Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Republican Council Advances Largest Tax Increase In Indianapolis History

Once again showing his disdain for public testimony, Rules & Public Policy Chairman Robert Lutz rushed through an ordinance that proposes to sell the City of Indianapolis' water and sewage utilities to Citizens Energy. The proposal requires Citizens to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to fund pork barrel projects for the Ballard administration in advance of the 2011 election. Citizens will recover the borrowed funds from higher utility rates passed on to Indianapolis ratepayers, who are already facing increases of more than 100%. The Ballard administration has a pending 35% rate increase before the IURC at this time awaiting action. The administration passed around a wish list of projects to entice councilors to vote for the tax increase only today, including street and sidewalk repairs and improvements and demolition of abandoned homes. All Republican councilors on the committee voted for the tax increase. All Democrats voted against it. Shades of 2007's $90 million, 65% increase in the local income tax under Mayor Bart Peterson? Make no mistake about it. This is the biggest tax increase in Indianapolis history and that's how it must be viewed by the general public. If the Republican-led council and its Republican mayor were so determined to turn the operation of the utilities over to Citizens to squeak out savings, then it would have abandoned this pork barrel scheme and not demanded that Citizens assume the one-sided privatization agreements the City struck with Veolia and United Water to manage these facilities. City-County Councilor Ryan Vaughn's law firm will make millions for its work on this transaction. Did he recuse himself on this matter? Hell no. How much did Monroe Gray make from his pitiful concrete company? The hypocrisy of my fellow Republicans is beyond belief.

UPDATE: A councilor informs me that Democrat Joanne Sanders raised the conflict of interest issue with Councilor Vaughn at tonight's meeting. I missed that part of it. I'm awaiting more information on his response to her query. When Chairman Lutz took the vote, there were only Ayes and Nayes. And this is the explanation he gave: Barnes & Thornburg does not represent the City in this transaction; however, he omitted the fact that the firm provides legal counsel to Mayor Ballard, who supposedly signed off on the MOU, as well as numerous other city and county agencies. He says his firm represents Veolia. Mayor Ballard forced Citizens to accept assumption of the one-sided Veolia contract as part of the transaction. This contract pays Veolia more than $40 million a year, not to mention the tens of millions of dollars in costs the City took on from a 2007 amendment made to that contract.. What are Barnes & Thornburg's fees from that contract? Is it a percentage of the contract? Vaughn claims Bob Elrod gave a clearance to him on the ethics issue. Bob, you should be ashamed of yourself. I thought you had higher standards than Aaron Haith. Sanders has asked for a copy of Elrod's opinion letter.

15 comments:

Indy Student said...

Gary, I was there so I can relay what happened. I am working from memory though (and Twitter updates), so Channel 16 might have something when they broadcast it that I forgot.

The initial accusation made by Sanders is that B&T has been representing the city. Vaughn responded by saying that B&T works for Veolia, and he said he personally does not involve himself in the utility related cases. He said that a code of ethics that he's sent to "some Democratic bloggers" proves that he doesn't have to abstain from voting. Sanders said she'd like to see those ethics to be cited.

I've heard of a time when councilors would abstain from voting WHENEVER it could be seen that a conflict of interest existed. NOW, the standard is only to do it when forced to by law, and those laws pretty much suck.

Vaughn went on to note that Baker and Daniels is representing the city, and ICE Miller works for Citizens Energy Group.

Were you in the crowd, Gary?

I thought another interesting part of the meeting was one of the councilors asked that anyone who is involved in the utility sale to raise their hands. Almost everyone's hands in the audience went up. Only Pat Andrews, myself, and one or two others, out of a crowd of about 20, were not directly involved with city government.

It was quite an eye opener.

dcrutch said...

Ok, Gary.

Uncle.

It's going to take a mighty, mighty compromised Democrat or Libertarian to not get my vote as next mayor. From what was advertised to what we've degenerated to.....I don't know what to say. AND, Vaughn is MY counselor.

Raising our rates on a vote for just a water company, and/or trying to pass a bond issue for sidewalks and foreclosures teardowns is one thing. Trying to package all this together and tell us it's not as politically corrupt as our blessed health "reform" is another. Instead of having the AMA or AARP or drug and insurance companies behind closed doors, we've got city counselors, lawyers, and God knows what construction firms that are making sure they come out ahead.

If goverment, ANY goverment, any LEVEL of goverment can't explain what they want to do simply, with the paperwork matching the explanation- I don't believe them.

"Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss...."

Jon E. Easter said...

I watched the proceedings on Channel 16, and it was very interesting to say the least. Vaughn slapped down the "conflict" claim quickly just by sidestepping it. He made no substantive attempt to answer Sanders' very valid questions.

Councillor Angela Mansfield was also awesome asking tough questions. It was clear that Lutz wanted to move it through saying "if this hopefully passes this committee" and "when it hopefully passes the council" and tipping his hand.

There were several exchanges between Lutz, Brian Mahern, Vaughn, Sanders, Angel Rivera, and Mansfield that were very uncomfortable to say the least.

Then, top it off with less than impressive list of infrastructure improvements the deal would create. The Mayor has explaining to do on this still, but he's likely going to, borrowing a tea party expression, cram it down our throats from here. Ed Coleman could make a difference!!!

Advance Indiana said...

Matt, I wasn't going to waste more time at that horribly run committee after last week's debacle to be shit on by the Republians I helped elect to office. Boy, I can't wait to see how many of them I can defeat in the next election. If they want to act like Democrats, then let's just elect all Democrats to the council. Vaughn has absolutely no sense of what ethics means. He proved that when he sold his seat on the council for a job a B&T in the first place. His firm collects over a million dollars a year in fees for work it does for the Mayor's office and various other city and county agencies. He's not fooling anyone. His obfuscations are worse than Monroe Gray's when Vaughn was badgering him about his conflicts.

Advance Indiana said...

Easter, You are a joke. How you could listen to Carson's press conference and conclude on your blog that he wasn't suggesting the protesters outside were terrorists as much as Muslim terrorists is beyond me. So much for the objectivity you profess on your blog. You won't win friends in Franklin Township defending the Carson ghetto mafia. It's too bad that such partisan Democrats like you are sitting in classrooms teaching propaganda to our students to learn everything that America is not about. No wonder our public education system is in such a crisis.

Indy Student said...

Gary, unfortunately, I'm starting to agree with you on that aspect. I see these lawyers with connected law firms get their questions answered and the Council reps seem receptive. People like Pat Andrews and myself comment (no buzzer this time!), and we're met with blank stares into space.

There was a lot of grandstanding on both sides tonight.

Advance Indiana said...

Matt, Your question was a good one and I got that impression that's how they reacted to it. Angel Rivera will not be getting my vote in the at large race for council next year after his comments last night. This is what happens when you put a person who earns a living off government contracts on elected bodies.

Had Enough Indy? said...

I'd like to differ with you in the regard of Lutz' allowance for time spent on the issue. There were a lot of points brought to the forefront last night, which is good and I think Lutz was giving lots of leeway for that.

One thing the majority (5 Rs, 3 Ds) could have done far better, though, was to agree to the Democrats' request to be able to review the documents they had requested before the committee voted. It wasn't some last minute request for records, and Chris Cotterill indicated it just was taking more time than he had hoped to post them online.

Although I'm sure Lutz doesn't need me defending him, I do think he was fulsome with the time last night. Has he made up his mind on this issue - sure. But, as far as his conduct of the meeting, I personally have no qualms.

As an aside Councillor Rivera might want to review the channel 16 'tape' and see if he can find a way to reign in his clear distain for the Ds. Brian Mahern did a nice job of not returning tit for tat.

Advance Indiana said...

Lutz is polite to you, Pat, because you represent MCANA and he doesn't want to piss off your organization. He kisses your butt at every meeting. He treats the rest of us like shit, which is exactly what he's going to get in the next election. You could not have seen the prior meeting or you would know what I was talking about. I did hear a buzzer go off when someone was speaking.

HOOSIERS FOR FAIR TAX said...

Could you see this happening if we had a Libertarian majority in city council?

The new boss is the same as the old boss.

We worked hard day and night to get Ballard into office on the assurances that nonsense like this would end under him.

It's time everyone votes Libertarian. As you can see by our Republican majority council, lesser evil IS still mighty evil.

Indy Student said...

Gary, the buzzer was actually someone's cell phone. It was someone in the audience.

dcrutch said...

It's beyond sad when it was an era of less corruption and more voter empathy when Monroe Gray was in charge.

If we don't make goverment simple enough to be understood by the average guy, we don't make it believable. If we don't make goverment believable, then we don't trust it or spend much time paying attention to it. When we fail to pay attention to goverment, our public servants run amuck. When public servants do anything they want, we end up in our present deep, deep fiscal and societal hole.

Piling everything into bloated, grandiose schemes only adds to the distrust that infects us all.

We have to return to simple governing.

Had Enough Indy? said...

Just for completeness sake - that was a cell phone that went off when Glenn Pratt was speaking.

Marycatherine Barton said...

If the Indianapolis Gannett Star was willing to tell its readers the truth, the title of this AI piece would be the title of a headline story there. We, the tax payers, are being socked here, taken to the cleaners. I also say, in Indiana, vote the only third party able to get on the ballot, Libertarian.

Citizen Kane said...

Almost no one cares. The sheep will continue to vote like sheep and we will get more of the same; we will just have a different set of criminals stealing taxpayer's money.