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EDITORIAL: Partisan games plague council

August 17, 2009

The City-County Council wisely averted disaster for the Capital Improvement Board Aug. 10 by voting to raise the city’s hotel tax from 9 percent to 10 percent, but the razor-thin vote was another disappointing case of elected officials making decisions based on partisanship rather than good judgment.

Increasing the tax is expected to raise an extra $3.4 million a year for the cash-strapped CIB, which owns the city’s sports facilities and convention center. The vote also unlocked millions in state loans, plus another $8 million a year in sales taxes expected to be generated by the new J.W. Marriott hotel.

The entire pot of money was contingent on the council’s vote. And it was CIB’s last, best hope for digging itself out of a $47 million hole caused in part by the new, more-expensive-to-operate Lucas Oil Stadium. After months of partisan bickering, the Legislature offered up the higher hotel tax as CIB’s only path to short-term fiscal solvency. There was no backup plan—at least not a public one—if the tax-hike measure failed.

Yet only one Democrat on the council—Jackie Nytes—agreed to raise the tax. The others were presumably content with letting CIB sink deeper into crisis if it meant they could attach the dreaded “T” word to council Republicans.

It’s not hard to imagine the Democratic “no” votes becoming “yes” votes and the Republican votes changing as well if a Democrat occupied the mayor’s office. We’d have more confidence in elected officials if they could set aside their party labels when the stakes are so high.

Now, with the measure passed, the council can turn its attention to finding long-term solutions for CIB that spread the costs beyond the Marion County line. A higher hotel tax won’t be a big burden to Marion County residents, most of whom won’t ever have to pay it. But if the public has to shell out more money in the future to keep CIB solvent, that responsibility must be shared by everyone in the region.

The economic benefits of CIB’s facilities don’t stop at the county line and neither should their costs.

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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