Sunday, September 16, 2012

Indianapolis Skipping Towards Bankruptcy

The city of Indianapolis is skipping towards bankruptcy and nobody in a position of power to do anything about it is sounding the alarm. I'm talking about fiscal decisions that are being made by Mayor Greg Ballard and the City-County Council to divert declining property tax revenues upon which we rely for basic city services to fuel more borrowing and spending on projects demanded by the downtown mafia as a pay off for bankrolling the political campaigns of those entrusted with representing the interests of all our residents. Tomorrow night, the Indianapolis City-County Council is poised to pass yet another expansion of the downtown TIF district, which will permanently remove valuable real estate from the property tax rolls for purposes of funding basic governmental services.

Unlike the people entrusted by the voters to serve the public's interest, fellow blogger Pat Andrews has spent countless hours documenting the downward spiral of our city's finances that will lead to a day of reckoning sooner rather than later as a consequence of increasing reliance on TIF districts as the end-all, be-all for promoting economic development in Indianapolis. Andrews has documented the following facts that are being ignored by our elected representatives and the news media:

  • Proponents of TIFS claim they serve as a catalyst for economic development, but most TIF districts are performing below areas of the city not within a TIF district. Public records reveal that 25 TIF districts not only performed below the city as a whole, property values within them declined.
  • Our public officials have perpetrated a big lie on the public by claiming that TIF districts freeze the property tax base to ensure that only the incremental revenues from growth within the TIF district and not the revenues from tax base itself get diverted away from other taxing districts. In the last year alone, more than a half billion dollars of the property tax base has been eroded to ensure revenues flowing to benefit the TIF district are sufficient to meet its financial obligations. The so-called hold harmless feature of TIF districts is nothing but a big lie.  
  • The City of Indianapolis has been bailing out the TIF districts for several years now by siphoning tens of millions of dollars from other tax sources to meet the current obligations of the TIFs. That means less money for police, fire, parks, libraries and other basic city services.
  • TIF districts cost taxpayers an additional $56 million in higher taxes.
  • Other taxing districts like schools and parks lose $43 million annually due to TIFs.
Even before the City-County Council approves a major expansion of the downtown TIF district tomorrow night (where 1/3 of Center Township's tax base is already tied up in a TIF district and 22% of IPS's tax bas is consumed by the TIFs), 11.1% of the city's total assessed valuation is tied up in one of the city's dozens of TIF districts, yielding $100 million in revenues to fund the activities of TIFs as opposed to the services provided by other taxing districts. Indianapolis is facing a $50-$60 million budget deficit next year. TIFs are like a drug that our elected officials have become addicted to taking for relief. The more of it they consume, the more of it they desire to satisfy their urges.

Meanwhile, schools are facing large budget shortfalls due to decreased property tax revenues and are turning to property taxpayers to pay higher property taxes on property that is worth less money. The councilors who support expanding TIF areas will claim that TIFs have nothing to do with the budget deficit, but that is simply not the case. Forsaking tax revenues intended to fund our basic governmental services for the purpose of borrowing and spending money to subsidize private developers who bankroll the politicians' campaigns is a principal culprit of the shortfall. When your councilor votes tomorrow night for this TIF expansion, he or she is casting a vote to slash basic government services as the city skips towards bankruptcy. They fear not because they know the city is too big to fail and the state's taxpayers will be forced by the legislature to come to their rescue and bail them out for the reckless and irresponsible fiscal policies they pursued. In the end, we all wind up paying for the addiction of a few.

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