If my essay's topic involves Democrats, one might expect to read some criticism. In this case, such an assumption is half right. I do plan to offer some criticism to my Democratic friends on the Indianapolis City-County Council, but think of it as constructive criticism.
On Monday, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard presented his budget. By now, you probably know the city had a $65 million shortfall and has outlined a number of steps to close that gap, including cuts in public safety and the elimination of the county homestead property tax credit.
When Council Democrats had their news conference shortly after the Mayor's they walked a line between welcoming the Mayor's budget and being skeptical of what's in the details. They were not overtly partisan to their credit, however they did seem a tad bit upset over not getting an advanced copy, even though their chief fiscal officer did attend the budget briefing for the media, and I assume got a copy of the same power points as the rest of us.
While no one likes to stare down the barrel of a $65 million budget shortfall, this is the chance for Council Democrats to prove that they can be partners with the Mayor and govern this city like fiscally responsible grownups, because their past record hasn't been all that great. They have been holding up economic development with TIF districts costing thousands of jobs. They wanted to spend money on redistricting which was already done and personnel changes in their own staff put them over budget. However, there is always an opportunity for redemption.
They can redeem themselves by explaining how they plan to live up to Monroe Gray's pledge that the City-County budget not result in any job losses or interruptions of service for taxpayers. They can fully explain how they plan to, as Council Vice-President Brian Mahern brought up, address the revenue question. City income tax revenues dropped $40 million last year. Are they talking about an increase in the local option income tax? A small increase could yield millions of dollars and close the budget hole tomorrow. When public safety guru Mary Moriarty Adams says the Sheriff's office is underfunded because he requested $122 million and the Mayor only gave him $108 million, where does she plan to get that $14 million? Where will funds be shifted from?
City-Council President Maggie Lewis says the Council is committed to passing a balanced budget by the October deadline. She says she wants to have a conversation with taxpayers and that there should be more transparency. I for one am looking forward to that conversation.
Hopefully my Democratic friends will offer better suggestions than they have in the past such as taking out $100 million in loans to pay for operating expenses for which the city is still paying about $9 million annually; money that could be going to shore up other city programs.
Like I said, this is an opportunity for a group that has not had the best fiscal management record to step up and show they can govern. I really do want them to succeed. This city has some big challenges and if they don't like the Mayor's plan, then they have an obligation to offer up their own. And if they are successful, not only does Indy stay on track, but they get the added bonus of shutting me up. Now that alone is worth $65 million.