Political circles have been abuzz about tax increases for Indianapolis and Marion County. Some of these are specific proposals, while one is just a vague notions that have yet to really be supported by elected officials.
The Indianapolis Star has an excellent rundown on the two specific property tax increases Mayor Greg Ballard is pitching in his proposed budget, set to be unveiled at Monday's City-County Council meeting. Several days ago, Acting Mayor Ryan Vaughn told the Indianapolis Business Journal that an income tax increase is on the table as well in terms of balancing the budget.
I am actually not ideologically opposed to tax increases. I do believe that we can't run a world-class city on the cheap. But the question isn't how we get money to fund everything the city and county needs, but rather, what should we spend the money on.
For me to support a tax increase, I need to see that those who represent us in our government have done everything in their power to solve the budget shortfalls on their own. I want to see the pain that everyone is feeling, and not just see a bunch of hourly and low salaried workers from the City-County Building getting their hours cut. Because, in the past, that's exactly how budget cuts have been handled in this city. Defenders of the status quo and the powers-that-be may claim that these actions are insignificant, or that individually, they only represent a small part of a million here or a few thousand there. But if you add up all of these few millions and few thousands, it turns into a big pile of money that isn't being used in the best of ways.
Pet Projects Need To Stop
What is a pet project? A cricket stadium is a pet project. Increased arts funding from the general city budget is a pet project. This isn't to say that these projects are necessarily inherently bad or that a city has no place in doing them. But if we're going to be raising taxes to fund basic city services, to keep them at their (in some cases, barely) functioning levels, then we shouldn't be pissing money away on pet projects. If we are in an actual fiscal crisis, we need to prioritize, stop the pet projects that are being proposed, and draw back on the ones in progress. These can wait until we're on more stable fiscal ground.
Come Down Hard On Raises
This is one of the more symbolic gestures, but it needs to be done because there is a serious disconnect between the politically connected appointments made by the 25th floor and the rank-and-file workers within city departments and county agencies. In 2012, Mayor Ballard's office doled out raises to much of the staff there well outside of a cost of living increase. At the same time, county agencies and city departments are being told to hold the line on spending and cut when you can. And while legally, the fiscal body of the city-county government doesn't have to be notified, the City-County Council can still make it an issue.
Public Safety Needs To Feel Some Pain
There needs to be a thorough review of the Department of Public Safety and everything that falls within its purview. The actual office of DPS seems to have expanded greatly in the last few years, but why? And is that expansion necessary?
The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department needs to start collecting that fuel surcharge for off-duty use, and tack a little bit more onto it for those that live outside of Marion County. In fact, all take-home car users need to live under this same rule.
The Marion County Sheriff's Department has some very expensive jobs in terms of managing the county's jails. That is not a cheap or easy task. And while some political opponents of the current Sheriff want to gut the department, I'd like to see a more conservative approach that recognizes the important functions of the department but still sees that there is money that can be saved. Deputies who are more likely to be needed at a moment's notice should get their take-home cars and be treated just like any other take-home car within the city or county. But deputies who are working in more stable environments, such as securing the City County Building, can probably leave their cars at the office when their shift is over. Some of the consulting fees from the former Sheriffs that the department employs also needs to be examined, but that review should be a part of a comprehensive review of consulting in all city departments and county agencies.
Open and Competitive Bidding
Our city is in dire need of some reality checks on how much stuff actually costs. A parking garage similar in size that other government divisions and cities had spent $7 million on, we spent $15 million on. That example is repeated time and time again with the current set of power brokers in this city, from contracts for developers, privatization efforts, and public-private partnerships, where our officials agree to almost anything and seemingly get no outside advice on if the city is getting a raw deal or not.
So this is how I could support a broad base tax increase for the city's general fund. And hey, I won't even charge a consulting fee for this advice.