As Burns was releasing his statement today, Bob Grand assumed control of the Capital Improvement Board of Managers at his first meeting, notwithstanding the firestorm his appointment has created for Mayor Ballard, a fact which Burns didn't miss. "The mayor recently appointed Bob Grand, one of the city’s most influential Republican dealmakers, to head the Capital Improvement Board (CIB), which manages, among other things, Lucas Oil Stadium and Conseco Fieldhouse," Burns aid. "Not coincidently, Grand’s law firm represents the Indiana Pacers, the major tenant at Conseco Fieldhouse." Burns noted the appointment clashed with one of Ballard's own promised ethics reforms. "Mayor Ballard touted his ethics proposal early and often in his campaign, not by contrasting any accusations of wrong-doing by the prior administration but simply to state that his administration would be free of the kind of outside influence that now seems to be infiltrating it,” Burns said. “As we have seen time and time again, most of what Ballard the candidate told us prior to the November election does not hold up in the actions of Ballard the mayor. "He has violated his own ethics policies in making board appointments, he has backtracked on his promise to fight for the elimination of property taxes and he has increased the size of the mayor’s staff, not cut positions as promised." "What we’ve learned so far from the Ballard administration is that promises ring hollow when compared to the actions taken so far in office,” Burns said.
As Burns was rapping Ballard and the GOP on one side of town, Mayor Ballard took more hits from Democratic members of the House Ways & Means Committee over at the State House where he appeared to testify in support of Gov. Mitch Daniels' plan to cap homeowner's taxes at 1% of a home's assessed value. When I first read the Star's Mary Beth Schneider's account of his testimony, I thought she was being a little hard on him, but after I saw the TV news reports this evening, her reporting appeared dead on. Understandably, Mayor Ballard is swimming upstream as the mayor of the state's largest municipality testifying before a legislative committee to ask the lawmakers to curb the ability of local government to tax. He incited Democratic lawmakers of the committee, however, by asking the state to pick up the cost of the city's pensions at the same time he asked them to cut taxes. "Ballard, who was elected in November in a giant political upset over Democrat incumbent Bart Peterson, told lawmakers that he would like to see the state pick up the cost of police and fire pensions, which will cost Marion County $25 million to $27 million this year," Schneider wrote. When pressed on whether he planned to cut his own budget, the Democrats didn't like the answers Mayor Ballard gave them. Schneider explains:
He told lawmakers that there's "fluff" in the Marion County budget, but he had few answers for them about where he would cut back.
"Everything is on the table," he said, but repeatedly fended off questions by saying he had only been in office five weeks.State Rep. Win Moses, D-Fort Wayne and a former mayor, said that answer wasn't good enough, and pressed for more details.Asked if police would be laid off, Ballard said no.
Asked if firefighters would be cut, Ballard said "I can't say. I just don't know. You're asking me questions that I don't know."Moses fired back: "I'm asking questions that you must know."
And, he added, "I know you don't mean everything you're saying."
Ballard couldn't say everything was on the table, he said, and then say that police wouldn't be cut and that the possibility of raising local income taxes to pay for the property tax relief was not a viable option in Marion County.
Peterson raised income taxes to 1.65 percent, up from 1 percent, to pay for public safety, including for pensions.That income tax increase, though, helped seal Peterson's defeat from an angry electorate that saw their property taxes go up and their income taxes go up.
While he told legislators that he would like to see them pass more cost-saving tools -- such as the ability to consolidate areas of government, including all township fire departments -- one tool he was unlikely to use is an increase in income taxes.
"That would not play well in Marion County after last year," he said. "I would do almost anything not to do that.
"But legislators were skeptical about the state picking up the cost of pensions, especially since the county's income tax increase was supposed to cover that, Rep. Carolene Mays, D-Indianapolis, told Ballard he should be looking at using the money the income tax raised for pensions "before you come in here and ask up to pay for an expense you have."
Based on Schneider's report and what I saw on this evening's TV news, Ballard was ill-prepared for his testimony today. It's ironic that the man Ballard has made as his closest advisor, Bob Grand, was helping himself to the head of the table of the city's most powerful Board today as Mayor Ballard was walking into a lion's den over at the State House to be eaten alive. Folks familiar with Grand's lobbying prowess over at the State House knows that neither he nor his fellow lobbying partner Joe Loftus would ever catch themselves being embarrassed in front of such a powerful legislative committee as Mayor Ballard was today. Ballard's performance today became fodder for his chief critic, the Accidental Mayor blog authored by Jen Wagner. Under a post labeled, "Maybe The Dog Ate His Homework," Wagner writes, "In short, Ballard went to the Statehouse to ask for a handout." "He couldn't answer any questions about proceeds from last year's income tax increase." "He couldn't tell lawmakers his plans for reducing costs." "Hell, if someone had asked him how much money is in the local budget, he probably would have responded with a blank stare."
This really is an unfortunate development today. Those of us who support real property tax reform were counting on Mayor Ballard to help lead the battle at the State House. I suspect that one of the reasons he wasn't prepared is because none of the people with whom he has chosen to surround himself could give a damn about implementing real property tax reform. My fear, however, is that Mayor Ballard simply has not taken his role seriously. Yes, he's only been in office a little more than a month, but I would have at least expected him to have been able to articulate in broad terms what he was doing to rein in city spending, particularly when he is asking lawmakers to approve a new state law which could result in fewer revenues for city government. I hope this isn't a further indication of what lies ahead of us.