We believe a great city—like a great business—needs to be on offense. Leaders always should be looking ahead, identifying complications before they turn into crises and spotting opportunities that can be exploited for the greater public good.
But jumping on both problems and opportunities is not cheap.
And so Indianapolis city government for some time now has been on defense, thanks in part to deficit spending that has forced its leaders to find one-time infusions of revenue (think the sale of the city’s water and sewer utilities) to pay for new ideas and programs.
That’s why we’re thrilled to see Mayor Joe Hogsett propose a city budget for 2018 that includes a tiny, projected surplus. It’s another step on a road to the fiscal stability Indianapolis needs to continue growing and thriving.
Hogsett faced a deficit of roughly $50 million when he took office after the 2015 election. Last year, he proposed (and the City-County Council passed) a budget that halved the deficit. And now he’s proposed a plan to wipe it out completely.
That’s possible in part because the city will collect more revenue in 2018 from property and fuel taxes as well as stormwater fees and grants. It’s also thanks to savings the Hogsett administration has found by eliminating staff positions, renegotiating city contracts, and rethinking government systems. One example from City Controller Fady Qaddoura: printing double-sided and in black and white.
What’s exciting is that the proposed city budget—which still needs council approval—includes new investments as well. It pays for new public-safety recruit classes that should result in a net increase in police officers and firefighters. The budget also funds a plan to raise the salaries of the lowest-paid city workers to at least $13 per hour, which the council approved on Aug. 14, the same day Hogsett introduced his budget.
We applaud the mayor’s commitment both to shoring up the city budget and to investing in areas that are important—and public safety is one of them. The challenge now is both legislative and administrative.
The council should resist the temptation to add spending to the mayor’s plan without accompanying cuts elsewhere that keep the budget in balance. And once the budget passes, the Hogsett administration must maintain its discipline to ensure that a structural surplus (projected to be about $211,000 next year) actually comes to fruition.
If all goes well, that restraint will manifest into a healthier city budget, bigger reserves and the preservation of the highest available credit rating. That will enable Indianapolis leaders to better survive the next economic downturn while making the most of future opportunities. We’re excited about the possibilities.•
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