.  I got the brief filed early - by 11:30.

Gov. Mike Pence
I did take some time out Thursday to get caught up on the news.  I saw where Gov. Mike Pence scored a victory when he secured a 5% cut for Hoosier taxpayers.   In a press release he stated:  
Today Hoosier taxpayers won a great victory. The agreement reached between our administration and legislative leaders will be the largest state tax cut in Indiana history. The combination of a 5 percent individual income tax cut, inheritance tax repeal and additional tax relief for businesses is the right tax relief at the right time and will give a much needed boost to working families, small businesses and family farms.

I am grateful for the leadership of Senate President Pro Tem David Long,  Speaker Brian Bosma and other key fiscal leaders for working diligently with our administration to craft this historic package of tax relief. Their efforts demonstrate the commitment of the General Assembly to put taxpayers first.

Cuts will also be made in the corporate tax and the state inheritance tax will be eliminated.  I am very familiar with the latter.  As an attorney who has handled estate matters,  I have had to prepare Indiana inheritance tax forms. The inheritance tax is a transfer tax, paid by the estate, but based on the relationship of the decedent to the person receiving the property or money.  The closer the relationship is between the decedent and the beneficiary, the less tax is.  A spouse usually doesn't have to pay any inheritance tax.  But if the person receiving the tax is unrelated, then the tax can be significant.

Instructions to the State forms relates how complicated figuring the tax can be:
The amount of each beneficiary’s exemption (column 4) is determined by the relationship of that beneficiary to the decedent.

The examples are as follows:

1. Surviving spouse and charitable organizations are
100% exempt.
2. Class A
parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren
and other lineal ancestors and
lineal descendants ........................... $ 100,000
3. Class B
brothers, sisters, lineal descendants of
brothers or sisters, daughters-in-law
and sons-in-law ................................ $ 500
4. Class C
anyone not listed above including but
not limited to aunts, uncles, cousins,
friends, nieces and nephews by marriage
and corporations ............................ $ 100

Then once you take out the exemptions, you also have different tax treatments for the Classes.

The inheritance tax rates are:

Class A
$25,000 or less..................... 1% of net taxable value
over $25,000 but not over $250, plus 2% of net
$50,000..................................... taxable value over $25,000
over $50,000 but not over $750, plus 3% of net
$200,000................................... taxable value over $50,000
over $200,000 but not over $5,250, plus 4% of net
$300,000................................... taxable value over $200,000
over $300,00 but not over $9,250, plus 5% of net
$500,000 .................................. taxable value over $300,000
over $500,000 but not over $19,250, plus 6% of net
$700,00........................................ taxable value over $500,000
over $700,000 but not over $31,250, plus 7% of net
$1,000,000 .................................. taxable value over $700,000
over $1,000,000 but not over $52,250, plus 8% of net
$1,500,000.................................. taxable value over $1,000,000
over $1,500,000 .......................... $92,250, plus 10% of net
taxable value over $1,500,000

Class B
$100,000 or less ....................... 7% of net taxable value
over $100,000 but not over $7,000, plus 10% of net
$500,000 ................................... taxable value over $100,000
over $500,000 but not over $47,000, plus 12% of net
$1,000,000 ................................ taxable value over $500,000
over $1,000,000 ........................ $107,000, plus 15% of net
taxable value over $1,000,000

Class C
$100,000 or less ...................... 10% of net taxable value
over $100,000 but not over $10,000, plus 15% of the net
$1,000,000................................ taxable value over $100,000
over $1,000,000 .......................... $145,000, plus 20% of net
taxable value over $1,000,000

And that's the easy part of figuring the inheritance tax owed.

Congratulations again for Governor Pence scoring a victory for taxpayers during his first legislative session.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Senate Bill 621 Would Give Indianapolis Mayor Dictatorial Power Over Budget

During a recent "Mayor's Night Out," I heard Mayor Greg Ballard defend the mayor's proposed increased budgetary powers in Senate Bill 621 as being necessary because, as the executive of the consolidated City of Indianapolis/Marion County, the public sees him as being responsible for the budget of various county offices that are separately elected.  Think Prosecutor, Sheriff, Coroner, Surveyor, etc.  The Mayor argued he needed to have a say in those offices' budgets.

But the budgets of those those offices are already approved by the Mayor when he signs the budget bill  He can always veto that bill and require the Council to change it or muster a 2/3 majority to override the veto.

I thought though there had to be something else I was missing.  So I took a look at the most recent version of Senate Bill 621 to see if I was missing something.  Although the removal of the four at-large councilors, not currently in the bill, gets the majority of the press, the budgetary provision will have the most sweeping effect.

Essentially what it does is give the Mayor, acting through the controller, who serves at the pleasure of the Mayor, the right to unilaterally reduce or increase any budget item before it is spent by the agency, department, etc., which has received the appropriation.  It renders the work of the elected Council in passing a budget virtually irrelevant. Every department chief, elected or not elected, will have to come crawling to the Mayor's office and seek permission to spend money, even though their spending of the money has already been approved by the council and signed into law by the Mayor as part of the budget.

Even if one accepts that a Mayor should be given dictatorial powers over the budget, which I surely wouldn't, even the political calculations don't work.  The Republicans are hurt long-term by this bill.  Marion County is becoming more Democratic every election.  Last election the Republican base vote had dropped to 38%.  The Democrats are going to win back the Mayor's Office, probably in 2015.  The only real clout the Republicans are going to have is by having a sizable minority on the council.  Yet Republican legislators are supporting a bill that strips the Council of its budgetary powers in favor of a county-wide elected office that will soon be held by a Democrat not only for the four years beginning in 2016, but likely for decades to follow

Below is the entirely new budgetary language in the current version of the bill:
 Sec. 10. (a) As used in this section, "office, department, or agency" means any office, department, or agency of the consolidated city or the county having a consolidated city.
    (b) Each year shall be divided into four (4) quarterly allotment periods, beginning respectively on the first day of January, April, July, and October. However, in any case where the quarterly allotment period is impracticable, the controller may prescribe a different period suited to the circumstances but not extending beyond the end of any calendar year.
    (c) Except as provided in subsection (d), the allotment system and the encumbering of funds apply to appropriations and funds of all kinds, including dedicated funds from which expenditures are

made under the authority of any office, department, or agency.
    (d) The allotment system does not apply to the following:
        (1) Money made available for the purpose of conducting a post-audit of financial transactions of any office, department, or agency.
        (2) Appropriations for construction or for the acquisition of real estate for public purposes that are exempted from the allotment system by the executive of the consolidated city.
    (e) An appropriation to any office, department, or agency is not available for expenditure until all the following occur:
        (1) The office, department, or agency submits to the controller a request for allotment that consists of:
            (A) an estimate of the amount required for each activity; and
            (B) each purpose for which money is to be expended during the applicable allotment period.
        (2) The estimate described in subdivision (1)(A) has been approved, increased, or reduced by the controller as provided in subsection (h).
        (3) The funds are allotted.
    (f) The controller shall prescribe the form of a request for allotment. The request must be submitted to the controller before the beginning of the allotment period, within a time determined by the controller.
    (g) Each request for allotment shall be reviewed by the controller. The controller shall allot amounts for expenditure if:
        (1) the estimate described in subsection (e)(1)(A) is within the terms of the appropriation as to amount and purpose, having due regard for the probable future needs of the office, department, or agency for the remainder of the calendar year or other term for which the appropriation was made; and
        (2) the office, department, or agency contemplates expenditure of the allotment during the allotment period.
    (h) The controller shall:
        (1) modify the estimate so as to conform with the terms of the appropriation and the prospective needs of the office, department, or agency; and
        (2) reduce or increase the amount to be allotted accordingly.
The controller shall notify every office, department, or agency of its allotments at least five (5) days before the beginning of each allotment period. The total amount allotted to any office, department, or agency for the fiscal year or other term for which the appropriation was made may not exceed the amount appropriated for the year or term.
    (i) The controller may at any time modify or amend any allotment made by the controller.
    (j) If the controller discovers at any time that:
        (1) the probable receipts from taxes or other sources for any fund will be less than were anticipated; and
        (2) the amount available for the remainder of the term of the appropriation or for any allotment period will be less than the amount estimated or allotted;
the controller shall, with the approval of the executive of the consolidated city, and after notice to the office, department, or agency concerned, reduce the amount or amounts allotted or to be allotted.
    (k) The controller shall promptly transmit records of all allotments and modifications to the county auditor and the city-county council.

Indianapolis Star Uses Tortured Logic to Claim the CIB is Giving Money to the City

The Star reports:
The City-County Council tonight signed off on a pact that’s expected to provide more than $11.6 million to public safety agencies and introduced other budget-related measures.

The agreement on the public safety payments — which will come from the Capital Improvement Board — and the homestead tax credit study were among pieces of a long-term bipartisan budget deal struck in January between Republican Mayor Greg Ballard and leaders of the Democratic-majority council.
They’re still discussing ways to cut back this year’s budget and to close an expected $35 million deficit next year.
In the meantime, the CIB, which runs the city’s sports venues and convention center, has agreed to give the police and fire departments all of an estimated $6.7 million in first-year proceeds from recent increases to taxes on event admissions and auto rentals in Marion County.
It’s also transferring $5 million to city coffers in a one-for-one swap involving a development fund.
After the first year of the tax increases, the CIB will give the city’s public safety agencies one-quarter of proceeds, up to $3 million annually.
Reporter Jon Murray really dropped the ball on this story.  Let's review what happened.  A few months ago, at the request of the CIB and the Mayor's Office, the Indianapolis City-County Council approved raising the admission's tax by 67% and the local car rental tax by 50%.  The first year that money goes to the City.   After that, 75% of the revenue from the two taxes goes to the CIB.

Yet how is it reported?  Astonishingly that the CIB is agreeing to give money to the City.  The only way this tortured logic works is if there is a presumption that the CIB is somehow entitled to have both of those taxes maxed out.   In fact, the legislature said those taxes should only be increased if needed to pay back a state loan it agreed to extend to the CIB when it was asking for a bailout a few years ago.  Even though it does not need money to repay the loan, the CIB had the Council max out the taxes anyway.  Then the CIB turned around and gave $2 million to billionaire Jim Irsay to construct two new suites in the five year old Lucas Oil Stadium.

Oh, and that $5 million the CIB is transferring to the City?  That is simply matched with the City picking up $5 million of the CIB's expense with respect to improvements at a parking garage.   There is no net money going from the CIB to the City.  It's just a shell game.

Bottom line, the CIB is not contributing a dime to the City more than it ever has..   You wouldn't know that from the story though.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Civil Discourse Now Live Today From Alleged Serial Killer Herb Baumeister's Estate

Today we will be shooting from the Herb Baumeister's property located at Fox Hollow Farms in Westfield.  Baumeister is allegedly one of the biggest serial killers in Indiana history.  Allegedly Baumeister, who was married, picked up young gay men, killed them and buried them in his yard.

We have to use lawyerly words like "allegedly" because Baumeister fled to Canada and killed himself before he could be apprehended and tried for the killings.

We will be interviewing Detective Cory Mulligan of the Carmel Police Department who worked on the case.  Intuitive Mariline Isaacs will also be on the show.   The show begins at 11 am and runs through 1 pm and can be found at www.indianatalks.com

Below is an Investigative Reports show, broken up into five parts, I found on YouTube. It is a good review of what happened.
Part 1
Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

Friday, April 19, 2013

School Employee With Common Name is Suspended When Falsely Accused of Being a Criminal; Agencies Involved Say System Worked Exactly As Designed

This goes in the outrageous file.  The Indianapolis Star reports:
[A] 62-year-old Indianapolis man says his name — shared with thousands in Indiana — landed him in a rare predicament when he was mistakenly identified as a criminal and suspended from his job.
The blunder sent Richard Anthony Brown on a week of bouncing from one state agency to another before finally clearing his name.
Brown was working as a caregiver in the Lawrence Township school district’s after-school care program when his name popped up — three times — in a routine background check. Indiana Department of Child Services records showed three Richard Browns with criminal records.
DCS officials notified Lawrence Township’s Before- and After-School Care Program, which told Brown last week that he was suspended from his job. Day cares risk losing their licenses if they hire people convicted of felonies or misdemeanors involving children or domestic violence.
Richard Brown was suddenly in a position of needing to prove that he wasn’t one of the other Richard Browns.
“These other Browns lived in three different counties where I had never lived in my life, and they committed some kind of offenses in the late 1990s,” Brown said. “I’ve lived here (in Marion County) since 1981.”
Brown said he called the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, which runs background checks on day-care workers. The department told him he had to contact DCS.
DCS told Brown that if he could prove he lived in Marion County when the other Richard Browns were out breaking the law, he could get his job back.
FSSA spokeswoman Marni Lemons said that in sending information for the background check, Lawrence Township Schools apparently sent only Brown’s name without a birth date. The agency then conducted a check in a database kept by DCS.
When Brown’s name came up as a criminal, the agency told the school day care.
“I don’t know why they would send in a common name with no other information, but it happens,” Lemons said.
At that point, Lemons said, the day care or Brown had the responsibility to provide more information to the DCS that would exonerate Brown, Lemon said.
“We know there are people with the same name, and we tell the provider to work it out with the individual,” Lemons said. “They then have a chance to appeal the finding directly to the DCS, since it is their database.”
Lemons said FSSA’s system worked “exactly as it was designed to.”
Stephanie McFarland, a spokeswoman for DCS, said its process ran as intended, as well.
Give me a break.. So the DCS accuses someone of a crime simply because they have a common name, Richard Brown, held by thousands of other Hoosiers, some of whom have committed crimes.The man immediately gets suspended and it becomes his burden to prove he's not the Richard Brown who has a criminal record? What if his employer isn't willing to spend the time and effort to work with the employee to straighten out this mess borne out of pure bureaucratic laziness?  If this is indeed how the system is designed to operate, the system needs to be changed. Immediately.

To read the rest of the lengthy article, click here.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Why Will the Government's Effort at Cricket Succeed Here When the Private Sector's Effort at Softball Failed?

This City's priorities never cease to amaze me.  While in India on yet another overseas junket, funded (indirectly) by taxpayers, Mayor Greg Ballard announced that the City would be spending $6 million to build a new cricket facility.  The IBJ reports:
Mayor Greg Ballard revealed Tuesday during a trade mission to India that Indianapolis hopes to host the inaugural United States Cricketing Championship next summer or fall.
Already, Ballard has enlisted the Indiana Sports Corp. and Visit Indy, the city’s tourism arm, to help attract, promote and conduct the cricket event, according to Marc Lotter, a spokesman for the mayor. The event will be sanctioned by the United States of America Cricket Association.

Lotter told IBJ the effort to host the event is part of the initiative to transform a 40-acre city park in the 1300 block of South Post Road into an international sports complex capable of hosting local, regional, national and international cricket, rugby, lacrosse and hurling events.

One multi-use field already is complete at the Post Road Community Park and is being used by the city’s local cricket club, Lotter said. The park will be renamed Indianapolis World Sports Park.

The $6 million project began two years ago. Lotter said that once it is complete in summer or fall of 2014, the park will have five athletic fields and be capable of holding events attracting as many as 10,000 spectators.

Money for the project is coming from existing city parks department funds and Rebuild Indy funds. The latter came from revenue from the sale of the city’s water system to Citizens Energy Group.

“We’re talking about creating some of the most premier fields in the U.S., built to international standards, that can host these sports,” Lotter said. “We think this project helps cement the city’s reputation as a sports capital of the world.”

The project also includes walking and fitness trails, additional parking, bathrooms and concession facilities, as well as room for temporary bleachers.

Lotter and Ballard are confident developments like these will help Indianapolis attract businesses from India and other parts of the globe where these sports are popular.
Several years ago, I regularly played in softball leagues.  There were privately-owned parks scattered throughout Indianapolis.  These parks charged players and fans about a $2 admission each and also charged a several hundred dollar fee for each team to play in the league.  Almost all of these privately-owned softball parks in Indianapolis have gone under.  Despite steep charges, the parks could not turn a profit.  Further, as the younger generation became of age, they were less interested in being involved in organized, outdoor sports. 

If cricket and the other international sports are so popular, why not let the private sector build the facility and earn the profit?  Let the market decide if it is a good investment.  This is yet another time that people in government naively believe they are better at predicting what will be a good investment than the private sector.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What is the Responsibility of Movie Producers to Accurately Represent Historical Events?

Over the weekend, before I became bogged down in working on my taxes, I had a chance to watch the movie Zero Dark Thirty.

Zero Dark Thirty focused on the CIA's development of intelligence that resulted in the successful killing of Osama Bin Laden.  Overall, it was a pretty good movie, a little slow at first, but it got better when it got away from showing the interrogation "techniques" used to extract information from detainee.   I am not terribly offended by terrorists being tortured for information.  I just find watching it gets boring after awhile.

Of course, in such a historically based movie it is inevitable that a producer will invent dialogue, scenes, and maybe even a few minor characters.   But should a movie about history, simply make up facts and major characters?  I say "no."  When a producer chooses to do a movie about an historical event, he or she has a responsibility to get the history right.  Any way you dress it up, people are going to watch that movie and accept what is depicted as true.  For many people that movie is the only source of information about that subject.

After watching Zero Dark Thirty, I did what I normally do with historically-based movies and researched the topic to see what  inaccuracies there are in the film.  Certainly the movie's central character, a female CIA operative cast as a heroine who fought almost single-handily against bureaucrats and the Obama administration to pursue her theory about the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden, makes for a good movie, but it is not based on reality.  There were hundreds of agents who aggressively pursued the theory.

A couple months ago Cory Franklin wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times about this subject:
“Zero Dark Thirty” was criticized for its depiction of the role of torture in the search for Osama bin Laden. “Lincoln,” the docudrama about the abolition of slavery, took certain liberties with the congressional vote over the 13th Amendment (despite the use of three historical advisers by director Steven Spielberg). Ben Affleck’s movie, “Argo,” tells how several Americans escaped from Tehran in 1979, and it too contains several fictional scenes. 
Let me just stop here for a second.  There were a ton of historical inaccuracies in the Lincoln movie, not just the congressional vote depicted in the flick.   (Haven't seen Argo yet.)  The worst thing though was the political correctness that dominated the movie leading to hokey scenes like the opening one with three black union soldiers repeating the Gettysburg Address to the President, with the finally one remaining behind to lecture the President of the United States about civil rights.   Yeah right.

Back to the Franklin piece:
Still, Hollywood history is undeniably effective. The screenwriter William Goldman (“All The President’s Men”) once said that as far as movies are concerned, it is not important what is true; it is important what audiences accept as true. Today, schoolteachers often supplement history textbooks, sometimes replacing them completely, with films designed to “teach” history. Students — and filmgoers in general — enjoy polished, time-compressed productions chock full of drama and moral clarity. Voilà, the Titanic sinks just as James Cameron portrays it; Jim Lovell morphs into Tom Hanks navigating a crippled Apollo 13; and Malcolm X becomes Denzel Washington. Is this any different from Shakespeare’s fictional portrayal of real English kings? 


This year is the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Later this year, there will undoubtedly be many showings of Oliver Stone’s 1991 movie “JFK,” one of cinema’s most effective — and most manipulative — historical depictions. In it, a miscast Kevin Costner playing real-life District Attorney Jim Garrison delivers an emotional final speech revealing a massive government conspiracy. In reality, Garrison’s “conspiracy” was laughed out of court in one day. 

Employing rapid-cut montages, Stone invented fictional scenes, manipulated facts and created new footage resembling the original documentary footage that made it difficult for viewers to distinguish real from fake. 

His conclusion in the movie, that a massive government conspiracy was responsible for Kennedy’s death, remains unsupported by facts and has been discredited by virtually every responsible historian. Yet none of this prevented Stone and his Time-Warner studio from distributing a book from the movie designed as a study guide for schools. 

Another Columbia University historian, Mark Carnes, the editor of “Past Imperfect,” wrote: “Sometimes filmmakers, wholly smitten by their creations, proclaim them to be historically ‘accurate’ or ‘truthful,’ and many viewers presume them to be so. Viewers should neither accept such claims or dismiss them out of hand, but regard them as an invitation for further exploration.” 

For the viewer trying to interpret the past, caveat emptor. Hollywood history should be only the first step, never the end of the journey. 

While Franklin offers good advice, I return to he responsibility of the movie producer.  If their historically-based movie becomes a blockbuster, what they depict in that movie will become the historical record of that event for many people. Movie producers do have a responsibility to get that history correct.    The claim that they need to invent an alternative depiction of events to make history "dramatic" doesn't wash with me.  History is plenty dramatic and depiction of history makes for a fine movie if the boring parts are edited out.

I think it is laziness.  Rather than do the work required to depict history accurately and dramatically, movie producers find it easier to just make stuff up.  Those of us who go to watch a movie about history because we love history, deserve better.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Republicans Shouldn't Defend the Undefendable: Star Writer Reports on Tony Bennett's $1.7 Million Boondoggle

At the end of last week, Matt Tully of the Indianapolis Star reported on the purchase of high tech video conferencing equipment by then Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett for the Department of Education which cost taxpayers $1.7 million and appears to be unusable.   More on that in a second.

Matt Tully
I have been a big critic of Matthew Tully.  He's been phoning it in on his twice weekly columns for quite a long time.  Here though he does a straight news piece and does an excellent job. A few weeks ago, he did an article on conflicts of interest legislators have in their private employment and they political contributions they receive.   What is baffling is that when comes to Indianapolis local government though Tully steadfastly ignores much worse wastes of taxpayers money and conflicts of interest than what he reported on in the in the DOE and legislator piece.  Just days or so ago, Tully published a puff piece on Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard who has been on a several year extravagant spending spreed that has put that city deeply in debt.  Not a critical word emanated from Tully.

Now a snippet of the lengthy Tully piece that is certain worth reading in full:
The three window blinds, at nearly $1,500 each, are about all the Indiana Department of Education has to show for the $1.7 million it has shelled out for some of the most high-tech video conferencing equipment available.

Well, the blinds actually aren’t all. There also are two $6,500 high-definition desktop videoconferencing units, which, as of last week, didn’t mesh with the department’s broader telecommunications system and, so, were being used as what a department employee called “a very expensive computer monitor.”

The rest of the $1.7 million worth of equipment hasn’t been delivered, largely because the new education superintendent’s team says it can’t figure out why the former superintendent’s administration bought it.
“It’s frustrating,” said David Galvin, a top aide to first-year Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz. “It’s just frustrating because it seems there wasn’t a lot of thought put into the purchase. A lot of tax dollars were spent on something that we don’t know how to use, and we don’t even know if it’s needed.”
Equally troubling is the conflict of interest Tully uncovered:
The purchase was finalized last summer, about three months before former Superintendent Tony Bennett lost his re-election bid. A three-page sales agreement includes dozens of pieces of high-tech equipment, software and services sold by California-based Cisco Systems, which at the time of the purchase employed Bennett’s former chief of staff.


... Bennett’s office signed the contract to buy the equipment about 18 months after his one-time chief of staff, Todd Huston, took a job as an education consultant and business development manager at Cisco. Huston, now a state lawmaker representing a Fishers-based district, continued to serve as a close political and policy adviser to Bennett while working for Cisco. In a recent interview, he said he acted as a facilitator between Cisco and Bennett’s office during the deal but added that he earned no commission from it.
In the comments section of the Star, I saw many conservatives and Republicans trying to justify the expenditure.  They should stop.  Just because someone is wearing a Republican uniform doesn't mean they are above criticism for an inexcusable conflict of interest and recklessly spending the taxpayers money.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Scientist Defends Colleague Criticized for Daring to Challenge the Anthropogenic Global Warming Theory

I couldn't have said it better myself.  University of Oklahoma Professor David Deming writes in defense of Dr. [Don] Easterbrook, geology professor emeritus at Western Washington University, who dared to question the anthropogenic global warming orthodoxy.  As I have said before, it is critical that our scientists present their findings honestly and without political slant...and welcome skepticism about those findings.  Yet time and time again skeptics in the scientific community who dare to question the global warming theory are ostracized and ridiculed by colleagues.  That is not what science is about.  Dr. Deming's letter, in full, follows:
Dr. David Deming, University of Oklahoma
I write in rebuttal to the March 31 letter by WWU geology faculty criticizing Dr. Don Easterbrook. I have a Ph.D in geophysics and have published research papers on climate change in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. In 2006 I testified before the US Senate on global warming. Additionally, I am the author of a three-volume history of science.
I have never met Don Easterbrook. I write not so much to defend him as to expose the ignorance exhibited in the letter authored by WWU geology faculty. Their attack on Dr. Easterbrook is the most egregious example of pedantic buffoonery since the Pigeon League conspired against Galileo in the seventeenth century. Skepticism is essential to science. But the goal of the geology faculty at WWU seems to be to suppress critical inquiry and insist on dogmatic adherence to ideology.
The WWU faculty never defined the term “global warming” but described it as “very real,” as if it were possible for something to be more real than real. They claimed that the evidence in support of this “very real” global warming was “overwhelming.” Yet they could not find space in their letter to cite a single specific fact that supports their thesis.
There is significant evidence that would tend to falsify global warming. The mean global air temperature has not risen for the last fifteen years. At the end of March the global extent of sea ice was above the long-term average and higher than it was in March of 1980. Last December, snow cover in the northern hemisphere was at the highest level since record keeping began in 1966. The UK just experienced the coldest March of the last fifty years. There has been no increase in droughts or wildfires. Worldwide hurricane and cyclone activity is near a forty-year low.
One might think that the foregoing facts would raise doubts in scientists interested in pursuing objective truth. But global warming is not so much a scientific theory subject to empirical falsification as it is a political ideology that must be fiercely defended in defiance of every fact to the contrary. In the past few years we have been told that not only hot weather but cold weather is caused by global warming. The blizzards that struck the east coast of the US in 2010 were attributed to global warming. Every weather event–hot, cold, wet or dry–is said to be caused by global warming. The theory that explains everything explains nothing.
Among the gems in the endless litany of nonsense we are subjected to are claims that global warming causes earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. Last year we were warned that global warming would turn us all into hobbits, the mythical creatures from J. R. R. Tolkien’s novels. I am not aware of any member of the WWU geology faculty criticizing these ridiculous claims. Their vehemence seems to be reserved for honest skeptics like Dr. Easterbrook who advance science by asking hard questions.
At the heart of the WWU geology faculty criticisms was the claim that peer review creates objective and reliable knowledge. Nonsense. Peer review produces opinions. Scientists, like other people, have political beliefs, ideological orientations, and personal views that strain their scientific objectivity. One of the most disgusting things to emerge from the 2009 Climategate emails was the revelation of an attempt to subvert the peer-review process by suppressing the publication of work that was scientifically sound but contrary to the reviewer’s personal views.
The infamous phrase “hide the decline” refers to an instance where a global warming alarmist omitted data that contradicted his personal belief that the world was warming. This sort of bias is not limited but pervasive. Neither is science a foolproof method for producing absolute truth. Scientific knowledge is always tentative and subject to revision. The entire history of science is littered with discarded theories once thought to be incontrovertible truths.
The WWU geology faculty letter asserted that technological advances arise from application of the scientific method. They claimed that airplanes were invented by scientists. But the Wright brothers were bicycle mechanics–not scientists. The modern age of personal computing began in a suburban California garage in 1976. The most significant technological advance in human history was the Industrial Revolution in Britain that occurred from 1760 through 1830. When Adam Smith toured factories and inquired as to who had invented the new machinery, the answer was always the same: the common workman. Antibiotics were not discovered through the rigorous application of scientific methodology but serendipitously when Fleming noticed in 1928 that mold suppressed bacterial growth.
Dr. Easterbrook’s contributions have furthered the advance of scientific knowledge and the progress of the human race. It matters not if a multitude of professors oppose him. As Galileo explained, it is “certain that the number of those who reason well in difficult matters is much smaller than the number of those who reason badly….reasoning is like running and not like carrying, and one Arab steed will outrun a hundred jackasses.”
David Deming
Professor of Arts & Sciences
University of Oklahoma

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Did Strong Arm Tactics of Mass Transit Proponents Spur Backlash?

A columnist uses her position at the State's largest newspaper to write (now) thirteen columns promoting mass transit since the transit bill was first introduced in the General Assembly.  The Star and other media outlets refuse to do any critical pieces on the mass transit proposal.

Meanwhile an (alleged) religious coalition tries to ambush a state senator who has reservations about the mass transit and publicly embarrass him into supporting the bill.  Some $2 million of our federal tax dollars is spent promoting the mass transit bill, including buying pro-mass transit advertising from media outlets.  Mayors throughout Central Indiana are united in support of the bill.  The proponents' news conferences and rallies in support of mass transit are tightly scripted and never-ending.

You got the sense near the end, and I think we are at the end with the Senate's vote to send the mass transit bill to summer study committee, that a backlash was forming against mass transit advocates who didn't care about the details of the plan, didn't care about the projected cost or likely overruns, didn't care if it was even a feasible plan given Indianapolis' lack of density, didn't care that the Fishers high speed rail was over half of the cost of the project with minimal benefit to Indianapolis residents.  Proponents did not want an honest debate on the merits of this mass transit plan. They were all about ending the debate and controlling their message. 

Proponents not only were pushing a plan whose details they were unconcerned about, they were ready to turn over key decisions regarding mass transit as well as over $1 billion to an unelected, unaccountable board whose members are appointed by politicians. 

What could go wrong with that?  Well, for that answer you don't have to look any further than the Capital Improvement Board, another unelected, unaccountable board with members appointed by politicians.  Just the other day, the CIB, in a 15 minute meeting, voted to give Jim Irsay the billionaire owner of the Colts $2 million to build two new suites in a stadium less than five years old. This comes after the CIB voted to give the Pacers' billionaire owner $43.5 million to operate Bankers Life Fieldhouse, a facility for which the Pacers get 100% of the revenue.  The CIB is not about doing what is in the best interests of the people of the City of Indianapolis. The CIB is about making insiders and the politically-connected wealthy.  It's not clear why proponents of the massive mass transit expansion think the transit board would be any different. 

Postal Service's Plan to Eliminate Saturday Service is Delayed in the Mail

Okay, it wasn't delayed "in the mail."  But it has been delayed.  The Wall Street Journal reports:
WASHINGTON—The U.S. Postal Service will delay its plan to end Saturday mail delivery in August, in a bow to mandates from Congress.

The agency said earlier this year it would end most Saturday mail starting in August, in a cost-cutting move that was also backed by the Obama administration's budget plan released Wednesday.

But Congress passed legislation last month to block the planned cuts of the Postal Service, which operates as an independent government agency that is subject to congressional oversight.

The agency's board of governors relented on Wednesday, saying language in the latest government funding measure effectively prevents the cuts to Saturday delivery.

"Although disappointed with this congressional action, the board will follow the law and...delay implementation of its new delivery schedule until legislation is passed that provides the Postal Service with the authority," the board said in a statement.


Congress has specifically required six-day mail delivery since 1983 and extended that mandate through September in the latest funding bill.

But there is some disagreement among lawmakers about what exactly the law dictates. Some have said Saturday letter delivery could be ended if the Postal Service kept delivering packages and express mail on the weekends, as was planned.


The conflict highlights the difficulties the Obama administration and Congress face when cutting funding in politically sensitive areas. Skipping Saturdays could save as much as $2 billion a year at an agency that lost $15.9 billion last year.

Wednesday's budget plan from the administration urged Congress to pass legislation to reshape the Postal Service. It calls for reducing mail delivery to five days starting in June—two months earlier than the Postal Service previously announced....

The president's plan "will allow the Postal Service to realign its business plan to better compete in the changing marketplace of increasingly digital communication," according to the budget document.
Under the administration's budget proposal, the Postal Service would eliminate the equivalent of 23,579 jobs. The agency has said to reduce its headcount, it would need to scale back operations, including changes to Saturday delivery and closing processing plants.


Broad Ripple Village Goes from Being Congested to Being Congested Mess

Saturday afternoon, after the Civil Discourse Show, I had the opportunity to drive nearly the length of Broad Ripple Avenue  (BRAVE) west to east almost all the way to Keystone, before doubling back to my eventual destination near 66th and College.   The traffic was worse than I ever remembered.  I sat through a few cycles of the lights before being able to move on part of BRAVE while on other parts I had to be careful not to run over pedestrians crossing the road.  It probably took me 15 minutes to make the two mile round trip.

Congestion started to get much worse when the City eliminated two traffic lanes on the eastern part of BRAVE.  In its place, the City placed two bike lanes which are rarely used except occasionally by motorists trying to squeeze around other cars.  Supposedly this was  to have a "calming" effect on traffic.  I haven't seen any "calming" but I have seen frustrated motorists sitting in their cars which spew pollution into the air as they sit waiting for traffic to clear backed up intersections.  If planners think that eliminating two traffic lanes for bike lanes is somehow good for the environment, they're very mistaken.

The situation though is bound to get worse.  The Broad Ripple Parking Garage going up at the three way intersection of College Avenue, BRAVE, and Westfield Boulevard appears to be a monstrosity, a huge behemoth of a building blocking much of the view of the Village as one approaches from the west on Westfield Blvd.   In fact, it doesn't appear to be a parking garage at all.  It is a commercial building that has parking. Given the location, it is unlikely that people visiting the village will park at the location unless they are visiting one of the businesses in the building.

Now comes news that a new development is being approved just up the road on College, at the old Shell Station.  Kevin Kastner of Urban Indy has written extensively about the project.  While Kastner and those commenting generally praise the development, there doesn't seem to be any discussion of the effect on traffic.  The new development would be just north of the three way of the intersection of College Avenue, BRAVE, and Westfield Boulevard, one of the most congested intersections in the City.

My co-host of Civil Discourse, Mark Small, lives and works in Broad Ripple..  He praises it as a "progressive" part of the City.  Like many things Mark says, I have no idea what that means.  Personally, I used to like Broad Ripple and thought it would be a good place for a law office.  But the quaint, quiet village of the mid-1990s is long gone. The Broad Ripple of 2013 is a congested mess, a place to be avoided if possible.

See also:

Tuesday, December 6, 2011, Broad Ripple Deserves Better Representation Than The Broad Ripple Village Association

Tuesday, October 25, 2011, The Tale of the Broad Ripple Parking Garage: Taxpayers Pay to Build the Facility While the Developer Gets 100% of the Ownership and Revenue

Tuesday, June 14, 2011, Taxpayers Pay to Build Broad Ripple Parking Garage; Garage and Revenue to Be Given Away

Will Senate Bill 621 Wake Up the Marion County Democrats?

My Decatur Township Democratic friend Jon Easter has written several pieces now criticizing Senate Bill 621, which today passed out of the House and is probably on the way to conference committee. SB 621 substantially increases the power of Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard.  His latest piece suggests it is time to blame Ballard for the bill instead of the bill's author State Senator Mike Young.

Democrats would be wise to listen to Easter.  Democrats have executed poor political strategy these past several years.  While Marion County Democratic Chairman Ed Treacy gets credit for Democrats winning all the county-wide elected offices, except Mayor, and winning back control of the council, the fact is the Democrats have a strong majority in Marion County.  In the most important election for a Marion County Chairman this election cycle, the municipal election of 2011, Treacy woefully underperformed losing the Mayor's race and losing four baseline Democratic seats.  Democrats should have had 19, possibly 20 seats on the 29 person council. Instead the Democrats ended up with a narrow 16-13 majority, which is now 15-14 due to Jose Evans defection to the Republicans.

While Democratic Mayoral candidate Melina Kennedy did not run a strong race, it certainly wasn't entirely her fault.  It was the responsibility of Treacy and Democrats on the Council to draw distinctions with Mayor Ballard and publicize unpopular positions long before 2011.  Treacy and the Democrats had ample issues to define the Mayor,, including the Pacers $33.5 million giveaway and the Broad Ripple Parking Garage built with $6.35 of the public's money and simply given away to a major contributor to the Mayor.  Then you had the 50 year parking meter deal, in which the City agreed to, for the next 50 years, give away 70% of the revenue to a company for which the Mayor's attorney and then Council President Ryan Vaughn lobbied.  Democrats didn't touch any of the issues during the campaign.

Of course the answer to why Treacy and the Council Democrats didn't attack Ballard for insider deals and corporate welfare is that they support those insider deals and corporate welfare.  Not all of them mind you.  There are a few brave souls on the Council, in both parties, willing to criticize the Mayor for those deals.  But there a distinct minority.

Have the Democrats learned their lesson from 2011, namely the importance of defining the Mayor early on instead of waiting for an election to begin?   I don't think so.   Let's take the CIB tax increases, the measure that passed the Council a few months ago to increase the local car rental tax by 50% and the admissions tax by 67%.   Council President Maggie Lewis and the Democrats could have stood firm, forcing the Republicans to vote en masse for the tax increases, giving them just enough votes to pass by a single vote.  Instead Lewis agreed to give Mayor Ballard and the Republicans 8 votes to match the GOP's 8 votes for the proposal.  The Democrats could have campaigned on Ballard and the Republicans raising the taxes and giving the City the third highest visitor taxes in the country.  Instead they threw away the issue by helping Republicans raise taxes.   Really dumb politics.

Of course, there are also Republicans who oppose SB 621.  The reason why is obvious. It's unlikely the Republicans will have the Mayor's Office after 2015.   The bill is making future Democratic Mayors stronger in relation to the Republicans on the Council.  The bill is trading 2 1/2 years for the long-term welfare of the Marion County Republican Party.

But this article is about political strategy.  Easter is right.  If the Democrats want to win, they need to start holding the Mayor accountability for unpopular decisions.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Field of Schemes Author Says Latest CIB Giveway Solidifies Indianapolis' Lead in Making Bad Sports Deals

From the Field of Schemes blog:
What do you get for a team owner for whom you’ve already gotten everything? If it’s Indianapolis and Colts owner Jim Irsay, apparently the answer is $2 million worth of new luxury suites:


Which is totally to the benefit of the city and not just the Colts, because, um. But the Colts are paying $700,000 for some new ad boards for themselves at the same time, so it’s a public-private partnership, right?

In the grand scheme of things, $2 million on top of the $715 million that the CIB already spent to build Lucas Oil Stadium isn’t really all that much. Still, coming on top of the $33 million in operating subsidies the CIB threw at the Pacers three years ago, Indianapolis just solidified its lead as national champion at throwing good sports dollars after bad.
Actually it was $33.5 million and that doesn't count the additional $10 million the CIB gave the Pacers a few months ago.

So now Indianapolis is the subject of national ridicule because of the CIB's bad deals.  How long will it take before the General Assembly finally puts an end to this conflicted, unaccountable organization that is such irresponsible stewards of our public dollars?

Marijuana Penalties Still Set to Be Decreased Under HB 1006

Some of my friends who have argued for decriminalization of marijuana possession if not downright legalization are screaming that Indiana, with the changes to House Bill 1006, is going in the opposite direction of the nationwide trend in support of more liberal marijuana laws.    They believe that Indiana is actually increasing the penalties for marijuana possession this session.  It isn't true.  There is simply some confusion about the current law and the changes to HB 1006.

First it is important to note how our penalty system works. The most serious penalties to the least are as follows (with ranges of punishment are as follows):

Murder (45-65 years)
Class A Felony (20-50years)
Class B Felony (6-20 years)
Class C Felony (2-8 years)
Class D Felony (6 months-3 years)
Class A Misdemeanor
Class B Misdemeanor
Class C Misdemeanor

Under the proposed revision to the criminal code contained in HB 1006, the new penalties are as follows, again from most severe to least:

Level 1 Felony
Level 2 Felony
Level 3 Felony
Level 4 Felony
Level 5 Felony
Level 6 Felony
Class A Misdemeanor
Class B Misdemeanor
Class C Misdemeanor

Under current law, IC 35-48-4-11, possession of marijuana is a Class A misdemeanor but a Class D Felony if a person has more than 30 grams or has a previous possession for possession of marijuana.  If the person has more than 10 pounds of marijuana on them it becomes Dealing in Marijuana, a Class C Felony, under IC 34-48-4-10.  Also, even if the amount of marijuana delivered to someone else (as opposed to simple possession) was small, if it was done on a school bus, or within a 1,000 feet of a school, public park, family housing complex, or youth program center then it becomes a Class C Felony under the Dealing in Marijuana statute.  So if Joe hands his classmate, Bob, a joint while at school, Joe has committed a Class C Felony, 2 years minimum prison sentence.

Under HB 1006 as originally filed, it would have changed the penalties to a Class C misdemeanor for possession with it moving to Class B if the person had a previous conviction for possession and had more than 30 grams.  If the person had more than 30 grams but less than 10 pounds, then it would be a Class B misdemeanor without the prior conviction.  More than 10 pounds and possession was a Class A misdemeanor as the bill was originally constructed.

Governor Pence objected saying the change was too dramatic. So an amendment was introduced changing the bill which passed.  HB 1006 in its amended form provides for a Class B Misdemeanor for possession with it bumped to a Class A misdemeanor if the person has a prior conviction for possession and to a Level 6 Felony if the person has a prior conviction and possesses more than 30 grams.  It also would make it a Level 6 Felony, without the prior conviction, if a person had more than 30 grams but less than 10 pounds.   The penalty becomes a Level 5 felony is the person has more than 10 pounds of marijuana and has a prior conviction.

Bill Levin, Indiana Marijuana Legalization Advocate
The changes that HB 1006 would bring is still a reduction in penalties when compared to current law. The initial conviction for marijuana possession is less of a penalty - a B misdemeanor instead of an A.  But the big change is that a second simple possession under the current HB 1006 would no longer result in a felony.  Finally the Level 6 Felony could only be imposed when there is both a second possession and possession of more than 30 grams.  Currently someone can get a Class D Felony.  The dealing laws overall appear to have been reduced as well.  Most significantly the 1,000 feet dealing provision which enhanced many charges, appears to have been eliminated. 

So the penalties for marijuana possession have been reduced, contrary to claims of many people.  Have they been reduced as much as they should have been?  Probably not..  But advocates of decriminalization and legalization should stop trying to seize defeat from the jaws of victory. This issue continues to move in their direction, even with Republicans dominating both houses of the General Assembly and a Republican in the Governor's Office.

A caveat.  This is my review of some very complex statutes and bill language. It is very confusing and difficult to sort out.  It is possible there are some mistakes in the analysis.  I think there is no question, however, that the new bill even after amendments still reduces the current penalties for marijuana possession when compared to current law.

Will Governor Pence Use Veto Pen to Define Himself for Hoosier Voters?

Governor Pence appears to be losing the battle to achieve the 10% income tax cut this session.  As things currently stand the Senate is proposing a 3% tax cut, far below what Governor Pence argues is needed to give tax relief to small business which is the primary job creators. But even if Governor Pence loses that battle, it appears he will have the opportunity to define himself through the veto pen.
Governor Mike Pence

Granted Indiana's gubernatorial veto is among he weakest in the country.  It can be overridden by a simple majority in both houses - which it takes to pass the bill in the first place. Thus if a majority of legislators want to pass a bill, an Indiana Governor cannot stop it.  Nonetheless, most vetoes are upheld and at the very least, vetoes can play an important role in defining who the Governor is and what he stands for.  In that respect, the Indiana General Assembly is teeing up a number of issues for possible gubernatorial vetoes.  Let's look at several of them.

Senate Bill 621:  This bill removes power and oversight authority from the Indianapolis City-County Council in favor of strengthening the power of the Indianapolis Mayor.  Although it is a bill despised by Democrats, ironically long-term it is a bill that inflicts the most damage on Marion County Republicans.  There is little chance Republicans will continue to hold onto the Indianapolis Mayor's office considering the declining Republican baseline vote in Marion County, which in the last election was 38%.  Thus the only power Republicans will have to wield is by having a sizable minority presence on the City-County Council, the very body that is stripped of power under this proposal.  Governor Pence has nothing to lose and a lot to gain by vetoing the bill.

IMS Bill:    Tax revenue once flowing to the general fund will now be "captured" to assist the track with improvements.   Anyway you slice it, this is a taxpayer-backed subsidy for Hulman-George family, the  private owner of the track.  Yesterday, the Capital Improvement Board announced it is simply giving Jim Irsay $2 million for adding suites to Lucas Oil Stadium.  Voters are outraged by these corporate welfare giveaways yet politicians haven't paid heed.  Being against corporate welfare is good politics and a win-win for the Governor

Horse Racing Subsidy:  The horse racing industry receives $57 million from the state's coffers ever year. Reportedly the current version of a bill making its way through the legislature would reduce that by $10 million, giving it instead to the auto racing industry, but make the $47 million for the horse racing industry permanent.   The Governor might alienate a few special interests, but he can score a lot of points by telling these industries they have to survive on their own.

The "Ag-Gag" Bill:  The bill targets whistleblowers who in the past have documented abuses on factory farms and in industrial operations.  It would basically criminalize the gathering of such information and turning over that information to journalists and other non-law enforcement officials.  There is an exception when the person believes the information details criminal activity and it is turned over to law enforcement officials within 48 hours.    The bill seems blatantly unconstitutional, but it also appears to be bad policy.  The State of Indiana should not be targeting whistleblowers who document wrongdoing.  The State should be targeting the wrongdoing.  Governor Pence, who has some background in journalism and has been a supporter of open, transparent government, should consider vetoing the bill if it passes.

That is only a partial list of bills the Governor could veto and, in the process, define himself for Indiana voters.