MORRIS: Indianapolis' problems belong to all of us

Greg Morris
July 12, 2014
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MorrisThe hot topic of late, unfortunately, is that the city of Indianapolis appears to be under siege. There’s a war in some of our streets, and public safety officials need help battling a bold criminal element. The community is grieving for another fallen police officer, 22-year IMPD veteran Perry Renn. Officer Renn was just doing his job when he lost his life to more senseless violence.

A lot of opinions have been expressed in the media of late as to what needs to be done to curb the violence. Some of the ideas would take decades to pay off. But, there are some shorter-term strategies I can endorse that will show more immediate results. First, I fall on the side of those who suggest much stiffer penalties are needed for crimes committed with a firearm. I don’t know what the correct number of years of prison time should be, but the penalties should be much more severe than they are now.

Most of the shootings so far this year involved people with serious criminal records. These people need to learn that, if they use a gun in a crime, they might not see the light of day again. Also, citizens need to be confident that violent felons aren’t returned to the streets via an early release.

Also, you’ve got to go after the illegal guns on the street and the people who provide them to anyone with a criminal record. As I endorse this strategy, I’ll point out that you won’t find a more passionate pro-gun advocate than I am.

And I do think we need more police officers on the street. But that costs money. Where’s the funding going to come from? Possibly a portion could come from a small tax increase for Marion County residents. But I don’t believe that’s the only place we need to look. What about finding more money from people who live outside the county, but work here? I fall into that category.

I’m able to reap all the benefits afforded to me from working in the great city of Indianapolis and yet, currently, my personal tax contributions don’t touch the costs of services and amenities I use. That’s the way our current tax structure is set up. Your local/county taxes stay in the county you live in, and they don’t go to the county you work in. The 205,000 or so of us who work in Marion County but live outside the county aren’t contributing our fair share to help Indianapolis continue to keep up with its infrastructure and public safety needs.

Now, I’m not advocating a huge tax increase. But the local/state tax dollars I’m already paying are not distributed equitably. Some of that money could be used to help adequately fund public safety and infrastructure needs in Indianapolis.

It’s very complicated, and the devil is in the details, but I am advocating for a major overhaul of how we look at regional distribution of state and local tax dollars we’re already paying. Don’t we have a multibillion-dollar state surplus right now?

The Indianapolis Chamber has advocated for a small commuter tax for those of us who live in the suburbs and work in Indianapolis. That could be a small part of the tax overhaul needed. The bottom line is, I’m willing to pay more to help keep our city strong, growing and well-protected. I’m willing to pay more for better public safety resources, better infrastructure and modern mass transit.

If Indianapolis isn’t financially healthy and strong and considered a safe place to live and work, you can’t run and hide in the suburbs and think everything will be fine. We’re a regional economy and we need regional revenue strategies to address pressing needs. As Indianapolis goes, so goes Carmel, Fishers, Zionsville, Avon, Brownsburg, Greenwood, and so on.

Now, I know many of my Republican friends, along with all the anti-tax bloggers, aren’t going to like any kind of tax increase. You’ll point out that 92 percent of the total city budget is already dedicated to public safety and that, if there isn’t enough money, we need to find more cuts. Also, I do understand we’re already paying extra food and beverage taxes to enjoy amenities like Lucas Oil Stadium.

I admit I don’t have all the answers. But I do know we’re fighting a war in some of our streets. It takes money to fight a war. Whatever the correct strategies are deemed to be, we need to work together to find the funding needed to beef up public safety and put more police officers on Indianapolis streets.•


Morris is publisher of IBJ. His column appears every other week. To comment on this column, send e-mail to gmorris@ibj.com.


  • city doesn't provide me my job
    Sorry Troy. I don't work for the City. My employer happens to be located in the City. Employers are free to locate where they choose and also free to relocate to where they are wanted. I think this tax if it comes to be will cause some smaller businesses to move out of Marion County because the owners will find themselves subject to the tax. They will realize they could move across the county line and not have to pay it with really no consequence to their business. If you don't think the donuts will make much money on a commuter tax, you need to look at all of the roads out of Indy in the morning. it's not a 1 to 1 ratio, but there are a lot of people who commute out of the county to jobs in the burbs.
  • @dingo
    1.Asking people to buy into the city that provides their job is not a bailout. 2.Indianapolis is the largest American city led by a Republican. So, please blame Republican policies for any "mismanagement." 3.I highly doubt a commuter tax would bring very much revenue to the donut counties. Very few people who live with me on W38th can even find reliable enough transportation to get them out of the county, let alone work out of the county daily.
    • not 100% true
      The City Council tried to make the CIB pay the city a portion of their revenues and the Mayor did an end around on it. http://indianapropertytaxreporter.blogspot.com/2012/10/city-county-council-approves-15-million.html The CIB was bailed out a number of years ago by the state approving higher hotel and car rental taxes. Now they are spinning off cash. It seems fair that those funds go to pay for services in the city. BTW, how is the Mayor and the Chamber going to defend a tax increase on residents who live in Marion county by commute out to a neighboring county who now see this as a chance to get additional revenue. because you know if you are one of those dreaded Carmelites you are going to be asking the city/county to impose a tax back on commuters coming in to the community. Be careful what you ask for. Fact of the matter is Indianapolis has mismanaged their funds and asking non-residents to bail them out isn't going to fly.
      • Over paid
        The problem in Indy is the ridiculous salaries the city pays to employees. These salaries are way more than similar private wages. http://www.indystar.com/story/money/2013/10/23/public-employee-salary-database/3171481/
      • @Dingo
        None of the money from the restaurant tax goes to Marion County services just to the sports venues and convention center. I assure you that those living in the donut counties are using those venues much more often than those living in the city. A commuter tax makes sense. All of the higher wage earners at the companies in the county move out of the county while still retaining the privilege to work in the county. If they have a problem with the commuter tax and move the businesses out of the city, guess what, they'll need to provide low-income housing nearby so their workers can get to work. Then we'll see how much Carmelites benefit from having their jobs in the city and homes in the suburbs.
        • forgot the pacers
          The $16m/yr to the Pacers could have paid for a lot of cops as well. Explain to me again why commuters need to pay for the mismanagement of leadership that commuters have no stake in electing!!! http://www.ibj.com/cib-oks-pacers-subsidy-after-promise-of-no-additional-taxes/PARAMS/article/47160
          • Local Income Tax 100% to County of Residence
            George, Ed, and Dan - I can assure you that Marion Co keeps $0 of income tax revenue paid from folks that work here but live in the donut counties. Likewise, if a Marion Co resident works in Hamilton Co...Hamilton Co get none of that income tax revenue. It's not logicial, but it is true!
          • IBJ could clarify tax distribution
            Based on the comments here, it sounds like there's some confusion on where the local income tax goes, as well as sales tax for dining establishments. As a Johnson county resident who works in downtown Indy, I have no problems with some of my local tax going towards Marion county. As Mr. Morris advises, I do care how Indianapolis fares and feel a connection with the city even though I don't live within the city limits. Perhaps the current tax codes should be reexamined by the state to help facilitate a better distribution system.
          • Domino Effect
            I'm sure government officials in the doughnut counties will be licking their chops to begin taxing those commuters that live in Marion County and travel outside of Marion County for their jobs.
          • People need to understand taxes
            When you dine in Marion County, there is a Food and Beverage tax that is collected and goes to the county. Likewise, when you pay your individual income taxes, you mark your county of residence and county you work. A portion of your Local Option Income Taxes goes to the county you work. Therefore, donut county residents who work in Marion County are already paying a commuter tax.
            • Alcohol - Sunday
              After being out of town...it is a common comment about how people can't buy on Sunday in Indiana. This would be a gravy train and help everyone taxwise. Let's see...Indy 500, Colts home games, Big 10, Pacers... What is WRONG with Indiana. Anyone who has just moved here and hits the grocery on Sunday (on their day off) has tried to buy Alcohol!!!
            • Hmmmm...
              No one likes another tax. All government is grossly inefficient (constantly funded by taxes) compared to private business. My biggest beef is the ridiculous amount of tax revenues. The cost of preparing, paying, state/city processing is an absurd waste.
            • Local Income Tax Misunderstanding
              Goerge, you based your conclusions on an incorrect premise! Local income tax flows 100% to the taxpayers county of residence, not the county of employment. I know that may seen illogical...because it is! Nevertheless, it's the fact.
            • 'Hiding in the Suburbs"
              When a criminal with multiple prior convictions serves five days of a one year sentence and later kills a police officer with a weapon illegally in his posession, residents of Boone County need to pay a tax to drive to work... PERFECT Progressive logic.. If, on the other hand, a fund were to be set up to build more prisons and hire more guards to keep the known criminals off the streets, I'd be the first to contribute.
            • where'd the money go?
              Where did the money go from the 2007 Income tax increase for public safety that the Mayor used to stir opposition and win the election and then failed to repeal (although he promised he would when he was running for election)? Where did the money go from the water utility sale? Where did the money go from the parking meter deal? Why does the money have all these funds for TIF deals and redevelopment of Mass avenue, and subsidy for luxury high rises, parking garages in Broad Ripple, and granola chain grocery stores but can not find the money to take care of public safety. Commuters shouldn't have to pay the tax of failed leadership in Marion County by leaders that commuters have no say in electing. Taxation without representation.
            • @concerned citizen
              $800M is a lot. There's over 800,000 people in the county/city though. I'm betting the cost of services(police, fire, roads, economic incentives to bring in new business, etc.) in Hamilton County is much more than $1000 per person. In 2012, the city of Carmel's audit report shows receipts of $268,742,988 (about 1/3 of Indianapolis's receipts) for a population of 83,573 (almost 1/10 the size of Indianapolis)...hmm, I wonder why Carmel is such a safer place to live...
            • See Ya!
              Once a Marion Co. commuter tax is established, I'm moving my organization out of Indianapolis. Face it, with the advancement in technology, it's getting more cost effective to have people work out of their homes. The clock is running out on the need for much of the office space in Indianapolis. Establishing a commuter tax will only advance the hands of the clock and the residents of Indianapolis will be left to clean up the mess they created on their own, with much less resources.
            • They Have Enough
              The 2013 YE financial indicates the City of Indianapolis has over $2 B in assets and net position of $362.7 M. All of these assets have been created and funded by taxpayers. In 2013 they took in $806 M in revenues. Again, all from tax payers. Think about this, Indianapolis takes in $800 M per year and they do not have enough money? The premise that government needs more money for services is false.
              • More businesses to leave Marion Co.
                The free market will seek its own level. If Employers cannot hire a retain good employees in Marion Co they will leave and set up shop in adjacent county. Marion Co already suffers from businesses leaving I would think this would encourage more of the same.
              • Payroll Withholdings
                One option is to redistribute the payroll tax already collected by the State. A greater share could be allocated to the county of the workplace location as opposed to the county of residency. Not a new tax, just re-allocate what is currently collected.
              • Where the money goes
                @Agreed, when you dine in Marion County, the taxes paid on that meal go to state coffers (in the form of the normal sales taxes) and to the sports/entertainment venues operated by the CIB. The sales taxes on your clothing and supplies just go to the state. The ONLY way those purchases help out Indianapolis is through the payroll taxes paid by the (generally low-wage) hourly workers serving you.
              • Mismanagement?
                The government leaders of Carmel wouldn't last a week trying to manage Indianapolis. There's a major difference between running a suburb with virtually no one below the poverty level and running a city in which 21+% are below the poverty level. (http://www.census.gov/did/www/saipe/data/interactive/#view=StateAndCounty&utilBtn=&yLB=0&stLB=15&cLB=49&dLB=0&gLB=0&usSts_cbSelected=false&usTot_cbSelected=true&stateTot_cbSelected=true&pLB=0?ltiYearSelected=false?ltiYearAlertFlag=false?StateFlag=false?validSDYearsFlag=false)
              • Agreed
                George: I agree. As a resident of Hamilton County - I take a Hamilton County Road all the way to my Marion County place of work that is barely over the county line. Yet - nearly all of my dining at lunch is done in Marion County and nearly all of my purchases for clothing and other supplies is done in Marion County, often times over my lunch hour. The economic impact of my purchases within Marion County more than account for my very little time spent on actual Marion County roads commuting.
              • Mismanagement
                The truth is commuters, those living elsewhere and working in Indy, already pay a commuterbtax. It is called local income tax and it goes to the city where one works, not lives. Many people pay more in this income tad tax than property tax. Plus, commuters pay sales and food and beverage taxes when they buy anything in the city they work in. Nthe problem is that Indy has mismanaged terribly. Look at Carmel..safest suburb in the US and Indy one of the most dangerous...and Ethel share a street. It is management, not money.

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