Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Indy Not Even Safe For NASCAR Drivers

NASCAR Busch series driver Steve Wallace, 19, learned this week that the streets of Indianapolis are more dangerous than the race tracks he drives on every weekend. He was jumped by three men as he left a Broad Ripple convenience store early Monday morning. He finished 17th in this past weekend's Kroger 200 at O'Reilly Raceway Park. Wallace drives for his father Rusty Wallace. The Star reports on the attack:

According to a news release from his team, Wallace was jumped by at least three men as he left a store in Broad Ripple. Earlier, those men had commented on his watch, a gift from a sponsor for winning his second career pole in June.

After being unsuccessful in robbing Wallace, the men fled.

A police report said officers became aware of the assault when they were flagged down by Kyle Cook, one of Wallace’s friends, at 62nd Street and Guilford Avenue about midnight Monday. Cook said he had gotten a phone call from Wallace’s cell phone, and the caller claimed that he was going to beat Wallace unless Cook went to 52nd Street and Keystone Avenue.

Wallace had left Broad Ripple and gone to the Brickyard Crossing Golf Resort and Inn, according to the police report. Officers said they spoke to Wallace by phone, and he said he had been hit and kicked in the face by a man at 62nd and Guilford.Police went to 52nd and Keystone and found [Mark] Tharpe in a parking lot. Wallace was taken by officers to that lot, identified Tharpe as the man who allegedly assaulted him, and Tharpe was arrested.

A .40-caliber Ruger handgun, ammunition and $3,947 in cash were found in Tharpe’s car, which was towed by police.

Police said that Tharpe was shot and wounded in the right leg at 21st Street and Mitthoefer Road on Jan. 9.

Kentucky Universities Walk Tightrope With DP Benefits

As protesters gather to demonstrate against the offering of DP benefits to same-sex employees of Kentucky's public universities, the universities find themselves walking a tightrope to get around Kentucky's constitutional ban on same-sex marriages. According to an Attorney General's opinion, the universities must offer the plans to all unmarried employees, whether gay or straight, to avoid running afoul of the Kentucky Constitution. At issue is the state's ban on same-sex marriages, which reads:

Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Kentucky. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.

The state's Attorney General released an opinion earlier this summer which said universities could offer DP benefits only if they didn't condition the benefits on a legal status "substantially similar to that of marriage" because that would constitute the recognition of a legal status in contravention of the Kentucky ban on same-sex marriages. It should be pointed out that both the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville are relying on funds other than state funds to fund the DP benefits plans. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, some lawmakers plan to renew legislative efforts to bar the DP benefits during a special session the governor is calling next month.

Hat tip to Indiana Law Blog.

Kenley Panel Focuses On Stop Gap Measures

It looks like the Kenley Commission is busy looking at stop gap measures to deal with the state's property tax problem, which is the only way our legislature seems to be capable of dealing with these sorts of problems. Sen. Luke Kenley (R) wants the Governor to tap the state's surplus to provide additional tax relief to homeowners without any help from lawmakers, using the ridiculous rebate idea conjured up by House Speaker Pat Bauer. The Governor's budget director wants to create a circuit breaker program to target additional relief to homeowners. And Rep. Bill Crawford (D) was just worried about whether homeowners were going to get a rebate check in the mail. "If you don't get your check, blame the governor, not us," Crawford told the panel.

Governor Daniels' circuit breaker plan is intended to limit the amount a person's property taxes increases by tying it to a percentage of their assessed valuation. That cap would not be uniform, however, throughout the state. As the Star explains it:

Kitchell told the state Commission on Tax and Financing Policy on Monday that under Daniels' so-called "circuit breaker" plan, targeting the relief would in effect result in homeowners' bills going up no more than a set percentage of assessed valuation, with the amount differing by county.

In most counties, he said, increases would be held to 1 percent of assessed valuation. In Marion County, the amount of relief would in effect limit bills to about 1.6 percent of a home's assessed value.

While about half of the state's homeowners would be given a break under the plan, Kitchell said, about a third of homeowners in Marion County would see some kind of relief.

The Governor's folks might want to read the Indiana Constitution. "The General Assembly shall provide, by law, for a uniform and equal rate of property assessment and taxation and shall prescribe regulations to secure a just valuation for taxation of all property, both real and personal," reads Article 10, Section 1, if it makes any difference. Note to lawmakers: If you still think we should go forward with the "rebate in the mail" scheme, you haven't moved forward in the least bit since you concluded one of your most embarrassing sessions in the history of the state.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Copper Theft Ruins Food For The Needy

There's yet another example of the widespread, growing crime problem in Indianapolis. Thieves stole copper tubing on refrigeration units for Gleaner's Food Bank over the weekend, causing the loss of $474,000 worth of food. This has been happening to air-conditioning units all over town. A number of churches have also reported copper gutters stolen. A friend of mine is having copper gutters installed on his home on the near-northside. He'll be lucky if they last for more than a month. Click here to help out Gleaner's in its hour of need.

Fort Wayne Heads Down Indy's Path With Downtown Development

The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette's Benjamin Lanka has an excellent story today about Fort Wayne's aggressive plan to pump up a $120 million in private initiatives with a massive investment of public funds in its downtown Harrison Square project, involving a baseball stadium for a minor league team, hotel, condominiums, retail and parking garage. Lanka sees a connection in the Harrison Square project and what has property taxpayers elsewhere around the state worked up in a frenzy over rising property taxes. Lanka writes:

Property owners across the state have picketed and protested after seeing tax bills skyrocket this year.

But the same factors causing homeowners to cringe may also have kept the Harrison Square development from being scrapped.

Property trending, rising tax levies and other factors allowed the city to keep the project alive even after a key component – the private investment in a downtown hotel – was slashed. Yet there is still a chance a tax appeal from the owners of Jefferson Pointe could put the project’s promised financing in jeopardy.

The $120 million downtown development is financed from an almost even split of public and private investment. The development includes a $35 million Courtyard by Marriott with parking garage, new condominiums, new retail and a $30 million city-owned baseball stadium. Mayor Graham Richard has long promised that the project can be done without using any general property taxes.

To do this, the city structured a deal that includes public money from a variety of other sources. The primary sources of public money are income taxes, property taxes generated by the project itself and property taxes generated by the Jefferson Pointe area.

Yes, that Marriott Hotel involves the same hotelier Indianapolis is offering a $65 million subsidy to build a new hotel next to the Indiana Convention Center--White Lodging Services. As Lanka's story notes, White's decision to downsize the size of the hotel would have sent the entire project into a tailspin but for the new taxes the city is getting from higher assessments and higher tax levies. Harrison Square sits in a tax increment finance (TIF) district, which saw its total assessed value increase by $41 million this year, allowing the city to capture $42 million in tax revenues over the life of the project. Much of those new-found revenues are coming from nearby Jefferson Pointe, which is contesting the tax assessments. The project will face a shortfall if Jefferson Pointe succeeds in challenging its assessment, which increased from $27.6 million to $64.3 million. That's more than a 100% increase!

In an interesting side note, Lanka quotes the city's consultant on the project, John Stafford, who is the same person Gov. Daniels appointed to his commission to study reforming local government financing. Lanka writes, "John Stafford, a consultant for the city on the project, said it would have been next to impossible to keep that promise [not to use more than half of the revenues from the TIF district] without the increased taxes." "It certainly would have been very difficult," he said. In other words, Stafford thinks it's just fine that other taxpayers have to pick up the tab so a billionaire like Dean White can get a massive public subsidy for building a new hotel in downtown Fort Wayne, just like he got in Indianapolis.

Are You "Attention-Starved"?

The Indiana Democratic Party's communications director and editor of Taking Down Words is creating quite a furor over comments she posted on her blog over the weekend suggesting that the taxpayers who participated in Saturday's Indiana Tea Party demonstration at the Broad Ripple Canal were "500 attention-starved taxpayers." "Question for the masses, especially the trolls: What, exactly, did this accomplish?," she asks. "Dunking tea into the Canal is nothing more than a goofy publicity stunt," she adds. WXNT's Abdul Hakim-Shabazz is taking that question up with the listeners of his "Abdul In The Morning" show as I write. Not surprisingly, they're not too pleased with Wagner's comments.

Melyssa Donaghy, one of the organizers of Saturday's event with Hoosiers for Fair Taxation had this response to Wagner's comments:

Just to set things straight, here's what we accomplished:

News Coverage From:

Channel 13, Channel 6, Channel 8, Channel 59 (2 Stories), Indy Starand probably other media that has not been sent to us yet.

The INDIANA TEA PARTY also satisfied The People's wishes for a tea party. They've asked for one since the 4th of July.

THE INDIANA TEA PARTY let our sister cities throughout the state have media access to view our parties. Because of this, we now get requests everyday for tea parties in other towns.

THE INDIANA TEA PARTY solidly brought together a strong inner core of volunteers with amazing connections. We like it that you see our growing inner core of well educated and well connected volunteers, as people who cannot achieve their goals. Wait until you see the surprises we have in store.

THE INDIANA TEA PARTY gave candidates for this November's election an opportunity to sign Our T-shirts in support of Our demands to see property tax repeal. (Can anyone get State Representative David O. to sign?)
While I respect Jen Wagner a lot, I thought she went really over the top when she attacked my neighbor, Jack Borgerding, after he got thrown out of the City-County council meeting for speaking his mind to the council over its 65% increase in the local option income tax. Unaware his home was titled in his wife's name, she accused him of misrepresenting information about his own tax bill to the City-County Council during his testimony. As for the latest attack on Saturday's protestors, I have to ask where that leaves the Democrats who attended the Tea Party protest, including Rep. David Orentlicher (D) and Cody Kendall (D)? They obviously believe these are voters they need to reach who are speaking out at these protests. Having attended several of these protests, I can attest to the broad, cross-section of voters they attract, including Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and independents. I frankly don't understand from a communications standpoint why Wagner would want to attack these citizen protestors. Is that good politics?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

It's Tony Stewart's Day

Tony Stewart won his second Allstate Brickyard 400. I went to the race today with a couple of friends. The endless number of yellow laps made for a long afternoon. The only interesting thing that happened where I was sitting in the Southwest Vista was when a Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fan sitting several rows below me decided to toss a full, 16-ounce can of Miller Lite onto the track when Dale made a green light pit stop. If the fan's goal was to bring out the yellow caution light, it didn't work. Cars zoomed past the can laying in the middle of the track for several laps until someone finally flattened it without incident. I had to laugh when Dale's engine blew on lap 136 near the end of the race while he was still running in 5th place. He finished 34th.

Carjackings In Indy Up 145%

Mayor Bart Peterson's campaign website and television commercials tell us the "outlook is bright" for the city. His website even boasts our near-record murder rate last year is down this year. The front page of today's Star, however, is more representative of the siege Indianapolis residents feel they are under from skyrocketing taxes and crime. It tells us the number of carjackings in the city has jumped a whopping 145% during the first six months of the year. "Carjackings continue to increase at a furious pace this year in Marion County despite police efforts since April to crack down on the crime," Vic Ryckaert writes. "During the first six months of this year, 152 carjackings were reported, compared with 62 through the same period last year -- a 145 percent increase."

As he typically does, when the news is bad Mayor Peterson trots out Deputy Mayor Steve Campbell to do the talking. Calling it a "serious problem," Campbell says, "That's why we wanted to invest $90 million to fight crime." In other words, that's why we asked you to pay 65% more in income taxes after we had already increased your local income tax rate 100% from previous increases in recent years. As for the people who are supposed to be in charge of those crime-fighting efforts, Ryckaert writes, "Chief Michael Spears could not be reached for comment last week." He adds, "Sheriff Frank Anderson was unable to comment Friday because of a family emergency, according to a staff member."

Although Indianapolis police provided some suggestions to Ryckaert on how motorists can help reduce their chances of becoming a victim of a carjacking (e.g., "lock your doors at all times"), the police refused to disclose the areas police have identified as "hot spots" for carjackings. The analysis does show "hot spots" for carjackings in the city. "The department declined to release a list of those locations." "Lorah said the city's six police districts have the information, but he said he did not know whether they have taken action on it." The Star decided to help us out with those "hot spots" city police don't want to disclose. "An Indianapolis Star examination of data through April showed that most of the carjackings had happened east of Downtown in an area bordered by Washington, Meridian and 38th streets and I-465," Ryckaert writes.

As for who is committing all these carjackings, it looks like police are stumped because of the lack of arrests this year. "Metropolitan police think that the same small group of criminals may be committing the carjackings, and that once the perpetrators are captured the crime will decline." That's reassuring.

Miller Spends Big Bucks On Repeal Property Tax Effort

Advance America's Eric Miller, turning his attention away from banning gay marriage for the moment, is taking advantage of the anger over property taxes to push another constitutional amendment--this one to abolish property taxes. Today, he takes out a full-page ad in the Star promoting several tax rallies he has planned around the state during the next month. He also lists those legislators on the side of repealing property taxes along side those who oppose repealing the propert tax. The list of 60 legislators in favor of the repeal includes includes 50 Republican lawmakers and 10 Democratic lawmakers. Sen Richard Young, a Democratic candidate for governor, is among those 10 Democrats. Among the 90 lawmakers opposing a repeal of the property tax are House Republican Leader Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, along with House Speaker Pat Bauer.

If you visit the website Miller has set up to promote the property tax repeal effort, you will see his name and picture prominently displayed, which is not at all appropriate for a supposed not-for-profit organization. There has been some speculation the 2004 losing GOP candidate for governor might take another crack at Gov. Mitch Daniels in next year's GOP primary. His full page-ad urges people to contact Gov. Daniels' office because he has not publicly declared his support for repealing the taxes, although the ad does note that Daniels is "open" to the idea. WXNT's Abdul Hakim Shabazz plans to interview Miller live on his radio show "Abdul in the Morning" tomorrow morning between 8:00 a.m.-9:00 a.m. This will be Miller's first appearance on Abdul's show.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

And Down She Goes

A jumbo-sized teabag was lowered into Broad Ripple Canal this morning at a symbolic "Indiana Tea Party" organized by Hoosiers for Fair Taxation and attended by close to one thousand protestors, some dressed in period-clothing reminiscent of the original Boston Tea Party. Politicians of all stripes showed up to lend their support to the protest, including GOP mayoral candidate Greg Ballard (R), Rep. David Orentlicher (D) and several City-County Council candidates. Ballard, Orentlicher, and council candidates Ginny Cain (R), Cody Kendall (D), Adam Longworth (R) Timothy Maguire (L) and Kent Smith (R) made their presence known. Orentlicher, despite a few hisses from the large crowd, was able to speak and promised to work for real reform in the legislature. Ironically, City-County Councilor Ryan Vaughn (R) was a no-show at a protest conducted in his own district. His Democratic opponent, Cody Kendall, spoke out against Mayor Peterson's 65% income tax increase, which Vaughn also opposed during last Monday's raucous council vote. Protestors filled Central Avenue, shutting it off to traffic without any assistance from police. In fact, police were noticeably absent today unlike previous tax protests in recent weeks. Hats off to Melyssa Doneghy and Hoosiers for Fair Taxation for the great job in organizing today's protest.
WTHR has a story here.
WRTV has a story here.
WISH-TV has a story here.
The Star has a story here.

Legislator Starting His Own Political Talk Show

Rep. David Crooks (D-Washington) is starting his own radio talk show, "The Dave Crooks Show", which will run on radio stations he owns. The Evansville Courier Press writes:

Rep. Dave Crooks, D-Washington, said "The Dave Crooks Show" will focus on politics, through interviews with elected officials, a call-in segment with listeners and spirited debate with Crooks' co-host, longtime broadcaster Taylor Brown, with whom Crooks often disagrees.

Starting Sept. 1, the talk show will broadcast from 9:06 to 10 a.m. CDT Saturdays on WAMW-AM 1580 and WAMW-FM 107.9, based in Washington, Ind. Crooks is president of DLC Media Inc., which owns both stations. Internet users will be able to listen through either www.wamwamfm.com or www.davecrooks.com, he said.

Already the play-by-play voice of Washington Hatchets sports broadcasts, Crooks said he long has wanted to do a political talk show. "I see myself as being a Joe Scarborough," he said, referring to the congressman-turned-MSNBC host, "as taking some of my legislative experience and simply sharing it with the listeners and helping them understand their government better."

Crooks said he hopes to book interviews with Gov. Mitch Daniels, Rep. Brad Ellsworth and other Indiana political figures for his weekly program. But under broadcasting laws, if Crooks runs for re-election to a seventh term in 2008, he will have to allow equal time on his station for his eventual House opponent. "If I choose to run again, it will be 'The Dave's Opponents Show' following 'The Dave Crooks Show,'" he quipped.

One Republican, Mark Brian Messmer of Jasper, Ind., has filed organizational papers for a candidacy in House District 63 in 2008.

Do you think the Republicans in his district will invoke the Fairness Doctrine the way Democrats are constantly invoking it with conservative-leaning talk radio shows throughout the country?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Peterson Blames Media For Plummeting Approval Rating

With Mayor Bart Peterson (D) and his Democratic-controlled council's standing with the public in a free fall following last Monday's approval of the Mayor's 65% increase in the county option income tax, Peterson and council Democrats are blaming the media for their woes. In a sidebar to another story in today's Star, a "Tax Notebook" item says:

Mayor Bart Peterson and some City-County Council members haven't been happy with the way media [and] The Indianapolis Star has portrayed the income tax increase passed Monday.

The council increased the county income tax by 65 percent to fund Peterson's $90 million crime-fighting and pension-funding plan. The actual increase went to 1.65 percent from 1 percent.

Deputy Mayor Steve Campbell said there has been some grousing on the 25th Floor of the City-County Building -- the shorthand reference for the Peterson administration.

"The conversation here is that you have two choices about how to present it, and the headlines went with the more sensational one," Campbell said Wednesday. "Some people called and thought we were taking 65 percent of their income."

Actually, the mayor has several times made a common mistake, using the wrong wording for the hike. He has called it a .65 percent increase. He could accurately call it a .65 percentage point increase.Campbell acknowledged that a 65 percent increase is "absolutely factually correct."

"It just seemed to us like trying to whip people into a frenzy when that's already there," he said.

Actually, if you add the prior increases in the COIT rate of this Mayor and council to Monday night's increase, local income taxes have actually increased 175%, a point made at the council meeting by a Democratic councilor, Dane Mahern. It seems to me the public has every right to be worked up in a frenzy over rising taxes in this city without any help from the media. The fact that the Mayor and Democrats are complaining about the coverage of the issue is proof of just how much their standing with voters has fallen in this critical election year.

On another note, I got around to taking a closer look at a letter Councilor Scott Keller (R) sent to me after I discussed with him his support of the Mayor's tax increase. As a past supporter of his campaigns, Keller drew attention to what my "generous investment" in his campaign gave our city: "Supporting responsible alternatives to too-high property taxes, such as a regional 1% sales tax or higher County income tax." He's right about supporting a higher income tax, but he did it without providing any property tax relief. By the way, the first item he mentions in his letter will not likely resonate with his supporters any better: "Co-sponsoring such economic development/job creation projects as the Conrad Hotel, Simon headquarters, convention center expansion, Lucas Stadium and the new 1,000-room hotel." That's a fly in the ointment to many taxpayers who feel those very projects are the reason they are now paying higher taxes.

Hat tip to the avid AI reader who pointed this item out to me in today's Star.

Indiana Tea Party

Don't forget the Indiana Tea Party scheduled for tomorrow (Saturday) at 11:00 a.m. at the Central Avenue bridge over the Broad Ripple Canal. Bring your tax assessments to tear up and throw into a large tea bag which will be "dunked" in the canal.

Suit Alleges Wrongdoing In U.S. Marshal's Office And Sheriff Anderson's Office

A whistleblower in the U.S. Marshal's office in Indianapolis says he was transferred to another office after he filed a complaint alleging serious wrongdoing in the office. That according to a lawsuit he has filed in federal district court. The Star reports, "The officers, according to the complaint, used a forged subpoena to obtain citizens' telecommunication records." "Jason Wojdylo, a supervising deputy from March 2004 to March 2007, also alleges the same officers broke into residences and vandalized the property of witnesses who were uncooperative with U.S. Marshals Service investigations."

There is a part of the complaint which has been ignored in most of the local press accounts, but which is included in today's Star story involving Sheriff Frank Anderson's office. These allegations are particularly pertinent because Sheriff Anderson was in charge of the Indianapolis U.S. Marshal's office prior to being elected as Marion Co. Sheriff. Check this out:

In an affidavit accompanying his complaint, Wojdylo says that in May 2006, he notified his superiors about poor care of federal prisoners at the Marion County Jail and that, soon after, a package was inadvertently delivered to him from the Marion County sheriff's office.

In the box, addressed to his superior, were his reports about the jail, along with four tickets to the Indianapolis 500, four tickets to an accompanying race event and other passes with an estimated value of $630.

It was, Wojdylo believes, an attempt to bribe his supervisor into silencing Wojdylo's concerns about the treatment of federal prisoners.

Kevin Murray, counsel to Marion County Sheriff Frank Anderson, said Wojdylo's claims were investigated when they were made.

"As far as I know, all of his allegations have been reviewed by the Inspector General's Office of the U.S. Marshals, and nothing has been substantiated," Murray said.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

St. Vincent Feeling The Pain Of Its Own Pills

St. Vincent Hospital can't keep track of its prescription painkillers so it must pay a $2 million fine to the government. The Star reports the hospital lost track of 623,843 tablets of hydrocodone from its clinic pharmacy in Indianapolis according to an FDA audit. As a painkiller, hydrocodone is as powerful as morphine. U.S. Attorney Susan Brooks made the announcement on behalf of the government. She's had a lot of press conferences during her tenure announcing prosecutions of small-time drug dealers. I wonder if she's in the least bit curious what happened to all those pills. Or will that part of the story end the same way the investigation of Colts' owner Jim Irsay's abuse of prescription painkillers ended?

UPDATE: Don't you love it when the Star leaves out the most important information when it posts online in advance of a story? It turns out a former pharmacy employee was stealing the pills so her son could sell them on the street. Today's Star story reads, in part:

During more than two years, a hospital pharmacy clerk stole 623,843 tablets of hydrocodone without being detected by the hospital, federal officials said. She gave the drugs to her adult son for sale on the street, they said.

A local drug task force investigating the son's activities tracked the pills to the pharmacy at the hospital's outpatient clinic for low-income and uninsured patients, federal officials said Thursday. . .

The pharmacy technician, Dianne Hauss, and her supervisor were fired, Smith said. Hauss and her son Mark Hauss were convicted of federal conspiracy to distribute a Schedule C controlled substance and sentenced in February.

Now Democrats Want To Eliminate Township Government

No more than four months ago, Mayor Peterson allowed Rep. Bill Crawford (D-Indianapolis) to kill a consolidation plan for Marion County before the Indiana General Assembly because Crawford and other Democrats wanted to protect the Center Township patronage machine headed up by Township Trustee Carl Drummer. Today, Marion Co. Democratic Chairman Mike O'Connor blamed the GOP for the defeat of the consolidation plan and seemed to suggested the Mayor and Democrats now support elimination of township government. As a further affront to Marion Co. taxpayers, O'Connor stood and made the announcement with the disgraced and conflicted City-County Council President Monroe Gray (D) and his equally embarrassing colleague, Councilor Lonnell Conley (D), at his side. O'Connor accused Republicans of having a "death-bed" conversion on the issue of government consolidation in the wake of skyrocketing property taxes. O'Connor didn't explain why the consolidation of IPD and the sheriff's department, along with two township fire departments, had failed to relieve the property tax burden on Marion Co. taxpayers despite claims that at least $18 million a year had been saved.

Republicans countered that O'Connor's statement to the press today was nothing more than a diversionary tactic to draw attention away from the action of Mayor Peterson and council Democrats earlier this week to raise county option income taxes 65%. “O’Connor is bringing consolidation back to the forefront to distract attention from Bart Peterson and Democratic leadership on City-County Council raising income taxes by over $100 million Monday,” said Marion Co. GOP Chairman Tom John. “Indy Works is the Mayor’s same old tired political ploy, so of course he would trot it out to try to cover up the administration’s fiscal mismanagement and huge tax increases. The reality of Indy Works is that it isn’t real government reform at all When faced with real reform proposed by Senator Merritt in this last session, Peterson couldn’t even convince his own party to reform local government."

Sen. James Merritt (R), who carried the consolidation legislation, was particularly perturbed by O'Connor's statements today. “We put forward a complete, uniform consolidation plan this General Assembly, and it was killed by Marion County Democrats, led by Representative Bill Crawford, because of patronage in Center Township. How disingenuous can you be?” said Merritt, noting Crawford’s opposition to 2007 consolidation efforts because Center Township was not excluded from trustee consolidation.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Morgan County Leads The Way

When you think of forward-thinking places in Indiana, Morgan County isn't usually the first place which comes to mind. On the issue of property tax reform, however, Morgan County is leading the way just as the legislature intended. Unlike neighboring Marion County, Morgan County is using a new state law which allows the county option income tax to be used to reduce local property taxes. In Morgan County's case, the property tax reduction will be 30%. And property taxpayers there weren't even complaining or protesting like Marion Co. taxpayers. As the Star explains the Morgan way of dealing with rising property taxes:

Morgan County has adopted three local income taxes and will use the money to blunt increased taxes on homes and other property.

The County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt the taxes expected to raise nearly $14 million a year beginning in 2008.

Combined, the actions total a countywide income tax of 1.45 percent, with revenues divided among the county, city, towns, schools, libraries and other government agencies.

Morgan County Commissioner Jeff Quyle said the council's actions make Morgan one of the first counties in the state to use property tax reduction tools passed by the last session of the Indiana General Assembly.

He also estimated that added revenues from income taxes will result in a cut of about 30 percent in the property tax rate . . .

Many Morgan County property owners saw increases this year, and assessed values jumped as much as 30 percent or more in some cases.

For example, property owners in Green Township in the northern part of the county, a booming area of home and potential business development, reported tax increases of 38 percent and more Appeals have been filed about the newest tax assessments on approximately 1,000 parcels this year.

However, Morgan hasn't witnessed the taxpayer rallies and outcry this summer like the reactions in neighboring Marion County. And Morgan officials didn't report assessed value increases of up to 90 percent, as in neighboring Hendricks County.

The goal in Morgan Co. was to reduce property taxes to help lure new businesses. The income tax replacement will give it the lowest property taxes in the Indianapolis region, and it's income tax rate will still be 0.2% lower than Marion Co.'s 1.65% rate. Obviously, this will make the county more attractive to Marion Co. residents fleeing high taxes here. I particularly like how the schools are participating in the income tax replacement option. The schools represent about half of the property tax bill.

Ohio Supreme Court Extends Domestic Violence Protection To Unmarried Couples

A major sticking point in the debate over SJR-7, Indiana's proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages and other rights for unmarried couples, was whether the amendment would effectively prevent the state's domestic violence laws from benefiting an unmarried domestic partner. Lower courts in the state of Ohio had said a similar constitutional amendment adopted by the state's voters there had the effect of denying any legal benefit of marriage, including protection under the state's domestic violence laws. Today, the Ohio Supreme Court in State v. Carswell overturned those lower court rulings and extended domestic violence protections to unmarried couples.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in a 6-1 decision that the state's domestic violence statute "merely identifies a particular class of persons for the purposes of the domestic-violence statutes." "It does not create or recognize a legal relationship that approximates the designs, qualities, or significance of marriage, as prohibited by Ohio['s constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.]" At issue was language in the Ohio Constitution barring the state from creating or
recognizing a legal status for unmarried persons that “intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage.” The majority interpreted this sentence to mean
"the state cannot create or recognize a legal status for unmarried persons that bears all of the attributes of marriage – a marriage substitute." The constitutional bar would, however, prohibit the state from creating civil unions. "The second sentence of the amendment prohibits the state and its political subdivisions from circumventing the mandate of the first sentence by recognizing a legal status similar to marriage (for example, a civil union)," the court said.

The domestic violence statute in question extended benefits to a "person living as a spouse," which means "a person who is cohabitating with the offender, or who has cohabitated with the offender within the past five (5) years." The court interpreted the statute as merely recognizing a relationship an unmarried couple entered into without the state having a role in its creation as it does in the case of marriage. Accordingly, it did not find the state's domestic violence statute in conflict with the constitutional prohibition on same-sex marriages and civil unions.

A dissenting opinion in the case, however, makes it clear the issue remains muddy and is certainly open to different interpretations by different courts in other states facing similar questions. In Indiana, the operative language involves the "legal incidents of marriage." In Ohio, it involves the words, "legal status." The dissenting opinion criticizes the majority opinion for simply reading out the words "that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect" of marriage. "Presumably, under the majority’s reasoning, being unmarried does not give one a legal status," the dissent writes. "Yet unmarried persons living as spouses are covered by the domestic violence statute; they do attain a legal status, albeit a limited one, for each has standing under law to prosecute the other person for an act of domestic violence." [T]he General Assembly’s classification of a 'person living as a spouse' within the definition of 'family or household member' recognizes a legal status for purposes of the domestic violence statute." The dissent accuses the majority of interpreting the constitution by speculating about what may have been intended as opposed to its actual text.

The Indiana Law Blog has an extensive post on today's decision as well. You may recall that Kerry Blomquist of the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence was an outspoken opponent of SJR-7 because of its potential unintended consequences. She cited the lower court decisions in Ohio as support for her argument. Blomquist provided the Indiana Law Blog this reaction to today's decision:

We are very pleased that Ohio can continue to prosecute unmarried batterers under their existing domestic violence statutes. The Ohio Supreme Court must be commended for recognizing and noting the legislative intents of both the DV statute and the Ohio Constitutional amendment. ICADV remains, however, very concerned with the wording of SJR 7 here in Indiana. As we have said before, the second clause referring to the "legal incidents of marriage" is still undefined and ambiguous, lending itself to a variety of judicial interpretations and a similarly lengthy legal challenge. The devil remains in the details.

As Blomquist notes and the Indiana Law Blog points out, there is a significant difference between the language in Ohio's amendment and Indiana's amendment. And as the dissent in the Ohio decision points up, the court would have reached an entirely different conclusion if it had simply relied on the constitution's text, an argument which conservative legal scholars like Justice Anthony Scalia often implore us to do. As I pointed out in an earlier post, a conservative Reagan-appointed judge raised serious concerns about the language of these amendments, particularly that proposed in SJR-7 which includes the term "legal incidents of marriage." Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, III wrote:

In particular, it is unclear what "incidents" the amendment places outside state and federal constitutions. The incidents of marriage typically include certain government benefits and special property and inheritance rights, among others, but these rights are defined almost exclusively by the states. The amendment might change this, by making the "incidents" of marriage a constitutional term of art. Courts would have to decide whether the amendment governed the incidents of marriage however they are defined by state law -- meaning that the amendment would apply to differing benefits from state to state -- or whether the amendment required courts to develop a uniform federal definition of the incidents of marriage. Existing jurisprudence offers precedent for both interpretations. For example, the Fourteenth Amendment provides in part that no state shall "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law." The Supreme Court has derived its definition of "property" under this amendment from state law, but permitted courts to give independent content to "liberty." Both approaches to the marriage amendment are possible, and judges would decide.

Nor would this be the end of the matter. If courts adopted a universal definition of marriage's incidents, what would they include? For instance, would a right be an incident of marriage if it were associated with marriage in every state, or in some proportion of states? Furthermore, under any approach, courts would need to decide whether incidents include only rights that are exclusive to marriage -- such as the special tax treatment given to married couples -- or whether they include rights made available on the basis of marriage and a few other special relationships, such as those relating to health insurance, hospital visitation, and rent control in many states. The interpretative difficulties run on and on.

The religious right will no doubt use today's Ohio decision to dispel concern about the wording of Indiana's amendment, but I think the words of caution urged by Judge Wilkinson should carry the day here in our future deliberations on SJR-7, an amendment which is not needed and is only intended to relegate a class of persons in this state to a second-class status. Jim Bopp, the religious right leader who attempted to mislead Indiana lawmakers about the language of SJR-7, had the audacity to put out this statement tonight in response to the Ohio decision. "This decision should put to bed the specious argument that a marriage amendment precludes domestic violence protections for unmarried couples," Bopp said. Mr. Bopp, Kerry Blomquist, Judge Wilkinson and others who have read the plain text of your SJR-7 aren't making specious arguments. Your attempt to write discrimination into our Indiana Constitution is a discredit to the legal profession of which you profess to serve. Have you no shame, Mr. Bopp?

In an unrelated decision today, the Michigan Supreme Court tossed a case challenging an Ann Arbor school district's domestic partner benefits plan under Michigan's constitutional prohibition on same sex marriages and civil unions. That decision did not hinge on the constitutionality of the benefits; rather, the case was dismissed on the basis of the standing of the taxpayers who brought the case. Lower courts have held that Michigan's constitutional prohibition bars units of government from extending domestic partner benefits to unmarried same-sex couples.

Greg Ballard Unplugged

Fellow blogger Joh Padgett has a very candid, recorded interview with GOP mayoral candidate Greg Ballard. You will hear how Ballard favors doing away with the property tax in favor of a combination of income and sales taxation as a replacement. With respect to the current debacle in Marion Co., he blames Peterson and local leaders for failing to plan for the elimination of the business inventory tax, which they had known about for several years. In response to the enactment of the 65% income tax increase this week, he calls for fiscal sanity, noting that each year for the past several years has presented yet another financial crisis which resulted in higher taxes and the problems just keep getting worse, not better.

Ballard was uncommitted on whether police and firefighters should be barred from serving on the city-county council. He said he needed more time to study the issue, although he wanted to emphasize that at least a couple of police officers on the council, including Lincoln Plowman (R) and Sherron Franklin (D) voted against the tax increase. Ballard expressed concern about the flight of the middle class out of Marion County. In addition to holding down taxes, a better public school system is critical to stemming the out-migration of the middle class.

On his own election chances, he sees taxes having a big impact on election outcomes countywide this year, along with crime. To reduce crime, he wants operational control of the police department put back under the mayor to improve accountability, re-institution of the Front Porch Alliance, placement of more officers patrolling our streets and working on the little things like cleaning up neighborhoods plagued by abandoned properties.

If you want to read more about what Greg Ballard thinks, check out his blog here.

Steele Resigns After Council Debacle

In a major blow to Mayor Bart Peterson (D), former Indianapolis city controller Jim Steele, who was brought on board to help the Peterson administration fix its fiscal mess, turned in his resignation after Monday night's meeting according to Abdul Hakim-Shabazz. "Steele says he was appalled when Council President Monroe Gray tried to force Councilmember Ike Randolph to vote. Randolph abstained because he felt he had a conflict of interest because he would be voting on his pay raise as a firefighter," Shabazz writes. "Steele also quit because Gray cut off debate without allowing amendments. Steele was controller for former Republican Mayor Steve Goldmsith. So much for bi-partisan solutions."

For those who had the opportunity to hear Steele's presentation to the Administration and Finance Committee, you quickly figured out he was the only adult in the room who had a clue what he was talking about. Without Steele on board helping craft his fiscal policy, Mayor Peterson is going to have a difficult time convincing opinion leaders his policies are headed in the right direction.

Star: Council Rushed Income Tax Vote

Star editorial writers criticize the City-County Council for failing to take more time to consider Mayor Bart Peterson's 65% increase in the county option income tax. The editorial reads, in part:

Those who look at issues from a big picture perspective had to be disappointed by the City-County Council's decision Monday night to raise county taxes by 65 percent.

If ever an issue deserved a timeout for further review, this was it.

Mayor Bart Peterson and a narrow majority of the City-County Council treated the income tax increase with a sense of urgency that was unnecessary considering the intense public interest in the proposal.

It is an important issue, but it did not have to be decided without a full airing of taxpayers' concerns. Many citizens who attended Monday's meeting were essentially ignored.

By negotiating an extension of the Aug. 1 deadline with the state, or by delaying the vote until next week, Peterson could have had more time to discuss his proposal with taxpayers. He would have also opened the door to suggestions from the expert panels being put together by Gov. Mitch Daniels. He might even have heard useful suggestions on how to reduce the size of the increases.

Rather than take full advantage of an exceptional opportunity to make long-needed reforms, the mayor and council rushed through a huge income tax increase to raise $90 million to cover public safety expenses.

In doing so, the mayor and council missed out on possible synergies with the state panels on the income tax and related issues. What other options or approaches could the city have used to address public safety challenges? What else could have been done to avoid an income tax hike that will hurt some as badly as the property tax hikes?

The Star's editors also have a couple of good suggestions at which the governor's newly-appointed commission might want to take a look. One is a suggestion the state "ban police and firefighters from serving on public boards that oversee their agency's budgets and operations." Better yet, why doesn't Indiana simply enforce its own constitution, which provides: "no person, charged with official duties under one of these departments, shall exercise any of the functions of another." An analysis I conducted after the May primary of the current crop of candidates for city-county council in both parties led me to conclude that the make-up of our council could easily become totally dominated by government workers. It is conceivable that at least 50% of the members after this November's election will consist of police officers, firefighters or other government employees. This has got to stop.

Secondly, the Star editorial writers suggest there be a study on the impact higher property taxes and income taxes in Marion Co. has on the migration of folks into the suburban counties. You don't have to study that problem. You can see it happening.

Matt Tully expresses his disapproval over the conduct of Monday night's city-county council meeting here. As for Tully's lack of blog postings lately, he explains he's taking a summer vacation while working on another project. "[M]y non-column time this summer is being dedicated to a project we hope will appear in the newspaper this September," he writes. As for Expresso, the last post there was made June 8 by Gary Varvel. The blog site used to be peppered with provocative posts by Star editorial writer RiShawn Biddle. What happened to Biddle? Does he still work for the Star? It's unusual for him to be so quiet.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Incumbents Beware

Political pundits see an anti-incumbent fervor sweeping the Hoosier state unlike any they've witnessed in recent memory. Long-time Indiana political observer Brian Howey offers this bit of insight:

In the 13 years since The Howey Political Report has been publishing, we've never witnessed more Hoosiers protesting a wider array of issues at the same time. The anti-incumbency mood is at its most pronounced since our first year - 1994. On Monday, dozens of citizens vented before the Indiana Tax Commission hosted by State Sen. Luke Kenley prompted by high property taxes. Dozens of tax protesters were tossed out of the Indianapolis City-County Council meeting as it voted in $90 million in new income taxes . . . In Muncie, organizers are planning a noon "Jam In" designed to bottled up traffic in downtown to protest high property taxes. Gibson and LaPorte County officials are bracing for the kind of tax storm that has already taken place in Indianapolis and Elkhart. There have already been multiple property tax protests outside the Governor's Mansion, Monument Circle, the Indiana Statehouse and the Indianapolis City-County Building . . . It reminds us of a speech then U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton gave to the Indiana Democratic Editorial Association in August 1994 when he said "Sometimes when I'm standing at a public meeting I feel a curtain drop between me and the people I'm talking to. I'm a politician and therefore, they say, my word cannot be trusted." It was a precursor to the 1994 election that changed control of the U.S. and Indiana Houses of Representatives.

IUPUI Political Science Professor Bill Blomquist sees political implications here in Indianapolis for Mayor Peterson and city-county councilors who voted for his 65% increase in the county option income tax. "There are definitely political implications," he tells WTHR. "The council members are more vulnerable because they don't have the name recognition and financial resources of the mayor," Blomquist said, "So, if anyone's really on the line about [the vote] it's the individual councilors who voted for the increase." Blomquist notes the fallout is already helping the mayoral candidacy of Greg Ballard. "For Greg Ballard, lightning strikes and you get an opportunity, an opportunity to get a little more press coverage, to have people want your take on an issue," he said.

Of course, there are some incumbents sailing along on Cloud Nine without a care in the world. "I assure you many [in my district] were for it because they saw where the money was going. They hate the tax, but they like the result," Scott Keller (R) said. "I think people in those areas hit hardest, like Meridian-Kessler and Butler Tarkington, if they're not satisfied that there will be a reduction in their taxes (due to reassessment) the tendency will be to 'throw out the bums." I take it Keller hasn't bother to talk to his own constituents about this matter. As the Star's analysis of the property tax assessment increases in Marion Co. revealed, some of the hardest hit areas were in his own district. Councilor Dane Mahern's district abuts Keller's district. Mahern cited the disproportionate increases in his district as one of the reasons he voted against the mayor's tax increase plan.

Raising Taxes Not A Profile In Courage

Something that really bothered me about last night's city-county council meeting was Councilor Joanne Sander's attempt to portray those advocating the passage of Mayor Peterson's 65% increase in the county option income tax as exercising some sort of profile in courage. "We have cut $83 million from the budget since 2003 . . . we're doing all that we can," she said. "I choose fiscal stability." "Political expedience is not in the best interests of the community at large," she added. After the vote, Peterson chimed in by thanking the councilors for having "the courage to do the right thing." But weren't those opposed to this latest tax increase abiding by a position Mayor Peterson advocated not so long ago? Let's look again at what he said in a state of the city address earlier in his administration:

Unfortunately, the part of the city budget that goes to cover police and firefighter pensions is the same part of the budget that pays for ongoing police and fire operations, including additional resources needed for public safety. We will meet our pension obligations, and we will also find a way to pay for the additional public safety resources we need. And it is important to do both without raising taxes. Raising taxes may sound like an easy answer, but if we want to avoid the urban death spiral that so many other American cities have experienced, we cannot give individuals and businesses an incentive to leave our city.

Raising taxes is the "easy answer" he told us. So what has changed? Mayor Peterson came to office as a member of the inner circle of Sen. Evan Bayh for whom he served as a chief of staff while he was governor. The Bayh administration took a hard line against raising taxes throughout his 8 years in office no matter how rough things got. After all, Bayh defeated Lt. Gov. John Mutz in his first bid for governor on an anti-tax theme, thumping the Orr-Mutz administration for massive tax increases. With Democrats shut out of the mayor's office in Indianapolis for decades, Peterson wanted to achieve the same electoral success Bayh has enjoyed and to achieve that success, it was critical that he not be perceived as another tax and spend Democrat. That's why he said what he did in 2000. He didn't believe Democrats could remain in control in Indianapolis without adhering to fiscally conservative policies.

A lot has changed since 2000. Democrats have captured control of the city-county council for the first time since the enactment of Uni-Gov, they have captured every countywide office save the prosecutor's office, and they now control most township governments. Emboldened by his own landslide re-election in 2003, Peterson and the Democrats became arrogant in their exercise of power. Incompetent cronies have been appointed to some of the city's most government positions. The consolidation of law enforcement has resulted in an even more-politicized and unaccountable police department. And Peterson and council Democrats have passed tax increase after tax increase, turning Indianapolis from one of the lowest-taxed cities in the nation to one that is now seen as a high-taxed city.

The arrogance of the Democrats was readily on display at last night's council meeting during the adoption of this controversial, $90 million increase. City-County Council President Monroe Gray's opponent, Kurt Webber (R), believes Gray and his Democratic colleagues "showed disdain for the public and their fellow colleagues." “I am downright shocked that public officials like Monroe Gray would actually conduct any meeting in such an unruly fashion, let alone one as important as deciding whether to increase taxes,” said Webber. “Gray and everyone who supported the increase showed such a disdain for the public and their fellow colleagues that I was ashamed to witness it.” Webber cites the council's refusal to allow public testimony at last night's meeting and their parliamentary maneuvers to stifle debate among councilors. "Very few decisions can affect as many constituents as a tax increase." "Monroe Gray and his Council leadership should have made this meeting an example of open debate. Instead, they did all they could to limit discussion and increase taxes as quickly as possible,” Webber said.

The actions of Marion Co. Democrats of late can only lead one to conclude that they believe they are politically invincible. They've made themselves believe that a political realignment occurred in the county, and they are safely in power for decades to come. I think they greatly under-estimate the discontent of voters in this county right now and the lack of confidence in their leadership. “If this is how Council handles one of its most vital votes in years, I have no confidence in its leadership that it has the confidence of the people or the character and demeanor to lead our city," Webber said. He's absolutely right. Marion County Democrats are in for a rude awakening this November.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Ballard And Marion Co. GOP Respond To Peterson Tax Hike

“Tonight’s vote by council to pass Bart Peterson’s over $100 million tax increase is another page in a sad chapter for Marion County," said Marion Co. GOP Chairman Tom John. "The Councilors who supported this measure are assenting to the Mayor’s policy of spending first and asking questions later." "There were many other ways to have funded this, especially if Peterson would work with the Legislature, but he didn’t." "The funds would have been there if Peterson had managed his budget well, but he didn’t. Now, they are forcing hard-working citizens to pay for their failure to govern."

GOP mayoral hopeful Greg Ballard blamed Peterson's fiscal mismanagement for this latest in a series of tax increases adopted by Peterson and the Democratic-controlled council. "Over the past eight years, this city and county government has increased its spending every single year," Ballard said. "Now when it is woefully apparent that we need to do more to address a rampant crime problem, we are out of the cash to do so." Ballard complained that Peterson has increased spending by nearly half since he took office 8 years ago and the city's debt has ballooned. "The amount of bond debt this city has on its books has multiplied by over THREE THOUSAND PERCENT since he took office!," Ballard noted. "Families do not run their finances this way. Businesses do not operate this way. It is irresponsible for government to operate this way."

Council Democrats Stick It To Taxpayers In Raucous Council Meeting

Council Democrats rammed through a 65% increase in the county option income tax tonight on a 15-13 vote, with one Republican member abstaining. Councilor Isaac Randolph (R), a firefighter, announced his intention to abstain from voting because the new revenues from the tax increase are tied to the firefighter's contract. He believed he had a pecuniary interest in the outcome and, therefore, a conflict of interest. In an unusual move, City-County Council President Monroe Gray, also a firefighter, ruled that Randolph couldn't abstain from the vote. Councilor Lincoln Plowman (R), a police officer, said he had on numerous occasions asked to abstain from voting on matters pertaining to the sheriff's department and been allowed to do so by the council. Randolph appealed the ruling of the chair, but Democratic council members sided with Gray and ordered Randolph to cast a vote against his conscience. Randolph still abstained when the final vote was taken, notwithstanding the chair's ruling. In an ugly display, another firefigther on the council, Councilor Vernon Brown (D), attacked Randolph as a "coward." Randolph asked to address Brown's attack on him, only to be interrupted by Councilor King "Ro" Conley (D), whose wife is a city employee, and told by Conley to take the matter outside face to face with Brown.

The meeting was raucous from the outset. As Councilor Joanne Sanders attempted to explain the tax increase, she was repeatedly interrupted by a jam-packed audience of tax protestors, chanting "NO NEW TAXES." The famous Indy Chicken stood on the sidelines holding a sign, "65% is no chicken feed". Many other audience members wore "Bart Lies" T-shirts. On at least 5 occasions, the meeting's proceedings came to a halt while law enforcement officers ejected citizen protesters from the meeting.

The meeting took a surprising twist when Councilor Dane Mahern (D), a city employee, announced he was voting against the tax increase. He complained that residents of his district were among the hardest hit areas of the city when they received their property tax bills, which increased on average 50%. He said he was unwilling to hike the COIT yet again, which he noted would result in a 175% increase in the rate in the last 3 years alone. He also complained that city departments were hiring people who live outside the county who don't pay property taxes or the COIT. One other Democrat, Sherron Franklin, a police officer, voted against the tax increase.

Those two Democratic votes could be spared because two Republicans, Scott Keller and Lance Langsford, voted for the increase. Keller claims his constituents asked him to vote for the tax increase to help bring crime in their neighborhoods under control. Most Republicans believe this seals his defeat in November. His district, like Mahern's, was hit hard by property tax reassessments. He will face Brian Mahern in November. With Republicans abandoning Keller in droves, he is now viewed as the most vulnerable Republican. He won election four years ago by a handful of votes with the support of anti-tax groups, but he has voted for every single tax increase which has come before the council in the past four years. Lance Langsford, a firefighter, is not seeking re-election. He saw no conflict of interest in voting on a proposal which ensures him another pay raise and pension benefits.

In a meeting completely lacking in any decorum or serious debate, Councilor William Oliver complained to the chair about the length of time Councilor Mahern was given to explain his vote. Councilor Conley then moved to end debate. The Democratic majority voted to cut off debate, even though only a handful of councilors were given an opportunity to speak on this major tax increase vote. Councilors debated the $90 million tax increase for less than 30 minutes before voting on it. "It's sad," Minority Leader Phil Borst observed. "All 29 councilors should be allowed to speak on an important vote." Audience members shouted at council members as they filed out of the Public Assembly room, letting them know they wouldn't forget this vote come November.

Whether you agree or disagree with the council's decision tonight, you cannot help but wonder how our city-county council come to be ruled by such a pathetic and out-of-touch group of people. You could not have watched tonight's meeting and have any faith in the ability of this elected body to decide matters affecting our city-county government. We need a complete revolution in city government this November. Please don't let these councilors forget about their actions tonight. You must make sure you are registered to vote and turn out of office the councilors who have so disserved you for the past four years.

Another Lawmaker Cashes Out

Rep. Matt Whetstone (R) turned in his resignation as a member of the Indiana House of Representatives today so he could become a lobbyist for a major Indianapolis law firm, Krieg DeVault. Those of you who tune in "Indiana Week In Review" each week will be familiar with another lobbyist at this firm, Mike McDaniel, who serves as one of the shows regular panelists. You may recall that whenever the subject turned to the legislation which allowed slots at the horse race tracks, the show's host, Jim Shella, asked McDaniel to provide a disclaimer that he represented a client pushing the legislation. The firm has long represented the interests of Paul Estridge, a principal owner of Shelbyville horse race track, Indianapolis Downs.

As a lawmaker, Whetstone has been a proponent of gaming expansion in Indiana, and he voted for the legislation allowing the state's two horse race tracks to purchase a franchise to operate slot machines. By turning in his resignation this week, Whetstone will not only be able to immediately begin lobbying his former colleagues, he will also be entitled to receive the lifetime health insurance perk lawmakers did away with after a public outcry by tendering his resignation before July 31.

Whetstone becomes the second member of the Indiana House to resign this year alone to become a lobbyist. Former Rep Bob Kuzman (D) resigned last month to join the law firm of Ice Miller, which also lobbied the legislature for slots at the horse race tracks. While many other states have laws providing cooling-off periods for retiring legislators, Indiana has no such restriction. The State House hallways are full of former legislators lobbying their former seatmates.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Ballard Says Peterson Plan All Smoke And Mirrors

"Bart Peterson must take us for fools," said GOP mayoral candidate Greg Ballard in response to Mayor Peterson's proposal to increase local income taxes by 65%. He's also not impressed with Peterson's "johnny come lately" call for cuts in the city's budget. "Mayor Peterson's agreement to finally freeze hiring and cut budgets is a cynical attempt to divert public attention from his huge $127.5 million tax increase. It's just more smoke and mirrors. "

Ballard notes that, even with the $13 million in cuts Peterson is now promising to make, Peterson will still come out ahead with an additional $114.5 million to spend. "I have said repeatedly that now is not the time to raise taxes to increase spending," Ballard said. "The Mayor's ill-conceived tax hike would only add to our city's budget woes and makes solving our property tax crisis that much more difficult." "It's a disaster and it should be rejected," he said.

If you want to express your disapproval to the full council with the Mayor's latest proposed tax increase, please attend Monday night's city-county council meeting at the Public Assembly Room, which begins at 7:00 p.m. You should arrive early and attempt to speak to your councilor before he/she enters the room at the start of the meeting.

More On Councilors' Personal Stake In Tax Increase Vote

Abdul Hakim-Shabazz joins the chorus questioning whether members of the City-County Council who have a personal stake in the outcome of Mayor Peterson's proposed 65% income tax increase should be casting a vote at tomorrow night's meeting. He identified eight council members with a conflict of interest:

There are several members of the Council who would get a direct benefit from the tax increase. Democrats Monroe Gray, Vernon Brown, Sherron Franklin, Mary Moriarty Adams and Republicans Ike Randolph, Lance Langsford, Lincoln Plowman and Marilyn Pfisterer. All eight members of the Council should abstain from voting because they all have a conflict of interest.

Randolph, Plowman, Langsford and Franklin are either police officers or firefighters and they would get a 12-percent raise (over the next four years) if the tax were implemented because it is the funding source for their contract's salary increases. Moriarty Adams is married to a police officer so she would get a direct benefit. Pfisterer is married to a retired firefighter who gets a direct benefit in the form of a stable pension. And Gray and Brown are department chiefs, and although their salaries are not determined by the contract, they are in policy making positions in the department and should abstain from voting.

Abdul omits Dane Mahern (D), who will benefit indirectly as well as an employee of the City's Department of Administration. Abdul questioned Mayor Peterson this weekend about the members' conflict of interest. "I asked Mayor Bart Peterson yesterday whether public safety officials on the Council should abstain from voting, his reply was that since the ordinance doesn't specifically require revenue be spent on raises, there is no conflict," he writes. "With all due respect, that's a load of "you-know-what" because we all know what the money will be used for, otherwise there's no point in raising the tax." Actually, Mayor Peterson was just being honest. How many times has the council raised taxes in the past to benefit public safety and still come back time and time again asking taxpayers to fork over more to fund what was promised from the earlier tax increases?

On the subject of the tax increase slated for a vote tomorrow night, City-County Councilor Scott Keller continues to raise the ire of his fellow Republicans. He showed up at the Mayor's press conference Saturday to support the budget cuts Peterson belatedly has requested. The Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy writes today, "Democrats control the council 15-14, but some could waver on increasing taxes in an election year." "Scott Keller, a Republican council member, said he will support the measure." Keller is supporting the re-election of Peterson over the GOP's candidate, Greg Ballard, and he claims to have the support of Peterson for his own re-election. Democrats and Republicans alike have scoffed at Keller's claim of Peterson's support. Moreover, both Democrats and Republican wonder how Peterson could possibly aid Keller's re-election this year. If you study the Star's analysis of the areas hit hardest by this year's property tax reassessments, it includes a significant portion of Keller's district.

I was also reminded by a prominent Democrat that Keller ran four years ago with the support of an anti-tax group over his opponent, then-incumbent Karen Horseman, who he defeated by a handful of votes. To that group's disappointment, Keller has voted for every major tax increase proposal which has come before the council. Some of Keller's closest GOP supporters are distraught over the path he has chosen this election year, and they complain he has not been working the district like he did four years ago. He faces Democrat Brian Mahern, whose well-known name alone is worth at least 45% of the vote in this Democratic-leaning district without lifting a finger. Democrats are delighted Keller is voting for the Mayor's latest tax increase. It means at least one marginal Democrat will get a pass on the tax increase vote.

Trans Rights Town Hall Meeting

The Indiana Transgender Rights Advocacy Alliance (INTRAA) is hosting a town hall meeting Monday night on transgender rights. The meeting will be held at the Jesus MCC Church at 2950 E. 55th Street, Indianapolis at 7:00 p.m. I had a chance to sit down with one of the speakers at tomorrow night's town hall meeting, Mara Keisling, who is the Executive Director of National Center for Transgender Equality. She is here in Indiana to perform community outreach and support for INTRAA, which she described as one of the most active and successful transgender organizations in the country.

Before joining the National Center for Transgender Equality, Mara earned her living as a public opinion research consultant on public health matters. She is a graduate of Penn State and has a Master's degree from Harvard. Mara grew up as Mark in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Her mother is a retired government professional, and her father has been very active in Pennsylvania government and politics, having served as a chief of staff to former Gov. Robert Casey (D). Mara says she has known since she was 3 or 4 that she was female, although the male gender assigned to her at birth told her otherwise. "There hasn't been a day in my life when I haven't thought about it," she said. She officially ceased being Mark and became Mara in January, 2000 at the age of 40. The transition for her took about five years, although she notes the transition is never complete. Her parents and family have been very supportive of her decision.

Mara arrived in Indiana with a good sense of where things are headed here. The passage of Indy's HRO, which includes gender identity protection, was a major victory she notes. She observed that 55% of the American population is now covered by laws which protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and about 39% protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Although much of her organization's focus is in D.C., the real progress is being made at the state and local level. Four states this year have enacted non-discrimination laws on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity, including Colorado, Iowa and Oregon. Vermont amended its law to include gender identity protection this year.

She is hopeful that major legislative victories are coming on the national front as well. The Matthew Shepard Act has already passed the House, and she expects a vote in the Senate by this fall. Senate sponsors are amending the federal hate crimes initiative into the Defense Authorization Act in hopes of avoiding a presidential veto by Bush. She is also hopeful action will take place in both the Senate and the House on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) before year's end as well.

For what promises to be an interesting and lively discussion on transgender rights, please come out tomorrow night and hear what Mara and others in the community have to say.

Shots Fired At Black Expo

A woman fleeing police and firing a gun into the air set off a stampede that injured by-standers and at least one police officer during last night's Black Expo celebration in Downtown Indianapolis. The shooting took place at the same location where a shooting occurred at last year's event--Illinois and Maryland. WTHR reports:

Shots fired downtown and screams as by-standers run for cover.

The people fled after the sound of gunshots rang out just before 1:00 a-m in the area of Maryland and Illinois. A large crowd was still downtown because of the Black Expo events.

Police say a woman was attempting to get rid of a handgun, and when officers noticed, she took off running.

"As the officers approached, the person with the firearm fled from officers and while she was running from officers, started firing shots in the air," said Sgt Paul Thompson of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. "According to the police who tried to apprehend her, they thought she was trying to spread the crowd out to facilitate her escape but she ran right in the command center were she was tazed and taken into custody."

In all the commotion, the fleeing crowd ran down two by-standers and one officer was slightly injured. They were treated at the scene.

Abdul Hakim-Shabazz writes his own disappointing account of last night's activities in a post entitled "If MLK were alive, he would have shot himself." A friend of mine complained last night about being harrassed while trying to get into Circle Centre Mall to watch a movie at 7:00 p.m. Another person who works in the mall complained about people pounding on the hood of his car as he tried to exit a parking garage. This kind of stuff can't be allowed to continue. Organizers of this event need to work with the city to keep away the element that is otherwise marring a worthwhile event.

Indy's Poor Hit Hardest By Property Tax Increase

A combination of Star writers put together a front-page, eye-opening story in today's edition explaining how Indianapolis' unprecedented property tax increases hit the city's poor the hardest. They write:

Property owners in Marion County's poorest neighborhoods faced the largest percentage increases in assessed values and tax bills before a storm of public outrage compelled the governor last week to order a recalculation.

An analysis by The Indianapolis Star found that four of the five neighborhoods that would have been hardest hit are predominantly black, and the median household income in all five is well below the county median of $40,421.

The analysis also found:

• Three of the hardest-hit areas were in Washington Township, two in Center Township. Taxes on single-family homes in those areas jumped an average of 100
percent or more, compared with a countywide average of 23.6 percent.

• Only 13 percent of the county's neighborhoods have a median household income of less than $25,000, but 30 percent of the highest property tax increases and 40 percent of the highest assessment increases were in those neighborhoods.

• Seven of the 10 wealthiest neighborhoods had the lowest percentage increases.

Experts say there are many reasons for these findings, and some are doubtful whether the reassessment Gov. Mitch Daniels ordered last week will significantly lower tax bills if assessors use the same processes and data.

This revelation is absolutely stunning. Democrats have been in charge of the city for 8 years and now control every single county-wide office, except for the prosecutor's office. We are told the Democratic Party does more for the poor and minorities, but their own fiscal policies are putting at risk the city's most vulnerable residents. I guess it should really come as no surprise. Time and time again Mayor Peterson and his Democratic-controlled council have placed the interests of wealthy business owners over average residents.

Larry DoBoer offered three reasons why property taxes hit the poor the hardest: an Indianapolis Public Schools bond issue, which drove up bills; the elimination of the business inventory tax; and errors that showed business property values essentially frozen for several years while residential property values increased. "DeBoer said that poor people tend to live near commercial districts, so wiping out the business inventory tax had a greater impact on those areas." You can't blame Peterson and council Democrats for the IPS bond issue, but you can certainly blame them for failure to deal with the loss of the business inventory tax and ensuring propery was properly assessed. They control most township assessor offices and the county assessor's office. And they turned down a suggestion from the state that a COIT increase be implemented to offset the loss of the business inventory tax. I would note that the increase attributable to these causes, according to the Star's analysis, was the least in Franklin Township, one of the few townships still run by Republicans in Marion County. Democratic-run Center Township and Washington Township were hit the hardest.

At least one Democrat seems to understand what a big part of the problem is in Center Township. "[Marion Co. Auditor Billie Breaux said one factor that contributes to this is the higher number of tax abatements in Center Township, in which properties are assigned reduced taxes in exchange for contributing to economic development." "We paid so much attention to the fact that those in the richest areas had high increases that we failed to take a look at those whose bills, while not as high (in the dollar amount), but the percentage and the heartache was much greater," Breaux said. "And the ability to pay is much less."

It seems to me that Indianapolis' poor and minorities should be abandoning the Democratic Party in droves this year. The fiscal policies of the Democrats in control could not be more devastating on these folks. The Star story doesn't point this out, but many of these folks are living in rented homes. The landlords, who often have little invested in these low-income homes, simply walk away and abandon the homes if they can't pay the property taxes or the mortgage. Unsuspecting renters often continue paying their rent every month, only to get a notice from the sheriff ordering them out of their house. We're going to see a lot more homeless and abandoned homes in the near future if city and state leaders don't take quick action to address this problem.