Kenley gets pushback on CIB tax plan-WEB ONLY

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This morning’s debate about solving the Capital Improvement Board’s $47 million shortfall attracted so many people to the Statehouse that dozens watched the proceedings on television monitors outside Room 431.

Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) presented a plan that would raise various taxes, including doubling the alcohol tax, increasing hotel taxes and upping the admission tax to events at Conseco Fieldhouse, Lucas Oil Stadium and Victory Field.

The plan also includes a $5 million contribution each from the Indiana Pacers and Indianapolis Colts. Although Pacers Chief Operating Officer Rick Fuson and Colts President Bill Polian testified at today’s hearing, neither would endorse the plan. And Kenley offered no details about where he expected the teams to find the cash to contribute.

One suggestion is that the Pacers would only get $10 million annually to operate Conseco Fieldhouse and not the $15 million team officials requested. There were also suggestions that the Colts give up some or all of the non-football revenue the team’s current contract with the CIB guarantees them from Lucas Oil Stadium operations.

Polian said the Colts, like local residents and government agencies, are being affected by the economic downturn. But he came nowhere close to supporting an adjustment of the team’s lease with the CIB.

Kenley told reporters last night that he had thoroughly examined Pacers financials, and said team records show operating Conseco Fieldhouse has cost as much as $17 million in some years.

Fuson said the Pacers organization could not afford to operate both the basketball franchise and Conseco Fieldhouse.

It’s unclear how much support Kenley’s proposal will get in the House and Senate. But Sen. Lindel Hume (D-Princeton) said he would refuse to vote for the measure until he had more information – especially regarding the Pacers’ financial situation.

At one point, Hume asked Fuson about wayward guard Jamal Tinsley and demanded to know how much the Pacers were paying him not to play. Fuson said he didn’t have those figures, but added that benching Tinsley, who has been dogged by off-court controversies including involvement in a downtown shooting, was best not only for the Pacers, but for the community.

“At this time with the economic downturn we have … and every person is confronted with hardships, I don’t think this is the time we should be going through knee-jerk policy-making,” Hume said.

Hume demanded that Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard look for more ways to cut the CIB’s $71 million budget. Hume then compared the CIB to American International Group, which the U.S. government is bailing out to the tune of $182 billion.

Ballard responded that the CIB already has cut $9 million from its budget. “They’re running pretty lean, and they’re looking to run leaner,” Ballard said. “There’s no good answer here.”

Hume also asked for detailed financials on Conseco Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium operations.

Kenley said the Pacers and Colts have been open with their financial situation. But Hume said if that’s the case, the information hadn’t been shared with him. “We come to this meeting today needing answers,” Hume said. “I cannot support what we have here before us.”

While Ballard didn’t directly endorse Kenley’s plan, he underscored the Pacers’ and Colts’ importance in promoting and growing the city and state, adding that people worldwide identify the area with the NFL and NBA team.

Ballard wasn’t shy about sharing his dislike for the plan, namely the increase to the hotel and food and beverage taxes.

“I’m scared to death … of killing our convention business, the very thing that we’re all here trying to support,” Ballard said.

Ballard – along with Pacers and Colts officials – aren’t the only ones stopping short of officially endorsing Kenley’s plan. While Kenley said a representative of Gov. Mitch Daniels has sat in on many of his meeting concerning the CIB, Daniels has given no indication of his position on the matter.

Kenley said he hoped to have his Senate Appropriations Committee approve the bill today. The proposal could be changed as it moves through the Statehouse.

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