Home > Political Animal > Sham and shame

Sham and shame

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader

2013-05-02


What started as a prudent initiative by City Controller Pat Roller has gone badly off track.

Facing a growing budget deficit that threatened basic city services, the controller recommended — and the mayor created — the Fiscal Policy Group. The Mayor sold the FPG as a wise group of impartial elders who would examine city income and expenses in order to restore balance to the city’s finances. Instead, the FRG comprised representatives of special interest groups whose goal is to shift taxes from them to you.

Now, a bit of history: a large part of the current budget gap was caused by the dogmatic ineptitude of your own city council. Last year, they proudly took some $6 million in your city tax revenues and boastfully spread it around to all other county taxing bodies; $6 million that should have gone to street repairs or other needs. Meanwhile, the Mayor with some help from council, drained city reserves that were supposed to pay for emergencies and mistakes, and instead put that money to suburban schools, the county, Harlan, New Haven and others.

But, it gets worse: What government taketh away (from you) government giveth (to their allies). Council continues to hand out tax abatements with little idea whether they work.

Abatements essentially fatten the bottom lines for some businesses and insure jobs for hustlers in the growing economic development industry. In turn, these buddies help the Mayor and some on council get re-elected by pointing to the “jobs” they all created. Win-win-win.

Sadly, the administration cannot show that the first job has been created for the millions in abatements to businesses unless you count those jobs created at the Alliance, the Partnership and among their camp-followers.

Q: Wonder why crime is on the rise? A: (1) The police department is understaffed, and (2) the reported (not the actual) unemployment rate is chronically high.

Q: Did you know our Board of Works laments we are some $70 million behind on street repairs, and falling another $10 million behind each year?

Q: Wonder why there are so many patches on streets? A: Our deteriorating water system leaks nearly 25% of the city water into the soil before it ever reaches a tap.

Q: Why? A: Council would rather play the political game of cutting taxes, rather than make prudent repairs. When millions leak away you pay higher rates, but they claim credit for keeping your taxes low!

So, with the city in troubled fiscal waters, caused mostly by council’s “no-new-taxes-ever” mentality, and mismanagement by the administration leadership (remember the elevators in Citizens Square?) the Mayor’s FPG was created. It was promised as a pro-active step to sort out our troubles and then propose taxation or spending solutions before something really dire occurred.

But, Mayor Henry stocked the FPG with people who helped create the problem, those economic development insiders who think transferring wealth from you to business will “raise all ships.” They espouse trickle-down economics, meaning those at the top get a filling drink at wealth while you have to wait for a few dollars to trickle down.

Participant John Ketzenberger is an example. His "independent" consulting firm, Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, is led by I&M, NIPSCO, big law firms, and other public companies. He is in essence a lobbyist for very big business and its shareholders.

Bill Sheldrake of Policy Analytics is another FPG member. His stoutly conservative approach to taxation intends to constrict government. His recommendations could easily have been predicted.

Additionally, on the task force were representatives of the Chamber of Commerce, a banker, a former Lincoln National CEO, and two staunchly pro-business Republican councilmen. Other members were avowedly pro-business Deputy Mayor Mark Becker and IPFW’s John Stafford who has been in and out of the Chamber and government for 30 years. Meanwhile, you were represented on that closed-door task force by exactly no one.

Deputy Mayor Becker chirped at Council table last year that everything the administration does is intended to show Fort Wayne is business-friendly. Sadly, too often that means lower wages, longer hours, less safety, at-will employment, no collective bargaining, and no retirement. It means aligning American employee compensation with Chinese wages.

So, as the saying goes, to a man with a hammer every problem is a nail; stocking the task force with nothing but business leaders carrying fiscal hammers is to predict the outcome.

So, it is not a question of whether, but which new taxes they will levy on you.

Additionally, council and the administration targeted their traditional whipping-boy – city employees. These are the same workers the administration and council have so often praised for “doing more with less.” Over the past few years, the administration has frequently boasted that their workers saved the city millions with efficiencies and creativity. The administration now plans to reward city workers by taking away all their accumulated sick days, not to mention changing insurance provisions and work rules. City workers understandably feel betrayed. As a result many experienced employees will simply cash out, retire or move on. Brain drain.

So, now the Henry Administration holds public meetings for your input. They are a charade. The public was not involved in the discussions where the menu of tax changes were all but decided. Doors were closed. This is their game; they make up the rules as the go…in private, then give you, the little guy (or gal) the bill.

Only a very few citizens will bother to testify at these public hearings because the process has been 1) confusing, 2) closed and 3) biased from the start.

The hearings are window dressing. Most of you will pay more taxes and businesses will get bigger tax breaks. Open your wallets and watch as more of your paycheck goes to our economic development industry that is yet, after a decade of work, to show that first job.

Pat Roller, the City Controller, sincerely sought to confront the growing problem, but the mayor’s FPG will only further broaden the gulf between the local elite and the rest of us. After all, owners of construction companies, asphalt companies, design firms, hospitals and the like contribute to political campaigns; for politicians re-election is everything.

Theoretically, our system of government is supposed to balance the scales on behalf of the little person. Tom Henry, supposedly a Democrat, supposedly the party of the people, seems to have forgotten that principle. After all, for politicians getting re-elected is everything.

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