Tuesday, July 30, 2013

#IndyCouncil Shows Restraint

For those who don't closely follow the legislative process of Indianapolis-Marion County's legislative body, what typically happens is that each party meets in caucus prior to the meeting. They go down the agenda for that night and count the votes on the proposals and other measures that are expected to be close so that the outcome is almost always known before the meeting even starts. The leadership of each caucus knows how their caucus will vote, and if there are any defections. It gives them additional time to whip them into shape or confer with the opposing caucus to see if the other sides' defections counter their own.

If that happened last night before the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council met, it didn't show. Last night had several close votes on proposals and motions that showed democracy in action rather than pre-planned vote counting. 

One of the major votes last night was phasing out the county homestead tax credit. The county credit uses a portion of the County Optional Income Tax to lessen the burden of property taxes. Without this credit, property taxes would go up for some home owners, though the amount varies depending on a variety of factors. 

All 16 Democrats as well as Republican Councillors Aaron Freeman, Robert Lutz, and Christine Scales voted to keep the homestead tax credit in place. 

Mayor Greg Ballard put out this statement on the homestead tax credit being kept in place:

City-County Council leaders tonight failed to back up their rhetoric about providing more funding to our police and fire departments. I introduced this proposal a year ago. An independent, bi-partisan study commission recommended this step which would have cost only a percentage of homeowners less than a dollar per month and generated more than eight million dollars to support public safety in our city.
On that note, I would caution Councillor Lutz. He has quickly become one of the most likely Republicans to defect and side with the Democrats on some of the most controversial measures faced by the council, and has been at odds with the Ballard administration several times over the last two years. He might be shut out by the administration and his fellow Republican Councillors for daring to side against the powers-that-be. That said, I applaud his integrity and his willingness to stand up for his constituents.

The full council also considered an Economic Improvement District for the Fountain Square area. If passed, it would be Marion County's first EID. It would put an additional tax on business owners and non-profits on top of any property taxes paid, which would then be funneled into a fund for neighborhood improvements. An EID requires 50% support of property owners within the district. And, over the last few days, several initial backers of the EID have withdrawn their support. Original co-sponsor of the EID, Councillor Brian Mahern (D), also withdrew his support.

Councillor Jeff Miller (R) tried to move to send the proposal back to committee, but without success. Councillors Mahern and Angela Mansfield (D) pushed for a vote on the proposal that night, and the council voted 22-7 to "strike" it. According to the Indianapolis Star's Jon Murray, a strike essentially kills the proposal. 

Finally, a graffiti ordinance was sent back to committee. Some property and business owners have expressed concerns with some council members that the proposal, in its current form, could end up punishing property and business owners who operate in areas where graffiti is rampant. Proponents of the ordinance say that attentive business owners aren't the targets and that they'll be able to take advantage of an abatement established by the proposal. Proponents say the target will be negligent property owners who let their properties become a hot spot for graffiti.

In recent days, Councillor Zach Adamson (D) has said he'll be introducing amendments to the proposal based on feedback he's received from business owners, including the east side Cajun eatery, Papa Roux. Media reports don't indicate that any amendments were introduced last night (and they typically aren't during full council meetings), and presumably those amendments will be introduced and vetted in committee. 

I'd like to thank Council President Maggie Lewis and the other council leaders for allowing the democratic process to take its course. It isn't always pretty, or incredibly organized, and it doesn't often result in quick, easily wrapped up council meetings. But the council showed wisdom in exercising restraint last night. Hopefully, that wisdom will result in better public policy.

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