Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Stop The Lying, Mayor Ballard

There is nothing I hate worse than a politician who repeatedly tells lies about his proposals and the loyal opposition to gain the upper hand in a debate. Mayor Greg Ballard has done this repeatedly during the debate over whether to transfer ownership of the water and sewer utilities to Citizens Energy. Those of you who have been following my blog posts on this topic know that many, including this blogger, are not opposed to the Mayor's proposal to transfer the utilities to Citizens Energy. What many of us oppose is the linkage of this proposal to the funding of nearly a half billion dollars in street and sidewalk improvements prior to next year's election to this proposal. Yet repeatedly Mayor Ballard has described those who oppose this linkage as opponents of the transfer. He did this again on the radio this morning.

Let's get this point clear. This blogger supports the transfer of the utilities to Citizens Energy in consideration for Citizens Energy agreeing to assume about $1.5 billion in combined debt owed by the two utilities. This blogger opposes having Citizens Energy pay the City $263 million as part of this deal, which the City intends to commingle with proceeds from a new, minimum $140 million bond issue to pay for about $450 million in street and sidewalk improvements, and which the Mayor plans to repay with PILOT revenues paid by Citizens Energy. Why do I oppose this? Citizens Energy doesn't have the cash to pay the City; instead, it plans to issue bonds to make the cash payments to the City. The City also plans to issue at least $140 million in bonds to pay for these so-called infrastructure improvements regardless of whether the deal is approved as proposed. The interest and principal on Citizens' bonds will be added to the cost of doing business and passed on to the utility users in the form of higher utility bills. It is already anticipated that sewer rates will climb by 400% in the coming years, while water rates will climb by 100%, even if this deal goes through.

Opponents of the deal as proposed are absolutely correct when they describe this as a hidden tax increase to fund street and sidewalk improvements. Most of these improvements will have a life span of 8 to 10 years, which means we will still be paying for improvements that have long since gone by the wayside in 30 years. We want the benefit of the combined efficiency of the utilities and their operation by a utility with a proven track record. We don't want more credit card financing, which the City has been doing for years. You wouldn't take out a 30-year loan to buy a new car and, similarly, you shouldn't be taking out a 30-year loan to pay for improvements with an 8 to 10 year life span. The loyal opposition wants to increase the efficiency of the operation of the utilities and hold down rates. Mayor Ballard wants you to pay higher rates to pay for a bunch of paving contracts he'll issue to his fatcat campaign contributors and then brag to you about how much he's doing to improve your city streets and sidewalks just in time for next year's election, all without a tax increase he'll claim. Yes, it is a hidden tax increase, Mayor Ballard, regardless of what you say.

Candidate Ballard was highly critical of former Mayor Bart Peterson and the lack of transparency in his budgets. Ballard has been playing the exact same games by using smoke and mirrors to make the City's budget appear to be something that it is not--balanced. Look at his bail out of the CIB. We're borrowing $27 million from the State to spend money we don't need to spend without any plan for how the money will be repaid. At least Mayor Peterson directly increased at least one tax--the local income tax--to pay for his spending. A significant chunk of that money was supposed to be used to provide a revenue stream for new bonds that were to be issued to help pay off the City's unfunded pension liability for public safety employees. The Governor and the General Assembly took that debt off the Mayor's back, along with county welfare costs. In exchange for that and a cap on our property taxes, we're all paying a one percentage point, or 20% tax increase in state sales tax. Mayor Ballard kept all but a few million dollars of Peterson's income tax increase, which he made permanent, despite a pledge to cut out all "the fluff" in the City's budget and use those savings to reduce property taxes.

And you'll love the Mayor's take on those city pools that didn't open this Memorial Day Weekend to save money. After bragging on the radio this morning about the improvements the City made to several pools and the plugging of the leaks, he said the decision not to open two-thirds of the City's pools this holiday weekend was based on the low utilization of them in the past. So his parks department decides it will save money by not opening most of the pools on what is arguably the busiest weekend of the year, particularly when temperatures are as hot as they were this past weekend. He closed the pools needing repair the entire season last year, even though those repairs could have been made during the off season, which were suppose to save all kinds of money because the City wouldn't be paying for all of the water being lost each year from leaks. He permanently closed two other pools in economically-challenged neighborhoods. Like I said in my earlier post, the end game here is to eventually close all of the pools. Cut the days of operation to the point where people start looking for alternative forms of entertainment so you have an excuse to close them permanently. But let the CIB or one of our billionaire sports team owners ask for a handout and the Mayor quickly responds, "How much can I give you?"


dcrutch said...

A very readable, ironically "transparent" description of what some conservative and not-so-conservative voters find onerous about the proposed transfer. I sent money, voted for Ballard, and liked his early work on the police department and city-county budgeting. I have big problems with the bloated, convoluted "reform" of city water management, similar to our grotesque national health "reform".

When are all our levels of government going to get it that just because they give a project an attractive title, doesn't mean we trust them to undertake it frugally or with the average taxpayer in mind?

Milka Duno may be one of the few with a worse track record than goverment proposals- but I'd darn sure rather look at her when the lying starts.

Downtown Indy said...

Has the mayor indicatd where, exactly, those street and sidewalk improvements will be?

Specifically, will any of them occur outside the mile square, or even more than 5 blocks from the LOS?

To me this plan seem to be deswigned to fund some pre-Super Bowl enhancements and little else.

Gary R. Welsh said...

The downtown Cultural Trail was originally being funded with the donated money from the Glick family until it hit cost over-runs of more than $10 million. Federal grant money is being used to make up the shortfall; however, maintenance costs on the trail are going to run very high. Any time a walkway has to be dug up, you have the mosaic brick relaying problem that the Mayor complains about on the Circle as costing too much to maintain. The landscaping upkeep is another costly issue. The Mayor is tapping another federal grant to make the more than $10 million in improvements to Georgia Street. Supposedly, these other projects will be outside the downtown, but who can you really believe. New mayors and councilors can change all of that.

Marycatherine Barton said...

And thinking about Ballard's end game re our public swimming pools, you can now watch, "Endgame: Blueprint for Global Enslavement", on-line.