Commentary: Andrew Steele: It’s all about Indy
By Andrew Steele firstname.lastname@example.org May 14, 2013 11:40AM
Updated: July 15, 2013 9:40PM
Governor Mike Pence, apparently reluctantly, signed a bill last week reforming Marion County — and therefore Indianapolis — government in a way that gives the mayor firmer control over the budget and finances but also eliminates four at-large seats on the City-County Council.
Those seats are all held by Democrats, so it’s been labelled a power-grab on behalf of Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican.
Despite the fact that there are some arguments against at-large legislative positions, it’s difficult to avoid the power-grab conclusion, and Pence seems to agree, calling it “regrettable” that the council seats are being eliminated.
He argues that the bill’s other reforms made it worth signing. That’s the convenient way out of a tough political situation, but he should be credited for acknowledging the elimination of council seats were tagged onto the bill for political reasons.
Those other reforms and their justifications are more interesting. Essentially, the mayor and his appointed controller will be able to cut budgets in order to bring them into line with revenue expectations, if the council has approved a spending plan in excess of revenue.
In the past there has been some creative financing to plug gaps and push problems down the road. The “Unigov” system of combined city and county government has added complexity, and therefore opportunity, to be creative, and some other opportunities in that regard are eliminated by the bill.
It’s a decision that the legislative branch isn’t willing or competent to manage its affairs in a way the state government considers appropriate. So, decision-making authority is being transferred to the executive.
The state’s justification rests on the idea that it created Unigov and has the authority and responsibility to revise it as needed. But, the state has the authority to revise the structure of local government generally. This isn’t like the U.S. Congress overseeing the District of Columbia.
Or is it? Ultimately the governor’s justification is the clearest statement yet that Indianapolis (and Marion County) occupy a privileged position in the state:
“It is important to remember that Indianapolis is our capital city and, as such, our state government has an obligation to ensure that it is fiscally strong and capable of operating like a world-class city. After 44 years without significant reform (of Unigov), it is certainly worthwhile for out state legislature to revisit that governance structure to ensure that the interests of Hoosiers who live in our capital city are being well-served.
“But this isn’t just about Indy. The economic vitality of our state depends to a great degree on how successfully our capital city serves as a center of commerce and entertainment and attracts visitors and businesses to Indiana. Our state government has an obligation to ensure that we continue to recruit and maintain top employers, attract more world-class events such as the Super Bowl and retain our outstanding professional sports franchises like the Pacers, the Colts, the Fever, the Ice and the Indians.”
“This” isn’t about Indy — everything’s about Indy!
To a large extent, the way local government is structured in Indianapolis is not a significant concern in Lake County. But, in way, it’s refreshing to see someone make explicit the long-apparent position that Marion County is worthy of special consideration, while counties like Lake are left with ham-handed interventions like the levy freeze or this year’s Calumet Township “fix.”
Likewise the idea, presented as self-evidently true, that the entire state is dependent on a thriving economy in Indianapolis, when a good 10 percent are actually in other metropolitan economies, including Northwest Indiana’s.