Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ballard Learning That Governing Is Not So Easy

As a candidate for mayor, Gre Ballard tapped into the anti-government and anti-tax wildfire sweeping through our city last year. He supported a radical notion of repealing the property tax. He stood firmly against Mayor Bart Peterson's 65%, $90 million a year increase in the local option income tax. And he promised to cut spending by at least $70 million. Failing that, he said he would not seek re-election in four years. If only governing were as easy as campaigning.

Less than 60 days into his administration, Mayor Ballard's tune has changed dramatically. He quickly abandoned support for the repeal of the property tax, explaining that passage of the radical idea was simply not feasible. Instead, he jumped aboard Gov. Mitch Daniels' plan to constitutionally limit property taxes to 1% of a home's value. It's not a repeal, but it promised to reduce most homeowner's tax bills by at least one third. This week, Ballard visited the House Ways & Means Committee to testify in support of Gov. Daniels' tax cap plan at the invitation of the Committee's chairman, Rep. Bill Crawford (D-Indianapolis). In addition to expressing support for the Daniels' tax cap plan, Ballard pitched a Marion County consolidation bill sponsored by Sen. James Merritt (R-Indianapolis), who chaired his campaign committee last year, and he asked lawmakers to approve a proposal to have the state pick up the cost of the City of Indianapolis' unfunded pension liability.

Mayor Ballard would have had a tough enough time convincing lawmakers it was a good idea to cut into Marion County's revenue base by supporting Gov. Daniels' tax cap plan--$100 million according to one estimate--but asking them to pick up the cost of the city's unfunded pension liability created quite a conundrum for the rookie mayor. Rep. Win Moses (D-Fort Wayne), himself a former mayor, wanted to know how Mayor Ballard was going to live with the reduction in revenues the tax cap plan would bring about. Ballard responded that there was "a lot of fluff" in the budget and that "everything is on the table." Pressed by Moses, Ballard conceded everything wasn't on the table. No, he would not reduce the number of police officers. He was less certain about firefighters and, yes, he might cut parks. Moses asked Ballard if he had any specific cuts identified yet. Ballard answered "no." Would he have cuts outlined before the legislature adjourned next month. Not likely he told Moses. Responding to Ballard's testimony, Moses said he knew Ballard didn't mean everything he said to committee members and questioned his support for a tax cap plan he thought would wreak havoc on the City's already teetering financial situation. Indeed, Ballard doesn't even have a broad plan for how he is going to find $70 million in cuts.

State Rep. Carolene Mays (D-Indianapolis) wasn't helping Ballard out much either. She wanted to know why Mayor Ballard was asking the state to pick up the City's unfunded pension liability when the local option income tax increase approved last year had already raised $26 million for city coffers. Mayor Peterson had planned to issue bonds to pay off the pension debt and dedicate $30 million a year in COIT revenues over the next 40 years to pay off that debt. Peterson shelved that plan after he lost the election. Ballard conceded that the money sits today in the City's general fund awaiting action by Ballard and the GOP-controlled City-County Council. Ballard told Rep. Mays that he would like to rescind last year's COIT increase, but he conceded in his testimony that a rescinding of the tax increase would likely not be feasible unless the state picked up the cost of the City's unfunded pension liability. In other words, Ballard will keep Peterson's tax increase unless the state helps him out in finding cuts in the budget.

Of course, the claims of lost revenues if property taxes are capped is a bit of an exaggeration. Rep. Jeff Espich (R-Uniondale) reminded committee members that revenues to local government would continue to grow each year once the tax cap is implemented. Is there a one time hit? Yes. Is the loss permanent? Not exactly. The plan put forward by Gov. Daniels in no way ensures that spending by local governments will come to a crashing halt. What it does is halt their reliance on the property tax to fuel their appetite for spending. So if city taxpayers see relief on their tax bills this year, it will happen because of the action taken by our state lawmakers and not Mayor Ballard and the GOP-led council.

Making matters worse, Ballard's efforts to squeeze out savings through further consolidation has hit a big roadblock. Ballard supports Sen. Merritt's effort to do away with township trustees with fire department responsibilities, which would be consolidated into the IFD under Merritt's proposal. Merritt's plan exempts the Center Township Trustee, long a cesspool of political corruption and patronage. Nonetheless, Crawford doesn't support the elimination of any township trustees. As a consequence, he says he will not allow Sen. Merritt's government consolidation plan for Marion County to move forward according to the Star's Bill Ruthhart. Instead, he wants to wait until local government consolidation as proposed by the Kernan-Shepard Commission can be tackled statewide next year.

So where does this leave Ballard? If Gov Daniels' tax cap plan is approved without helping out with Ballard's pension liability problem, he will wind up breaking every single major promise he made during last year's campaign on taxes and spending. He obviously has no idea where to start in reaching his goal of cutting $70 million. Gov. Daniels' tax plan will further cut city revenues next year by $40-$45 million according to Ballard if the estimates are to be believed. And he can't rescind Peterson's unpopular income tax increase because he'll need every dollar of it to shore up the City's budget, and that probably doesn't include a long-term plan to deal with the pension liability. Will Ballard keep his promise and only serve one term if he is unable to implement the fiscal plan he promised to implement if he became mayor? It seems unlikely given that he raised close to a million bucks during the last 60 days, largely from businesses and individuals with a financial stake in city business, for his campaign committee.

An avid Advance Indiana reader sent me a story from the New York Times dated November 29, 1913 as another alternative for what Ballard could do. The story was about an Indianapolis mayor of an entirely different era. His name was Samuel "Lew" Shank, a Republican, who was probably one of the last true populists elected as Indianapolis mayor. In that era, Indianapolis had a street car public transportation system, yet another reminder that our city has fallen backwards over the past century when it comes to public transportation. The street cars were operated by railway workers who belonged to the Teamsters, and who had been striking against the street car company. Local business leaders had insisted that Mayor Shank force city police officers to ride the street cars to help keep them operating, but he resisted. Shank sought unsuccessfully to get the two sides to reach an agreement to ensure there would be no further strikes during his administration. Having failed to get such an assurance, he announced his resignation as mayor. Prior to his resignation, Shank had earned a lot of public support by forcing food distributors to lower prices in the city. An auctioneer by trade, Shank started purchasing food products from wholesalers on his own and selling them at cut-rate prices. The tactic proved successful in driving down food prices citywide. Shank discontinued the practice once assured the food distributors were going to charge a fair price. Maybe Ballard could take a page out of Mayor Shank's book.

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

You act like you are truly astonished that a politician may be unable to actually deliver on some of his campaign promises. Well duh, where have you been for the last couple of centuries? Any voter who actually believes all, or even most, of what they are promised in a campaign is either naive or stupid. Let's face it, people were so fed up with Peterson and the shenanigans that the local Democrats were pulling that Ballard could have promised that he would pave the streets with gold and people would have voted for him. The lesson here is that the Democrats screwed things up so bad that people were willing to pick anybody else regardless of their qualifications. When your choices are 1) Bart, and 2) Anybody but Bart and #2 wins that tells you where Bart stood with the voters this time around. I haven't heard anybody yet saying they want to go back to what we had before.

Wilson46201 said...

What are you advocating? Ballard should threaten to resign? Ballard should set up food pantries to drive down the prices of veal at O'Malias?

Aside from your tangent in the last paragraph, this post was fairly decent!

Anonymous said...

Crawford was a loud & vocal member of the Black Panthers...he is a collaborator of Monroe "Sweet Pea" Gray (Ghost Employee with immunity), Carl Drummer (trustee who has a horrific patronage payroll that costs much more than the aid he distributes)...corruption is as corruption does.

Indiana must move with the times. Townships were created in the 1800's and have no place today. This unnecessary layer of government currently serves corrupt politicians as a power-base, allowing the likes of Carl Drummer to establish sick patronage payrolls with almost 100 cronys and make-work, do-nothing jobs at the taxpayer expense. Crawford would lose influence if the unnecessary patronage were eliminated.

The ELIMINATION of Townships is vital to the health of our economy. There is no reason to allow them to exist.

Advance Indiana said...

No, I'm not astonished, but I am disappointed that Ballard has given up on any populist approach to governing. It is possible to find many of those cuts, but he has to be willing to make cuts in the police department and the fire department. He also has to be willing to cut out the corporate welfare by stopping the unending abatements, TIF expansions and public giveaways to business. I've already figured out that he's not going to do any of that. When you take all of that off the table, you pretty much limit your options, which means the status quo prevails.

Advance Indiana said...

I guess your taste for history was lost on this one, Wilson.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of Ballard resigning. It gets my vote.

Wilson46201 said...

FWIW: the ignorant hater on Bill Crawford is quite wrong: he never was a member of the Black Panthers. Never. It's just a cheap slam against that respected longtime community activist...

Advance Indiana said...

The point isn't that he should resign; it's that he has to stay true to his convictions and fight with all his power to see them through.

Indyfirefighter said...

Wilson,
Answer me this. How can Crawford who is elected by the people and is to serve the citizens of this state disregard all the issues to protect his buddy Carl Drummer. He has a duty to serve the citizens of this state. Consolidation is critical to Indianapolis and you have one person who single handedly can put a stop to it. There is something wrong with this picture.
Remember the last election Wilson. A bunch of your political buddies are now sitting on he other side of the fence wondering what kinda bus just ran over them.
As I've said before. Give the Mayor a chance. How about a.little common courtesy here and a bit of trust

Wilson46201 said...

The NYTimes Lew Shank article:
http://tinyurl.com/2qnlor

Anonymous said...

I am a white contemporary of Bill Crawford...we worked together on some issues and were on opposite sides of other issues but Bill Crawford was never a Black Panther.

Anonymous said...

Wilson: I have heard Crawford brag that he was a Black Panther. I never knew if it was in jest.

Nonetheless, he's outlived his usefulness. Protecting this worn-out bastion of bureaucratc nonsense, the Center trustee, is about as stupid as it gets.

You're in the distinct minority on this one, Wilson. It's time for townships to go away. I know you earned your income working there, but that doesn't mean it's efficient. We did away with horses and buggies as a popular transport mode, too.

Advance Indiana said...

Times have really changed. The article discusses Shank's political prowess at winning votes. It says he sent a wagon load of watermelons over to a black neighborhood. By today's standard that would be a very racist gesture. At the time, however, he was very anti-Klan and it would not have been viewed as racist.

Wilson46201 said...

In 2006 the Center Township voters and taxpayers declared themselves very satisfied by solidly re-electing all the Democratic officeholders by a 3-to-1 margin.

Now the naysayers are trying to do an end-run and get the Legislature to undo what the voters selected. I guess the GOP believes democracy is great for Baghdad but unnecessary in Center Township...

Anonymous said...

Those who say William Crawford was not a Black Panther need to do research...yes, he was!!!

In fact, he was cited in numerous newspaper stories for his behavior.

Go to The Star and check his name in the pre-internet editions. There are even photos!

Wilson, stop lying!

Wilson46201 said...

Bill Crawford was in a black-nationalist group called the "Black Radical Action Project", not the Panthers. This was before he was elected in 1972. However, his brother Fred was a Panther.

Those accusations against Bill Crawford are simply another of Jocelyn's invented "facts". She never gives up when it comes to slimes and slanders!

Anonymous said...

Wilson, just how many of your so-called "Center Twp Voters" were alive when the vote took place?

Corruption is as corruption does.

We need to eliminate Township government in Indiana...it has become so corrupt by patronage politics, that we cannot afford it.

P. S. Wilson: Why don't you take a bus to the new Louis Mahern Memorial Central Library and look up The Star pre-internet editions to see Crawford (with photos) in his Black Panther days? -and just who respects that ignorant man (as you allege)?

Anonymous said...

Wilson: How is the goal/objective of the "Black Radical Action Project" different from the Black Panthers? Isn't the "Black Radical Action Project" the Indianapolis chapter of the Black Panthers???

...Wilson caught in a lie yet again.

Advance Indiana said...

In Chicago, several of the Black Panthers went on to become prominent elected officials. Bobby Rush was elected alderman and later as a member of Congress.

Wilson46201 said...

BRAP was not Marxist unlike the Panthers. There was indeed a local Black Panthers chapter here in addition to BRAP. Very separate groups and somewhat antagonistic too...

Isn't it odd that all these mudslingers at Representative Bill Crawford do so while hiding behind the hoods of internet anonymity?

Wilson46201 said...

As far as who respects William Crawford? First: the voters who elect him every two years since 1972 (unlike petty mudslingers like Jocelyn Tandy who has never won election to anything).

b said...

You know, I have to say this item(and the press/WTLC debacle as discussed over on AM) reveals, sorta, the downside of a true grassroots campaign.

In some ways it seemed a teeny bit like the Peterson crowd was being a little too snippy about Ballards lack of, or extremely late, appointments to key positions. But as I view it now it's pretty clear he was way behind the curve.

In most party supported/well funded campaigns (particularly for a major executive office, like governor or mayor of a major city) you would have had funded staff seasoned over the course of a hard campaign. People who were familiar with the ins and outs of relevant issues and details before election day, people who had researched and written white papers or platform papers (ala Brizzi Brief or Peterson Plan) and would be ready to jump in. Exec. officials elected to their first terms, esp. w. a change of party, almost always have their top campaign staff/advisors in the top administration positions at least for the first couple years, because they are the official's true team.

More importantly, people who had handled campaign press and PR, ready to fully prepare the leader for questions, issue regular frequent press releases in the first month to control the story and stay on message, people truly seasoned and on their game in mid-November.

Ballard had none of that, and with no personal experience in municipal or state government, he needed it far more than most new mayors or governors.

Instead, of course, he was led by the B&T team, and their
priorities were of a different kind, while Ballard was without his own team to keep him focused.

Anonymous said...

Wilson: just because Crawford gets elected does not mean his is a person of integrity, intelligence, nor does it mean he is not a BLACK SEPARATIST!!!

Keep in mind, in Crawford's district a lot of improper things go on during elections...

As far as respect goes, other than insignificant Wilson, there is not anyone willing to say they think Crawford is respected.

Crawford & Wilson Allen are ignorant dishonorable people of questionable moral character.

Anonymous said...

Gary:

Bobby Rush is a disgrace. As a member of the Chicago 7, some may consider him a domestic terrorist. He is certainly anti-American.

Anonymous said...

Crawford, a former drunk Black Panther is always talking black, pimps the black community and speaking that nationalist BS. When he ran the Indiana Black Expo, he helped to bankrupt it while he was president and did not account for the funds.

http://whoisakindele.info/2007/10/indianapolis-101-conservatives-must.html

Anonymous said...

Wilson: The Recorder also documents Crawford's Black Panther activities.

Anonymous said...

The Bill Crawford thread is a distraction, but again, I have heard him brag (or joke?) about BP activities as if he were a member.


B at 10:37 hit the ball out of the park. Mayor Ballard had no experienced team heading into office. What we're seeing now is the vetting of appointees/policies, that would properly have tkaen place pre-inauguration. If this had been a traditional mayoral campaign.

It was not.

Thus, we're all being subjected to the transition nonsense. It's not a high crime or misdemeanor, but it's annoying. The grassroots crowd, for the msot part, is not used to a typical campaign, either, and they're impatient. I understand that.

In the end, Mayor Ballard will be judged on his record. So far it's not good. But he's two months into a 48-month term.

Trouble is: some of these appointments make policies and decisions tha have precedent-setting effects. Think Judy Conley, Belle Choate, etc.

Thankfully, Judy has gone on to other emmployment. God knows where. Without her husband's council clout, she's back to what she was before: ordinary.

Anonymous said...

Gary:

Bobby Rush is a disgrace. As a member of the Chicago 7, some may consider him a domestic terrorist. He is certainly anti-American.

11:02 PM EST


You're confusing Bobby Rush with Bobby Seale. Rush wasn't a member of the Chicago Seven.

Anonymous said...

Wilson, there's no reason to run from the truth about Crawford. He was a panther, he isn't now. I respect Crawford. I think he is truly one of our great elder statesmen. The people around him, not so much. So far as the panther thing goes, he was a radical in a radicalized time. There's no shame in having a passionate youth.

Anonymous said...

Well, having only recently met Mr. Crawford the historical information is unnecessary to determine that he is a fool. Lots of jurisdictions elect fools but being elected doesn't alter the fact that they are fools and do foolish things.

Anonymous said...

No wonder we can't get reform in this state-Full of obstructionists (Crawford, Bauer in particular) That is why I keep telling you as long as this government is able to keep the property tax structure and keep the bloated bureaucracy that feeds on it with their special interests you will never solve this issue. Where are the comments on how much the restructure and elimination of bureaucracy will SAVE taxpayers. Not a word. Tell the legislature to stop it now and get down to work to cap or eliminate the property tax.

Anonymous said...

In 2006, the voters elected Dems to the local offices because the candidates openly supported Peterson's plan to consolidate local government, including those positions they were running for at the time. Amazingly (please note the sarcasm), they were elected and then didn't want to give up those positions immediately or at the end of the term. The house democrats who supported the plan wholeheartedly when they were in the minority and said that house republicans just wanted to keep their friends in the jobs suddenly did the exact same thing when they became the majority. I have never been a throw all the bums out kind of voter, but I am swiftly becoming one after the actions of Marion county politicians on both sides of the aisle.

Anonymous said...

What the politicians are proposing is a large tax increase with a large shift from property taxes to sales taxes. No tax decrease. NO TAX CUT as the political mantra echoed by the mindless media indicates.

They need to pass the bipartisan recommendations of the Shepard Kernan Commission which lowers the cost of delivering government services by $400 million.

A message from Former Gov. Joe Kernan

We've got to stop governing like this!

http://www.indianachamber.com/