It looks to me like there's a need to do a lot of house cleaning in the Republican-controlled legislature, and that fight will have to take place in the primary election in 2014. A lot of Republicans forget that it was the tax-and-spend ways of the Orr-Mutz administration that swept Evan Bayh and the Democrats into the governor's office for 16 straight years, a period when the House was controlled by the Democrats more often than not. Despite the abysmal record of IndyGo with its $65 million a year budget to provide mass transit in the most densely populated areas of Indianapolis, the Senate Local Government Committee gave its approval on a 7-2 vote today to the plan backed by the state's most fiscally irresponsible mayors and a panoply of pay-to-play contractors who are already divvying up the contracts they expect to be awarded for the multi-billion dollar boondoggle.
Unlike the proponents, who have been given $2 million in federal taxpayer dollars to spend on a PR and lobbying campaign to ram this ill-conceived plan through the state legislature, opponents have had no funding to fight the corrupt forces behind it. Until today. The Americans for Prosperity PAC, which is also bolstering Pence's tax cut proposal, will throw its privately-raised money to help save taxpayers from fiscal disaster.
“Our concerns are not only about the local tax increase, but about the overall cost of such a proposal,” said Chase Downham, president of the Indiana chapter of Americans for Prosperity. “We think this particular plan is costly for our city, and we are concerned about the impact on the budget going forward.” . . .
Americans for Prosperity, a national tea party group founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, is becoming increasingly involved in state politics throughout the country. The Indiana chapter recently launched a six-figure media campaign to back Gov. Mike Pence’s proposed tax cut.
Downham will meet today with Indiana lawmakers individually to discuss the group’s concerns about transit . . .
“We’ve gotten involved in similar issues around the country,” said Downham, a former Pence aide. “Any time we have an opportunity to do what’s right for taxpayers, we will do anything we can.”
Transit bill author Rep. Jerr Torr, R-Carmel, said he’s not concerned the opposition will derail transit at the Statehouse.
“All the General Assembly is being asked to do is give this option to local government and voters,” Torr said . . .Torr better be concerned. He may rue his arrogance if he faces a decent, well-financed primary opponent for the first time in his legislative career in 2014. Real Republicans have lost their patience with him. And did you notice how the Star refers to Americans for Prosperity as a tea party group and references who its largest funders are in a thinly-veiled effort to besmirch the opponents? Fellow blogger Fred McCarthy does a better job calling out the anti-taxpayer, Gannett eggheads than I could:
This one has the above-the-fold, lead headline on the front page, as follows: "Tea party will fight transit plan." The first three words in the text are "Tea party activists...., followed by, ...and they’re willing to spend cash..." In the fifth paragraph, an organization called Americans for Prosperity is identified as "...a national tea party group founded by the billionaire Koch brothers...." The balance of the article uses nearly half of page A5.
It occurs to us that, among backers of promiscuous government spending, the label "tea party" is frequently applied as a derogatory term or even a vicious epithet. We wonder why this label is used repeatedly instead of the simple word "conservative" which never appears at all.
We also were somewhat surprised by the apparent necessity of the reference to "spending cash" while ignoring a report earlier this week that proponents have already gone through $1 million in support of the proposal. And that’s a million taxpayer dollars.
Nor do we remember ever seeing reference to "billionaire brothers" when the owners of the local basketball franchise plead poverty and drain another $10 million from the public treasury.
We do hope future discussions of the legislation, and especially of any resulting referendum on the whole concept, will be treated with objectivity and at least some attempt to present legitimate opposition along with the constant, hyped drumbeat of approval . . .I thought I would share with you this old clip of a meeting of the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority ("CIRTA"), an unelected, unaccountable publicly-funded quasi-governmental body that's spent millions of your tax dollars over the past several years putting together their mass transit boondoggle. This meeting is from February 23, 2011. Apparently the board members figured out they were doing their cause more harm by allowing the public to view what they were up to so they decided to discontinue airing their meetings on WCTY.
At this meeting, they talked about how they put out one fire by dropping their original plan to fund a metropolitan mass transit authority with the property tax and shifting to the income tax instead. They laughed about that. They keep talking about how the feds will take care of everything but the operating costs, which we know is not the case at all. Moreover, the federal government is broke and doesn't have money to give away for these boondoggles. They talked about trips they had taken to Washington to lobby for their plan. They talked about how helpful U.S. Rep. Andre Carson had been and how he had arranged a meeting for them with Rep. John Mica (R-FL), who chairs the House Transportation Committee and is apparently a big supporter of federal funding for mass transit. One of my personal favorites was when they were lamenting a legislative effort to correct a mistake in the 2008 property tax reform legislation, which you may recall increased state income taxes 20% as a trade off for capping property taxes. A fixed percent of state sales tax revenues is earmarked for mass transit agencies. The original legislation neglected to adjust the percentage downward to reflect the higher tax. The authority members thought it was unfair not to allow mass transit agencies to keep the windfall from the legislative oversight and were hopeful the legislation would die.
The authority is chaired by a Hamilton Co. Commissioner and government lawyer, Christine Altman. She, along with Ehren Bingaman, the highly-paid executive director of this obscure agency, do most of the talking. Incredibly, CIRTA has eight full-time staffers with a $1.7 million budget this year alone. It spends $12,500 a year providing free parking to these staff members. Their travel and conference expenses this year come in at $91,200, including $25,000 for travel alone. The staff is to be reimbursed $25,000 for mileage, $5,000 for fuel expenses, $2,000 for vehicle repairs and maintenance and $1,000 for meals. Despite the large staff, they have a bunch of outside contracts, including $48,000 for public relations, $43,000 for public affairs, $25,000 for accounting fees and $13,000 for legal fees. Their total contractual budget comes in just under $700,000. If they're spending this recklessly already, just think how they'll spend your money once they get their hands on billions of tax dollars.