Thursday, April 23, 2009

Give The Stadium Back

It's a no-brainer. City-County Council leaders have surveyed their caucuses and figured out that there aren't enough members in either caucus who will support a bail out of the CIB with higher taxes. Instead of a tax increase on Marion County residents, they want the legislature to approve a plan that requires the state to shoulder the cost of bailing out the CIB. Who owns Lucas Oil Stadium? The State of Indiana? Who doesn't have the money to operate and maintain the stadium it leases? The CIB. Answer? Give the stadium back. No, that makes too much sense. The Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy reports on the leaders' plan:

Leaders in both parties said this week they do not think there is enough support on the council to pass the tax increases on alcohol, hotels, stadium tickets and car rentals called for in Mayor Greg Ballard's plan. State lawmakers are now considering whether to pass the enabling legislation so the council can act.

Eight of 13 council Democrats and one Libertarian reached by The Indianapolis Star said they would not support any tax increase to bail out the Capital Improvement Board, which faces a $47 million deficit. Nine of 15 Republicans responded; two said they opposed the tax increases, and seven said they could not support the mayor's plan as currently structured, especially the doubling of alcohol taxes in Marion County.

Council President Bob Cockrum and Democratic Minority Leader Joanne Sanders began working together this week to lobby state lawmakers in favor of a plan that would rely on more state tax revenues. Cockrum's plan, on which he is working with Sanders, would generate $20 million in state sales taxes in an expanded special sports taxing district Downtown. Under Sanders' earlier plan, Marion County would keep $40 million in state sales taxes collected in the county.

Sanders and Cockrum said Indianapolis produces far more sales and income taxes for the state than it receives under state distribution formulas. They said they want a plan that "acknowledges the reality that Marion County is the economic engine which funds the coffers of the state of Indiana's treasury."

If I'm a lawmaker outside Marion County, my response to the Sanders and Cockrum is very simple. If you want the state to pay for the cost of operating the damn stadium too, then we're going to take control of it. "The attitude of the General Assembly is, 'Ain't gonna happen,' " Rep. Phil Hinkle, R-Indianapolis, said of the council members' plans. "Why should we bail out the CIB for their mismanagement?" O'Shaughnessy writes, "Both leaders have been lobbying lawmakers from their respective parties this week in an effort to head off what one council member called a "train wreck" if the current plans under debate pass the legislature." "We have the majority because of votes like this, and that's why (the mayor's plan) is in trouble," Mike Speedy said. "I think we're going to see a slow-motion train wreck."

The Star has a sidebar to its story showing how each councilor indicated they planned to vote on the proposed bailout plan. It shows:

No: Democrats Vernon Brown, Jose Evans, Monroe Gray, Maggie Lewis, Dane Mahern, Angela Mansfield, Mary Moriarty Adams and Joanne Sanders; Republicans Ginny Cain and Mike Speedy; and Libertarian Ed Coleman.

Not ready to commit: Republicans Bob Cockrum, Ben Hunter, Robert Lutz, Michael McQuillen, Lincoln Plowman, Kent Smith and Ryan Vaughn.

Although Ryan Vaughn hasn't committed on how he will vote, he obviously will be required to abstain. His law firm represents the Indiana Pacers and Simon Property Group. His boss is Bob Grand, the firm's managing partner and President of the CIB. Sanders and Cockrum also face conflicts of interest, ignored by the Star to date, which should bar their participation in this decision. Sanders is employed by the union which represents convention workers. They obviously expect her to use her influence to pass a bailout plan that will benefit convention workers. Cockrum's son is an executive with White Lodging, which has already received tens of millions in public subsidies for its J.W. Marriott convention hotel and which stands to gain further from the CIB bailout plan. The CIB gives tens of millions of dollars to the ICVA, which markets conventions. Its marketing includes buying down room rates for conventions at hotels like the J.W. Marriott to lure conventions to Indianapolis.

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