Editorial: Hogsett should lead from the front on downtown tax proposal

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The take-charge Joe Hogsett we sometimes saw during his successful run for a third term as Indianapolis mayor seems to be fading into the background again now that the election is over—at least when it comes to a proposal to impose a downtown-enhancement fee on property owners in the Mile Square.

The proposal’s current iteration has been percolating since April, when the Legislature gave the City-County Council the sole authority to create a fee-imposing economic enhancement district, allowing the council to bypass a property-owner petition requirement that helped doom a similar idea in 2018.

Two days after the Nov. 7 election, City-County Council President Vop Osili moved forward with the idea, filing a formal proposal. It would create an enhancement district board that would charge owners of single-family homes an annual flat fee of $250 and all other property owners about 0.17% of assessed value.

But last week when IBJ asked the Mayor’s Office to weigh in on the proposal from Hogsett’s fellow Democrat, spokesman Mark Bode issued a statement that fell short of fully committing to the proposal while noting that Hogsett has been supportive of finding sustained funding for downtown beautification and public safety efforts and for a low-barrier homeless shelter.

A pilot project for the past year has been funded by the Hogsett administration through money from the American Rescue Plan Act. Bode on Tuesday said the mayor has engaged with the council, Downtown Indy Inc. and the Indy Chamber to find a sustainable source to replace that funding when it runs out.

But does he support Osili’s proposal? “Once the final language is approved [by the council], the mayor will review for his signature,” Bode said in an email.

We’ll leave it up to the elected officials, with input from downtown property owners, to decide whether the downtown tax is a good idea. But we do wish the mayor would lead on this issue and either publicly advocate for the tax or oppose it.

As we noted in our editorial last week, Hogsett led from the front several times during the mayoral campaign—or at least publicly staked out his positions and took the credit or the blame.

One example is the city’s controversial decision to take over financing and ownership of the $510 million Signia Hotel. It’s a decision Hogsett explained with passion during a mayoral debate last month but one he shied away from when it was announced in May.

Hogsett did not attend Osili’s press conference on the proposed downtown tax. And we believe he owes it to voters to let them know where he stands on the issue, taking an active role in publicly advocating for his position rather than just waiting for the issue to come to him in the form of a council-approved ordinance.

We want to see the proactive mayor we sometimes saw during the campaign.

We don’t want to spend another four years guessing where the mayor stands on key issues. We want a mayor who leads from the front and offers a clear vision for the future.•

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