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.


Sheila Kennedy said...

Paul, You are correct on all counts. But another part of the "imperial Mayor" bill that should be opposed by both parties is the provision that effectively gives the Mayor control over the Development Commission. As I wrote in Saturday's IBJ, this is an invitation to corruption by whichever party controls the Mayor's office.

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