State Rep. Phil Hinkle and State Sen. Scott Schneider today offered a "second opinion" on the Wishard Hospital referendum voters are currently deciding.I'm concerned that these lawmakers voices have been added to the mix much too late in the debate to have much effect. I would point out that neither Hinkle nor Schneider urged voters to cast a "no" vote on Tuesday in their press release; they simply offered their cautionary concerns that its approval might lead to higher property taxes and cost much more than projected by HHC. To say I've not been disappointed in the lack of support from so-called fiscal conservatives in this county on this issue is an understatement.
The two Indianapolis Republican lawmakers are cautioning local taxpayers about the difficulty of Wishard officials to predict revenue 30 years out, the seeming inability for government to complete construction projects on budget and on time, and that the passage of the referendum will mean little to no protections for property taxpayers.
"We have come forward to caution taxpayers and voice our concerns about Wishard's hospital initiative," said Hinkle. "Taxpayers are taking a risk if they choose to approve this project."
Hinkle and Schneider teamed-up to warn voters of what they called three "fatal flaws" in Wishard's initiative:
1. Difficulty of Wishard officials to predict revenue streams over the next three decades, especially given the far-reaching health care reforms now being debated in Washington, D.C.
2. Inability of government to complete construction projects on budget and on time, pointing to delays and cost over-runs at projects like the Marion County-Indianapolis Central Library; and
3. Elimination of property tax protections for homeowners, business owners and remaining farmers, because once passed by referendum, any funding ever needed from property taxes would be outside the state's property tax caps.
"We doubt anyone knows for certain how the national health care debate will end or what delivery systems will be used or look like in the near or distant future," Hinkle said. "The referendum comes at a very awkward time to make such an important community decision. Many are disappointed the public wasn't included earlier and that the vote was not taken during an election when more voices would be heard and more ballots would be cast. It seems like inside baseball to us."
Hinkle and Schneider pointed to recent Marion County projects that have struggled to finish on time and within budgeted estimates. The Indianapolis-Marion County Central Library expansion project opened more than two years late and an estimated $50 million over budget. The construction of Lucas Oil Stadium overran budgeted expectations by an estimated $95 million and costs $20 million more annually to operate than expected.
"We bring up these past projects to remind taxpayers about what can happen despite the best intentions," said Schneider. "As soon as there is a snag in any part of Wishard's finances, taxpayers are on the hook. Should the need ever arise, Indiana's property tax caps will not apply to the cost or debt service of the proposed hospital. That's something taxpayers need to be aware of when they vote now through Tuesday."
"While we support Wishard as an institution and appreciate their efforts for our community, the fact still remains they are asking taxpayers to co-sign a $600 million loan. Taxpayers need to be aware of this when they go to the ballot box," Schneider said.
I heard several people who attended the Washington GOP Township Club meeting express disappointment today that 5th District GOP candidate Dr. John McGoff joined the chorus of political insiders urging expediency by supporting the ill-planned project. Ironically, HHC CEO Matt Gutwein dissed the hospital where McGoff works as an emergency room physician, Community East, earlier in one of his presentations to the Municipal Corporations Committee. Gutwein suggested the hospital might be closed because of financial problems. Of course, Gutwein never stated that one of the hospital's problems is Wishard's hogging of disproportionate share payments. Gutwein's HHC blocked legislative efforts to share some of those revenues with Community East. I've not heard other 5th District candidates take a position on the Wishard referendum, although Luke Messer's campaign manager, Jennifer Hallowell, worked the room last night promoting the referendum. U.S. Rep. Dan Burton is a ranking member of the Government Reform Committee that should be investigating HHC's nursing home Medicaid scam. He's had nothing to say on the issue. He must be too busy playing golf to notice there's a referendum going on in Marion County.
UPDATE: WRTV's Norm Cox reports that both Schneider and Hinkle say they will vote against the Wishard referendum. Their press release did not include that important fact.