Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Nuvo Meets Greg Ballard

Nuvo does its first sit down interview with Greg Ballard after he won election as Indianapolis' new mayor. Scott Shoger manages to pull a few nuggets of information out of the Mayor-elect about what we can expect from him during his administration. Shoger asks Ballard if he will rescind the 65% increase in the county option income tax increase passed by the Democratic-controlled council at Mayor Peterson's urging this past summer. Here's Ballard's measured response to this dicey issue:

It depends. We have to get in and open up the books, because the books are very closed right now. So if the state comes through with the public pension funds, which they’ve been talking about for three or four years, then we’ll certainly take a look at that. But there’s other stuff in there: consulting fees, PR fees, lobbying fees. There’s some fat in that budget. So we’re going to find out where it is once we open it up, and let everybody know where that money is being spent, and I think that will create some efficiencies also.

The important point to remember here is the comment, "But there’s other stuff in there: consulting fees, PR fees, lobbying fees." "There’s some fat in that budget." Remember, Greg, you have a lot of members of your transition team who thrive on those particular lines. Who's going to help you make those cuts?

On consolidation, Ballard tells Shoger this:

I think Sen. Merritt had a good plan and that we’ve come a long way. … The reason I want to consolidate the Fire Departments is not necessarily for money, even though there probably is money in the Fire Departments, I’m not so sure in the Police Departments. I really think we need to have consistency of training and standards, because a fire by nature — and this goes back to my Marine Corps background — but a fire by nature is an emergency, and they know what the person on the right and the person on the left is going to be doing. They should have the same level of equipment, the same level of training. Once the Fire Departments are consolidated, that takes away a lot of the necessity for township government, actually.

It looks like Ballard is still committed to the total elimination of township governments, which is a good sign. On controlling IPS' budget, Ballard says:

That’s a tough one, frankly. I think in the future we’ll have that ability, because if we get the referendum through for capital projects, I think that will be a big deal. IPS is a tough nut to crack. What I’m most concerned about is the education of children. But a good thing is that, certainly in this [IPS construction] Phase III, there’s no fat in there: There’s stuff for construction, labs and air conditioning that I think is necessary … I like the fact that they’re changing the model, because obviously that’s a 150-year-old model that doesn’t really work anymore.

Eugene White is being good about changing the model as best as he can. The expense of this is overwhelming though — it’s a billion dollars for all three of these phases. When people see the graduation rates, right now, they don’t see that it’s worth it … A lot of people in the military say O.B.E.: Overcome By Events. I can’t do much about it right now as the mayor-elect; it’s already kind of a done deal. We’ll have to live with it and try to lessen spending in another way.

Ballard's point about getting a referendum approval process enacted for school capital projects is critical. When I lived in Illinois, it was impossible to undertake a capital project without a referendum because that's what the law required. I was astonished to learn after I moved here that no similar requirement exists in Indiana. Unfortunately, the Kenley Commission's report approved yesterday has no such requirement either.

Ballard discusses with Shoger his take on the previous Republican leadership in the mayor's office from William Hudnut and Steve Goldsmith. He says:

There are two models I like: One is Hudnut, who really stayed close to the neighborhoods; he was very good about that, and he kept going to the neighborhood association meetings. Goldsmith, actually, was an efficiency expert, and still is. Some things are better being privatized and some things are not. You have to make the call there: Are we as private as we should be? If not, probably pretty close, actually. So the answer is we’ll probably have to look at that. Like I said, I’m only doing this for the taxpayers of Indianapolis, that’s it …

Privatization is still an option for Ballard, but he clearly isn't as obsessed with it as Goldsmith was. His approach of reaching out to neighborhoods more in the fashion of Hudnut should be well-received. Ballard's approach to doing business will include a 3% set-aside for veteran-owned businesses. On this plan, Ballard tells Shoger:

You’re the first one who’s actually read that! Thank you! Thank the Lord! When people ask me to be specific, I say, “It’s been on the Web page for months!” The federal government has it; the main contractors to the federal government have it; the universities here in the state have it; most of the big contractors — Eli Lilly, Raytheon — have it; and I don’t think it’s a particularly tough goal to reach. It’s kind of a thank you to veterans to have a 3 percent goal, so that they have their fair shot at the city contracting dollars. As long as we get it by the City-County Council, I’m sure that’s all it would take, and then we would track it like we would minority-owned and women-owned businesses.

On religion, I think those of you who like me don't like politicians who can't seem to avoid mixing their personal religion with their public duties, will like Ballard's answer. Here's what he said:

I grew up Catholic. I went to St. Monica’s yesterday, but I usually go to St. John’s downtown. I don’t necessarily belong to a parish; I live in the St. Monica area, but I like the cathedral look of St. John’s downtown. But, honestly, that doesn’t play into what I’m doing here at all.

If you're a big fan of mass transit, you probably won't like Ballard's answer on this topic:

Mass transit costs somewhere between $10 to $20 million a mile to build, and we’re just not ready for that right now. I’d love to do it, but I’m more concerned about getting people to work than I am with anything else. I’d love to do it, but even Mayor Peterson would concede that’s too much right now given the tax crisis.

For those of you who think green, Ballard says he has no intention of "slash[ing] and burn[ing] those sorts of things." Clearly, charter schools will not have as high of a priority with Ballard as they have had with Peterson, but he doesn't plan to do away with them either. "I like charter schools, not only because I think they do a good job by themselves, but I think they provide good competition for IPS." "I think IPS is stepping up to that competition level, actually, by improving themselves. So I don’t anticipate charter schools going away."


Anonymous said...

Of course the books were very closed with Peterson's administration. That's partly why we all fought so hard to get Peterson out of office. The administration was closed, unfriendly to the citizens, and had a cloak of secrecy that caused a lot of us to worry about the health of our city.

I predict the financial state of our city is worse than any of us thought due to Peterson's insane spending habits.

I also think that's why Peterson had such intense tunnel vision in pushing through the COIT.

I love how directly Ballard dealt with that question. He'd be a fool to talk about money until he knows what the REAL books look like.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Agreed, Melyssa.

Anonymous said...

As for the lawyers, consultants, etc, Rumor has it the shakedown began on Monday morning with calls from Ballard's people to all the major firms asking them to tell them who their "designated" point person for fundraising was going to be.

I guess they're quick learners about the Biz as Usual in this town. By the way, I wouldn't necessarily put that on Ballard himself, but I'm sure the T Team cranked up the Standard Operating Procedure now that they're in place.

Anonymous said...

What do we need to do to put an absolute STOP to this proposal that Kenley and his cohorts have introduced? It's going to hurt us all in end - most of us will be paying more that way than if the property taxes had remained the same.


Wilson46201 said...

Unlike a small Massachusetts Avenue shoppe or a one-person law office, the $billion/year city budget is incredibly transparent and detailed. Every single check written is public record. Detailed annual reports are produced. The pay of every single city/county employee is a matter of public record.

A billion dollar a year budget is not a trivial thing -- it's certainly complex. By law, the municipal finances are quite accessible. It just may be a little overwhelming to the casual or biased observer...

M Theory said...

Anonymous 2:24...

What can you do?

A lot.

Watch the Hoosiers For Fair Taxation blog for announcements about our upcoming rallies, including our next event (you heard it here first) for Organization Day at the Statehouse. Sounds like you might want to join in with us. There's always room for more activists.

We're not too fond of Kenley either.

Anonymous said...

Well said Melyssa, I agree too.

Anonymous said...

Unlike a small Massachusetts Avenue shoppe or a one-person law office, the $billion/year city budget is incredibly transparent and detailed. Every single check written is public record. Detailed annual reports are produced. The pay of every single city/county employee is a matter of public record.

A billion dollar a year budget is not a trivial thing -- it's certainly complex. By law, the municipal finances are quite accessible. It just may be a little overwhelming to the casual or biased observer...

Wilson, where do you getthis stuff??
Some of the line items, in the 6 or 7 figure range, are for "other services, fees, and expenses"

What the heck id "other"????
A lot like "miscellaneous"? My wife spends money on "other", but she doean't try to hide it like Bart does.

Anonymous said...

It is as much inefficiencies as it is spending.

Example - a year ago the mayor announced the first police camera and said more are on the way at a cost of almost 2 million dollars. A year later we find fewer cameras were installed than first announced and they are not even being monitored 24 hours.

Could that have money been better spent elsewhere ?

Anonymous said...

5:27, you're wrong. The number promised is the number up and running. Monitoring is another issue.

I do not understand all this clamomring about accessibility of the city budget. It's perfectly accessible. I don't like some of the line items, but I got a copy of it easily. Nothing too confusing.

The books were not closed under this administration. The priorities were not entirely agreeable, but the books were not closed.

Geeesh. Enough with the hyperbole, huh?

Wilson46201 said...

"other services, fees, and expenses" is for "line 3" required by the State Board of Accounts. This is no new-fangled obfuscation by devious Peterson people but a phrasing used by every government entity across Indiana for many, many years by State law.

Anonymous said...

Ballard is already backtracking on repealing the local option income tax and curbing spending. We may live to see the day that we wish we had Peterson back.

Anonymous said...

Sorry 713, in the future, when Greg gives us his plan, I may not agree with everything but I will NEVER wish we had Bart back.