City 'investments' often no such thing

June 19, 2010

Indications seem to be that many Hoosiers will wind up like Californians, who thought they had solved tax problems when Proposition 13 passed. Even if the new system does slow down property tax increases, actually capping one source of revenue will never solve taxpayer problems. Without equal emphasis on expenditures, we’re simply forcing increases in other taxes.

Locally, expenditures of tax dollars have frequently been referred to as “investments,” presumably to the ultimate benefit of the “city.” Very few people bother to define their usage of the words “investment” or “city” in these cases. Investment, in its usual frame of reference, indicates the expenditure of money with the expectation of an increased return. As a part of the downtown “economic development” program, those investments have been dismal failures as far as municipal Indianapolis is concerned.

Economic activity has been generated. But the beneficiaries are private businesses. Tax revenues produced are mainly diverted directly back to the Capital Improvement Board rather than into the city’s general fund.

For the primary benefit of two sports franchises, $1 billion worth of land and improvements are not on the property tax rolls. The land under the mall is not on the tax rolls, and it is my understanding the lease provides for no rental payment to the owner—the “city”—for the use of that land.

Priorities are sadly lacking. We’re spending $50 million on a so-called Cultural Trail, while libraries, schools, the park department and the public transportation system are facing cutbacks. And now we’re talking about $12.5 million to make three blocks of Georgia Street a “tourist attraction!” Shades of Union Station!

When will some investigative reporter be charged with finding out exactly what the Super Bowl will really mean to the “city,” specifically the general population, rather than just the downtown hospitality industry? Preferably without citing the fuzzy, warm feeling we’re all supposed to have because someone in Boston or San Francisco saw the name Indianapolis in their newspaper or on TV.
Fred McCarthy

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