Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tully Still Stuck On Stupid

Nobody will ever accuse Star political columnist Matt Tully of being a friend of the taxpayers. Whether it's raising income taxes 65%, levying double digit rate increases on utility users by pretending to sell a public utility to fund short-term public infrastructure improvements ratepayers will be paying off for 30 years or doubling parking meter rates and giving away hundreds of millions of dollars in potential tax revenues to a politically-connected company with a bad track record, Tully will conclude is just makes sense. Here's Tully's musings on the City's decision to turn over control of our parking meter assets to ACS for the next 50 years:

After listening to the final round of debate, I walked out of the meeting thinking the council had made the right decision.

Here are five reasons why:

1. First, look at what the deal tackles -- the city's massive backlog of unfunded infrastructure projects. As I wrote about the sale of the water and sewer utilities this year, the profit from which also will go to infrastructure, fixing roads, sidewalks, alleys and bridges is as crucial an issue as there is in this city. It's also a fundamental responsibility of local government.

Hold on, Matt, you used the excuse of increasing utility rates by double digits to fund those infrastructure projects already. Are you telling us that there is a backlog of infrastructure projects in Downtown or Broad Ripple? Because that's the only place the paltry sum raised from this deal will be used to fund.

2. Indiana has entered the era of property tax caps. I didn't vote for the caps, but most Hoosiers did. And whatever your view, the reality is clear. Local governments will have fewer property tax dollars to fund everything from pothole repairs to libraries. "We have to start getting as creative as possible with the assets we have," said Michael Huber, deputy mayor and Greg Ballard's point man on parking meters.

This deal will raise up to $620 million over the next 50 years. Without these types of moves, the city would be in for a long period of painful budget cuts. And here's a warning for the anti-spending crowd: There simply isn't much fat left in the city budget.
The opponents of the deal, Matt, proved the funds are sitting out there in TIF funds, which are property tax revenues, to be spent to upgrade our system with the latest and greatest in technology without giving up control to ACS. Furthermore, by keeping control, the City would reap at least $300 million above that $620 million you cite, which I believe is a fantasy figure made up by Huber and ACS to sell the deal, that will be returned to the City after ACS gets its hands on the parking meter assets.

3. Ballard's team listened to concerns about the deal. The plan now includes a series of termination provisions and indexes rate increases after 2012 to inflation. Penalties for the city removing meters were eased.

Huh? Are you that stupid, Matt? The termination fees ensure the City won't terminate the damn lease because it is so cost-prohibitive. The City would have to pay ACS more than it got from it simply to unwind the deal after the first 10 years. You call that listening to the public's concerns? Were they listening to the public's concerns when they waited until after approval of the Citizens Energy deal to tell us they were paying $29 million to Veolia to break up that privatization agreement, which is coming directly out of the taxpayers' pocket, a contract we were told before the fact couldn't be broken?

4. Council Democrats spent the meeting picking at the plan, and that's fine. They argued the city should upgrade the meters in-house, and that's fine. But most of the Democrats have been on the council for many years. And until Ballard came along, they ignored the antiquated meter system and the paltry revenue it produced.

At least Ballard had a plan and was willing to spend political capital to address the issue. It's easy to attack a person who offers an idea. Coming up with the idea is the challenge.

Sorry, Matt, but this isn't a Democrat versus Republican issue you make it out to be. I'm a life-long Republican. Paul Ogden is a life-long Republican. Aaron Renn is an urban planner with no political axe to grind. MCANA is a nonpartisan, neighborhood organization. We all reached the same conclusion. You blame Democrats for not forwarding a plan before now to modernize the meters? Sorry, Matt, but Mayor Ballard won the election in 2007 and the Republicans control the council. Instead of running the system into the ground so it would not generate sufficient revenues, why didn't they do anything to improve the system short of giving control of it to Ryan Vaughn's client? And if you're going to tell your readers they should all pony up double the amount they will need to pay to park to come downtown, at least have the decency to tell them you get to park for free. UPDATE: As a close observer reminded, the Peterson administration conducted a demonstration project in 2006 that showed the City could boost parking meter revenues by at least 15% simply be installing the smart meter technology. Why did Ballard's administration ignore their findings in concluding the asset had to be leased out?

 5. Nearly everyone agrees a meter update is needed. Rates haven't increased since the latter days of Elvis Presley. Extended hours for enforcement also will encourage turnover of parking spaces, which helps businesses.
Other cities have meters with wonderful new technology. Ours, however, are on the verge of becoming museum pieces. The private contractor will be charged with spending millions to upgrade the system and then managing it.

This change is necessary. And although valid questions were raised along the way, the mayor's plan makes sense.
Yes, other cities have implemented this technology without giving up control to a private company for the next two generations. And as a political reporter at the State House who has witnessed first hand the mess ACS and its partner IBM made of the state's welfare privatization you have not one issue with giving the company control of our parking meter assets? Did you read the D.C. audit? Do you study state lobbying records? Do you have a clue? Or is your head so far up Ryan Vaughn's ass you can't see anything wrong with him strong arming his fellow councilors to vote for a deal that will make hundreds of millions of dollars for his client, or have any concerns that the Mayor's personal paid adviser, Joe Loftus, is a lobbyist for ACS? Where do these journalists earn their degrees these days? For God's sake, bring back Dick Cady. This is insanity. And then they whine about people dropping their subscriptions to the Star. If this is as good as you can produce, then your newspaper deserves to go out of business. For good.


Citizen Kane said...

Your blog post title says it all.

dcrutch said...

In fairness, I don't know that Ryerson/Gannett/et al will let a "political reporter" give us any more of a square deal in coverage than we get out of Tully. Maybe this as fair as these guys are going to go.

Tully's great on covering something "non-denominational". If it requires a fair shake for the boring average taxpayer versus incumbent powers or a member of a magic group- forget it.

These guys are out to overtly change the world with what they choose to cover and the spin they put on what's selected. If they cared about balanced journalism, they'd cover a wider demographic of America in a balanced fashion, letting the readers make up their own minds.