Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How I Could Support a Tax Increase

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.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Farewell to Dan

Dan Carpenter, the long time liberal columnist for The Indianapolis Star, is set to retire soon. With the recent semi-retirement of Mary Beth Schneider, The Star and the Indianapolis community as a whole has lost a lot of institutional knowledge and their contributions will be missed.

When I ran for council in 2011, Dan was one of the three who sat in on the panel when I came in for an interview. Before it started, I ran into Dan in the hallway. We had a very healthy conversation about our concerns with the state of our city. And while I was running as a Libertarian and Dan is a liberal (I don't know if I've ever actually heard Dan refer to himself as a Democrat), I felt that we had a lot of common ground. I also commented that I had been reading his columns since high school, and he responded with a smile and a self-depreciating joke about his age.

There aren't too many strong, liberal voices in Indiana, and Dan leaves some big shoes to fill.

Best of luck to him and his family in his retirement.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

What Was Brian Mahern Thinking?

To be clear, this is complete speculation on my part and I have not talked to anyone about Councilor Brian Mahern's poor attempt at ousting Council President Maggie Lewis outside of conversing on social media. However, this speculation is based on knowing both the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council as a body, and a number of the council members, fairly well.

For those not in the know, Mahern (D-District 16) tried to bring a motion to the floor of Monday's full council meeting. That motion was to make an agenda item on next month's meeting to oust Lewis (D-District 7) as President of the Council and, presumably, vote for a new President. The motion failed, with the Democratic caucus (minus Mahern) being joined by four Republicans to keep Lewis as President.

In the first year of the Democrats taking the majority on the Council, Mahern served as Vice President. With that role, he also became the chief critic of Mayor Greg Ballard (R). Meanwhile, the President slot went to Lewis. There was a very real divide between Democrats who felt they had been shut out of city government for the past four years and wanted their voice heard*, and Democrats who wanted to go along to get along while making changes here and there. Lewis was that compromise pick, in that she was seen as being able to work with the 25th floor and be able to bridge the divide with the more independent minded Democrats.

*There's also just blind partisans within this part that just wouldn't like any Republican at all, period. And to be fair, there's more than a few Republicans who fit this description as well who'd stand against any D on the 25th floor regardless of their policies. As they say, the Village Idiot needs his representation too.

As with many legislative bodies, a lot of the bickering and the power brokering and whatnot is done behind closed doors within caucus meetings. My guess is that, at some point in the recent past, Mahern and the more rogue Democrats on the council had a beef with Lewis and the more establishment Democrats. I wouldn't even be surprised if there was a conversation on getting a new Council President. But Mahern seemed to think that these behind-closed-doors chats with other caucus members would translate to some support in his public motion.

And that fell flat.

While many seem to think this has hurt Mahern's brand (and it probably has, it'll be a tough slating or primary for him should he choose to run for anything), I think it is important to recognize that there is a very real division within the Democratic caucus. This was a poorly thought out plan that seemed to be a rash act from Mahern. But what should trouble some is what if there was a more organized plot? Could that hurt Lewis and her brand and any higher political ambitions she may have?

With budget season officially under way, this could get interesting.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Scary Electoral Math for 2016 GOP Candidates

Over at the Red State blog, a series of diary entries from Myra Adams has been raising the questions that Republicans interested in winning back the White House really need to be asking. Adams writes about the several (16 that she finds) institutional advantages a Hillary Clinton run for the White House over any other candidate, as well as the steep electoral college challenge any Republican candidate will face against any Democratic candidate.

I think the one aspect Adams didn't hit on is the concept of the "Obama coalition". President Obama's electoral success isn't something unique in what types of voters voted for him (the only notable demographic that voted for him that traditionally went Republican are Asian Americans), but the real success of the Obama coalition was driving the turnout as much as possible. So the question isn't so much if these voters are Obama voters, but if these Obama voters can be relied on to vote for other Democratic candidates for President.

During the 2012 election, Karl Rove summarized what the Romney campaign needed to do to win the election: He needed to win all three major swing states (Ohio, Virginia, Florida), win back the two red states that Obama won in 2008 (Indiana, North Carolina), and pick up one of about a dozen smaller swing states. If any of the first two didn't happen, the Romney campaign would have to pick up several of the smaller swing states to catch up on the electoral map.

As we know, that didn't work out. Not only did the Romney campaign not win, but they didn't win a single one of the big three swing states. And even if they swept all three swing states, they still would've been four electoral votes short.

And while some may be quick to point out that many blue states have Republicans in elected offices from a state wide election, many of those were won in midterm 2010 elections, which not only had a different voting electorate but was very much a GOP wave election. The GOP can't rely on that happening during a Presidential campaign.

A lot can happen between now and November, 2016. But if I was at the RNC right now, I'd be hoping that the Obama coalition leaves with Obama, and crossing my fingers that Generic Boring White Guy gets the Democratic nod rather than Hillary Clinton or Vice President Joe Biden.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Indiana's Ridiculous Blue Laws

Earlier this week, I did some grocery shopping at a nearby Kroger. Among my items was a six pack of one of my favorite local beers. I finish my shopping, get in a check out line, and things seem to be going fine so far. Finally, it is my turn, and the cashier spots my beer. She seems to be frozen with fear (!!) as if something horrible has happened. She signals to her manager and explains to me that, since she is under age, she can't scan the beer herself. And then we sit and wait.

I ask if she can at least scan everything else until then, and she starts to until her manager steps over.

And her manager, with her magical manager powers of being some state-ordained age to sell me a package of room temperature beer, scans the item.

Didn't even have to be on a separate transaction.

So the under age cashier can scan everything except the beer, collect payment for everything including the beer, she can even touch the beer by putting it into a bag or loading it into my cart, she just can't scan it across the bar code reader.

Y'know, even when I disagree with one of the ridiculous blue laws within the Indiana Code, I can at least find the logical justification. Cold beer is an exclusive to liquor stores due to lobbyists. Keeping liquor stores so many feet away from places such as school is to keep criminal activity away.

But what's the possible justification of this one, where a cashier can't scan but can collect payment for beer, liquor, and wine?

Monday, August 5, 2013

State Fair Vendor Selling Confederate Flags

I spotted Leon Leather Co, a long time vendor at the Indiana State Fair, selling Confederate flags and other merchandise that had the Stars and Bars featured on products, such as door mats. 

While I'm a long time fan of the Indiana State Fair, I've never really ventured into the retail vendors that are selling clothing and hot tubs. Why would I go to the fair for that when I can get that stuff year around? 

So maybe this vendor has been at the fair for years, probably selling these types of products (and to be fair, a ton of other stuff) for years. And I suppose nobody has complained about it either. That's what Andy Klotz, PR Director for the Fair, tells me.

I don't know if this is because nobody has noticed it. Or it is because people don't recognize Confederate flags as a symbol of racism. Even if you genuinely believe that the Confederacy revolted against the North for truly non-racist, non-slavery reasons**, you can't deny that the Confederate Flag has been paraded around by racists as a symbol of racism. On the same day that the South Carolina legislature hoisted the Confederate Flag up, it was in the middle of the Civil War centennial and the Civil Rights movement was well underway. While the Confederate Flag flying over South Carolina's state legislature didn't cause any controvery itself, it is a symbol of all that was wrong with our country at the time. A simple Google search shows widespread use of Confederate symbols among white supremacy organizations and white power media.

This doesn't sit right with me, and I certainly don't believe it belongs at our state fair.

**I say believe because there's no way someone could make that into a factual argument. Slavery was most certainly THE biggest contributing factor to the American Civil War. There is no arguing otherwise.