Letter to the Editor (as submitted to the Indy Star)
This week, in a move supported by Mayor Greg Ballard, the Indiana Senate Tax & Fiscal Policy Committee added language to the “Indy Connect” transit bill that may surprise you. The amendment authorizes the State of Indiana to issue bonds that cost nearly $200 million on behalf of Indianapolis – without the oversight and approval of the Indianapolis City/County Council, the elected fiscal body of our city.
Our City – not the State – would be required, to repay the new debt. In effect, this new loan would be a “pre-paid” credit card for the Mayor to spend however he chooses, without consensus or even input from the Council or anyone else.
Mayor Ballard has says he will use this loan to further his plan for “Rebuild Indy 2.0,” which would be spent on infrastructure. However, unlike the first “Rebuild Indy” spending, funded by the sale of the water utility, there is nothing being sold to pay for version 2.0; this is solely a 25-year near $200 million loan spent over the next three years. We agree that our City needs to better invest in our infrastructure. We must do it in a way we can afford and that provides a generational return on our investment.
It was just last month that the credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded our City’s credit rating. Why was it downgraded? It was driven largely by the city’s amount of existing debt and concerns about the Mayor’s financial management practices. Instead of taking action to address these issues, Mayor Ballard requested a new credit card from the General Assembly.
We have already seen the results when the Mayor chooses to act unilaterally; Mayor Ballard spent $6 million of Rebuild Indy funds on his Cricket stadium last year. We have to listen to the people of the city before we allow the Mayor to spend nearly $200 million that our children will have to repay. That is why we have a City/County Council – to represent the people of Indianapolis so that public money – especially new public debt – is spent responsibly and according to the people’s priorities. Indianapolis faces a tight budget as we continue to recover from a sluggish economy, high violent crime and a weakened tax base. Mayor Ballard needs to make his case for running up a near $200 million bill publicly to the City/County Council and the people of this city.
It’s time to put away the credit card and stop impulse purchases. It’s time to develop a thoughtful and sustainable plan for neighborhood improvements, funded responsibly, that benefits our entire city. As always, we stand ready for honest, bipartisan, compromise-oriented discussions.
Maggie A. Lewis, City/County Council President
John Barth, City/County Council Vice President