Hogsett’s infrastructure plan puts regionalism on front burner

Keywords Opinion

We’ve used this space before to ask Mayor Joe Hogsett to lead more boldly on the big issues that face our city. So we were pleased late last month when the mayor proposed creating a regional infrastructure fund that would serve Indianapolis and surrounding counties.

The fund proposal, introduced as part of Hogsett’s State of the City speech, was a welcome burst of leadership from a cautious mayor who tends to play his cards close to the vest. We have to admit we were surprised—but perhaps not as surprised as the mayors in neighboring counties who said they were blindsided by Hogsett’s announcement.

It’s not clear if failing to brief them ahead of time was a calculated move or simply a lack of attention to detail, but regardless, Hogsett’s announcement has given new life to an important conversation about infrastructure and regionalism.

Hogsett proposes that Marion and eight surrounding counties contribute a portion of future income tax revenue growth to a fund that would be used to finance infrastructure projects. Counties would benefit based not on how much they contributed but on how heavily their roads are used.

Predictably, the proposal didn’t go over well with the other mayors Hogsett meets with regularly as part of the Central Indiana Council of Elected Officials, or CICEO, a group of 18 municipal leaders that began meeting in early 2012 to find common ground on regional issues. They said Hogsett’s plan is inconsistent with recent discussions they’ve had about how to raise and distribute money for regional improvements.

Their unhappiness with Hogsett doesn’t bode well for the plan, but no one in the Mayor’s Office is naive enough to think that such a controversial proposal would have sailed through even under the best of circumstances. We suspect the mayor’s goal was, in part, to introduce a new talking point as he heads into this year’s re-election campaign. But he also brought some specifics to the concept of regionalism, a once-taboo concept that Hoosiers have been taking baby steps toward in recent years.

The counties around Indianapolis increased their food-and-beverage taxes more than a decade ago to help pay for Lucas Oil Stadium. Indianapolis and Fishers collaborated on the bid for Amazon’s HQ2. And CICEO has made strides on a couple of other fronts.

For example, all 18 leaders in the group signed a letter supporting the legislation that gave Indianapolis and other communities authority to raise money for transit, a tool that resulted in the successful referendum Indianapolis is using to fund the IndyGo Red Line and other bus rapid-transit corridors. They’ve also collaborated on a plan to safeguard the region’s water supply, and the relationships forged in the group come into play on a regular basis in smaller ways.

That’s because Hogsett and other mayors in the region know their cities are interconnected economically. They’re also aware that Indianapolis, as anchor of the region, can be a major asset to its neighbors if it’s healthy—or a huge liability if it’s not.

We hope Hogsett’s bold announcement, regardless of how it’s been received initially, is the beginning of a productive debate. It will undoubtedly lead to some heated moments, but that’s OK. You’ve got to grapple with regional problems before you can solve them.•


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