Opinion and Forefront

MAHERN: Ballard turning competition on its head

December 15, 2012

Louis MahernWhile the Republican brand in some quarters may be a bit tarnished these days, there is no doubting what it represents—the idea that we should have smaller government at all levels, and that government should stay out of our personal lives at least so far as taxation and guns are concerned.

Among the subsets of smaller government are the assertions that government should not pick winners and should encourage the private sector; it is free-market competition that should decide winners and losers. And finally, this competition drives up quality and drives down prices.

All of which makes the Ballard administration all the more interesting for its rejection of free markets, competition and lower prices.

Two parking projects, both involving the private sector, have seen serious and substantial intervention by the city.

The first is a garage under construction at College Avenue and Westfield Boulevard. This structure has been funded with an administration gift of $6.2 million to the private developer. The city claims the total cost will be $12 million to $15 million, with its contribution constituting somewhere between 40 percent and 50 percent of that.

The garage will be in a proposed tax-increment financing district. This means any property taxes collected on the structure will go into the mayor’s economic development slush fund and not for public safety, education, libraries or parks. So much for the idea that a TIF designation is for areas where development would not have taken place “but for” the designation.

The Broad Ripple garage will be quite far along to completion before the City-County Council gets around to approving the TIF designation.

When asked about this, apologists for the project merely say, “The district won’t work financially without including the garage in the TIF district.”

The project’s developer and consulting engineers contributed more than $150,000 to Ballard’s re-election.

The second parking project is a “park and ride” near the airport to be constructed on private property without a cent of subsidy and not in a TIF district. The $15 million surface project will have 3,000 covered spaces and will pay $300,000 to $400,000 a year in property taxes that will go to support public safety, education, libraries and parks.

The current provider of off-site parking, Indy Park Ride & Fly, is in Hendricks County and pays no property taxes to Marion County. Attorneys for Indy Park Ride & Fly have left nothing to chance in opposing any competition.

The Ballard administration, acting through its airport authority and joined by Indy Park Ride & Fly, at every turn has sought to stop this new competition. At each step along the way toward a minor administrative approval, the city has opposed its own Department of Metropolitan Development as well as the Metropolitan Development Commission.

The city and airport have appealed to the courts, where they lost at the trial level and waited until the last possible day to file with the Court of Appeals, tying up the project another several months.

Indy Park Ride & Fly and the city have become apoplectic over the possibility that this proposed tax-paying, private-sector parking operation might cut into their monopoly-pricing scheme.

When, not if, the new parking project is functioning, we can expect not only significantly lower prices at both off-site facilities but substantially better service, as well. No thanks to Ballard.•

• Mahern has been an assistant to U.S. Rep. Andy Jacobs and U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh and served in the Indiana Senate. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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