Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Why Is the Wishard Referendum Question So Deceptively Worded?

From the beginning of his administration, Gov. Mitch Daniels led a crusade to rein in taxing and borrowing by local governments for unnecessary public works projects that were driving up property taxes in Indiana. Indiana law, unlike many other states, allowed local governments to issue bonds supported by new property tax levies without conducting a public referendum. Taxpayers had to undergo a burdensome petitioning process to get these questions put before voters at a referendum. Gov. Daniels insisted on a public referendum requirement for larger public works projects in the property tax reform and relief law the General Assembly passed in 2008. During the 2009 legislative session, House Democrats tried unsuccessfully to repeal the referendum requirement. As Pat Andrews of Had Enough Indy points out on her blog, this is the wording that law requires for public projects that are subject to the referendum requirement:

"Shall ________ (insert the name of the political subdivision) issue bonds or enter into a lease to finance ___________ (insert a brief description of the controlled project), which is estimated to cost not more than _______ (insert the total cost of the project) and is estimated to increase the property tax rate for debt service by ___________ (insert increase in tax rate as determined by the department of local government finance)?".
Instead of a definitive statement of the project with the estimated total cost and the estimated increase in the property tax rate as required by that law, the Health & Hospital Corporation secretly lobbied key legislative lawmakers to insert different referendum language in the state budget law adopted during the special legislative session. That special law enacted specifically for this particular referendum left it wide open to the Health & Hospital Corporation to pose the referendum question anyway it pleased, which is precisely what it did. Left to its own devices, it decided not to tell us it was building a new hospital, office complex, parking garage and power plant, it decided not to tell us how much money it was borrowing, and it decided not to tell us how much the project could increase our property tax rates. If the Health & Hospital Corporation set out to undertake this project with the utmost transparency as Deborah Daniels claims, then why did it hatch this plan in secret two years ago, conceal it from public discussion, sneak it into the state budget during the dark of the night, and carve out a special referendum law that provides for anything but transparency?

I keep hearing the Health & Hospital Corporation officials asking us to trust them when they tell us that their current revenue structure is more than sufficient to ensure that it will never have to tap property taxes during the next 30 years to pay for this new hospital, plus an office complex, parking garage and power plant. It is abundantly clear by their actions that the HHC officials do not trust us to make an informed decision. Why else did it conceal this plan for the past two years? Why else did it choose to sneak it into the state budget in the dark of the night? Why else did it insist on posing the question at a costly special election at which it knew only a small percentage of voters would bother to show up to vote? Why else would it have insisted that the legislature create a less-demanding referendum question for it if it trusted the voters to make an informed decision? Trust is something you earn, not something you buy. The HHC has not earned our trust.

If you are interested in seeing my presentation to MCANA this past Saturday, October 17 on the Wishard referendum, the videotape of the presentation is now uploaded to WCTY's website. It will be running in rotation on the public access station over the coming weeks.


Downtown Indy said...

I don't know how anyone could look at the whole process to date and not form the opinion something ain't Kosher here.

The dastardly (make that a 'b' if you like) legislators who enabled and facilitated this sham of a referendum ought to be castigated daily in every media outlet in the region. But instead, they give HHC sugary platitudes.

Anyone who claims they can't see or smell the deception being orchestrated must surely be in line for some direct financial benefit from it.

varangianguard said...

Nice presentation.

I just don't think this to be the "best" solution for everyone involved.

It is a centralized facility in a decentralized community.

It contains provisions for services that might be better provided by existing facilities around the periphery of the county.

It appears to be an end around for IU to garner additional facilities outside of their own budgetary request processes.

Finally, the arguments for how it is to be funded seem to be based on "pie-in-the-sky" projections by forecasters who don't have a very good track record.

Downtown Indy said...

The Franklin Twp schools also have a referendum. And they also are utilizing taxpayer-funded resources to push their agenda:

FTSD Superintendent Letter

He even hits on a reasonable alternative to at least some of financial their woes - having the families of students using the buses PAY for using the buses.

The part about $15,000 of the value of your home being directly attributable to the school system quality is laughably irrational.