Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Indianapolis City Leaders Want to Expand Convention Center, Put Taxpayers on Hook for 25 Years to Pay for Bond

Shocking news out of the 25th floor of the City-County Building!   Indianapolis city leaders want to use your tax dollars to expand the convention center.  Okay, not shocking news as every few years the City expands the convention center to lure bigger and bigger conventions, and draw more people downtown...supposedly.  We taxpayers of course end up paying for that.

But taxpayers subsidies don't stop there  As the great late blogger Gary Welsh pointed out, we taxpayers also get stuck subsidizing hotel rooms to lure these conventions to Indianapolis.

The Indianapolis Star reports:
Mayor Joe Hogsett is asking the City-County Council to approve a 25-year bond for the long-anticipated $150 million expansion of the Indiana Convention Center. 
The mayor's office plans to use tax revenue largely from two proposed Hilton-
brand hotels to fund a 300,000-square-foot addition to the convention center onto Pan Am Plaza, featuring the state's largest ballroom at 50,000 square feet. A skywalk over Capitol Avenue would link the new space to the rest of the convention center.  
Meanwhile, Kite Realty Group — which owns Pan Am Plaza — will pay for and build two hotels in between Capitol Avenue and Illinois Street, adding 1,400 hotel rooms to the downtown tourism scene. 
The timing might seem odd given the economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, but Chief Deputy Mayor Thomas Cook argues the project essentially will be a stimulus package for Downtown Indianapolis hitting right when the outlook is less grim.  
"We're in this scenario metaphorically right now where the big Downtown boat has taken on water and we’re aware of that and we’re bailing it out as fast as we can and were plugging the leaks," Cook said. "But this is building a really big sail, because when that wind comes back, we want to be able to capture that energy better than any other convention city in the country." 
"We're in the midst of the worst situation to ever hit hospitality — worse than the Great Depression," said Mike Wells, president of the REI Investments company that co-owns the downtown Marriott. "And you know, for us to have to spend time to talk about this while we're fighting for our lives, it just seems surreal." 
Let's deal with the claim (simply repeated by the Star as true) that new revenue from the two hotels will, mostly, pay for the 25-year bond.  They are talking about using tax-increment financing, TIF money.  The hotels and the convention center are in the downtown TIF.  The idea behind TIFs is that development causes an increase in property tax revenue which increase can then be used to subsidize more development.  It's magic money!  But TIFs have a serious downside.  TIFs freeze property tax revenues for basic services at their pre-TIF level, even though cost of public services like schools, fire and police protection do not stay flat.  Also, if TIF property tax revenue is not sufficient to cover the cost of the borrowing against anticipated property tax increases, the bonds still get paid out of the property tax dollars base, which then drains yet more dollars from being used for  the aforementioned public services.   Several years ago, blogger Pat Andrews did a study of Marion County TIF districts and found most were running in the red.

Further, the city's leaders want to borrow money for 25 years to expand the convention center when they are expanding the convention center about every 5 years?  That reminds me of when the city took out something like a 30 year bond to pave roads which have to be paved every five years or so.  Ridiculous.  It is so much easier to borrow money in order to spend money today and leave the debt for our children.  But that is not a fiscally responsible thing to do.

Then there is the timing.  Not only are we in the midst of a pandemic, the convention business has been going downhill for some time.  Businesses, professional associations and organizations are getting away from the idea of large national conventions.  The expansion appears to be the City using taxpayer money in a desperate effort to claim a larger piece of a rapidly shrinking pie.

But what this is really about is corporate welfare.  It is the same old story of Indianapolis politics:  politicians using their positions to allow powerful developers, politically-connected contractors and law firms to make money off of taxpayers.  It does not matter if Democrats or Republicans run Indianapolis politics.  There is only one party in Indianapolis politics - the Green (as in $$$) Party*.

*Credit goes to Mark Small for coming up with this moniker to describe how both political parties in Indianapolis enthusiastically support corporate welfare.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Should Trump Enablers in Congress Be Given a Pass in the Post-Trump GOP?

As Donald Trump's chances of re-election spin downward, a premature debate has broken out about what the GOP will be like post-Trump.  Some argue Trump will remain influential in the Republican Party.  Others argue that, especially if he loses in a landslide, Trump's influence on the GOP will quickly fade into nothingness.  I believe the former.  People who joined the personality cult just don't all overnight set down the Kool-Aid and go back to their lives.
Then there is the question as to what to do with those Republican members of Congress who have
Mega Trump Enabler, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
refused to hold Trump accountable and have instead chose to enable Trump to trample over the Constitution and traditional conservative principles. Those members of Congress, and Trump's supporters in the media, have allowed Trump to do untold damage to the future of the GOP and the conservative movement.  Do you give those enablers a pass because you want them in position to check President Joe Biden?  People who harbor those beliefs, people like David French and leaders of Republican Voters Against Trump, think the Republican Party will return to traditional conservative values once Trump is gone.

I don't agree.  Trump is just the symptom of the problem. Trumpism is the problem.  Defeating Trump, without defeating Trumpism, means that the GOP will just anoint new substance-free, Trump-style politicians as leaders of the party and advancing traditional conservative principles and winning general elections, will not be a priority.  The Republican Party will be in the permanent minority.

On a Bulwark Podcast this week, I heard Charlie Sykes interview an early 70s something Texan grandmother about the upcoming election.  The woman had voted for Trump in 2016 chiefly because she did not like Hillary Clinton and didn't want Bill back in the White House.  While she had concerns about Trump, she was confident that her state's Republican Senators, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, would keep Trump in line and make him a better President.  To her horror, for 3 1/2 years she watched Cruz and Cornyn enable the very worst instincts of Donald Trump and refused to hold him accountable for anything he did, no matter how outrageous.   She, needless to say, is in the "Burn the House Down" camp of Never Trumpers who want to destroy Trumpism to save the party.

And so am I.  The enablers in Congress and the conservative media must be held accountable.  If that means a Democratic Senate, so be it.  There need to be consequences for those Republicans refusing to do their job to check the President who constantly tramples on the Constitution, and undermines the democratic values and conservative principles they claim to support.   A President who regularly gives aid and comfort to America's enemies while undermining our allies.  A President who has thus far done absolutely nothing after learning that Vladimar Putin was likely paying bounties to the Taliban for every American soldiers killed.  A President who has has invited foreign powers to meddle in our elections.. 

Those Republican members of Congress had the opportunity and the duty to hold President Trump accountable and they instead chose to do nothing.  That is not acceptable

Burn it down.


OOP's short takes:
  • Trump tweeted this week that the Election should be delayed because voting by mail will lead to fraud.  Surely he knew that had to be approved by Congress, which would never happen.  So what was his motive.  Was he laying the groundwork for challenging the Election?  Probably.  But I would not rule out the possibility that Trump might drop out a month or two before the Election.  I know that people think being a "quitter" would be a worse offense to his psyche than losing, but I don't agree.  If he quits, claiming the election was going to be rigged against him, 95% of his followers would believe him..  If he goes through with the election and loses in a landslide, his reputation as a "winner" is forever tarnished.   Of course dropping out would require him to put down the rose-colored glasses and admit to himself he's losing badly right now. While I doubted that would happen, I am now convinced that Trump has accepted he's behind.
  • Those who are worried about mail-in ballots being allowed during the pandemic focus exclusively on the CASTING of those ballots.  They need to be a lot more concerned about the COUNTING of those ballots.  In many states, Indiana included, mail-in ballots are validated by comparing signatures on the ballot envelope with what voter registration offices have on record for that voter.  They don't use trained handwriting analysts to do the comparison.  Plus many states, Indiana included, do not regularly update the signatures people have on file.  People's signatures change over time, often dramatically so.  According to a Washington Post article (behind a paywall unfortunately), tens of thousands of mail-in ballots were tossed during the primaries for signatures not matching.  What do people think is going to happen in a highly contested general election featuring Donald Trump and Joe Biden?