Category Archives: Local Government

ALEC’s Little Brother

Most readers of this blog know about ALEC–the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is an arm of corporate America, and writes “model” legislation for lazy legislators (most of them beholden to those corporations for sizable campaign contributions) to introduce as their own. Once ALEC began to receive a good deal of public scrutiny, it began to bleed members, but it is by no means incapacitated.

Now, ALEC has a municipal-level sibling. 

American City County Exchange (ACCE) was spawned by ALEC in 2014 to spread ALEC’s ideas about “limited government, free markets, and federalism” down to the most local levels of government.

The linked report, from the Mayor of Fitchburg, Wisconsin, describes what he learned about the organization from a meeting he attended:

ALEC leaders intend to hire a membership/fundraising director and researcher in 2017 and make ACCE a profit center by 2018. This, presenters said, will require ACCE to solidify relationships with traditional allies, such as the bail-bond and telecommunications industries. ACCE must also find new allies, including those who would privatize historically municipal services, often by adding technology that is easily replicated but new to municipal clients.

For example, we heard presentations from “smart cities” vendors selling information and communications technology at the meeting, in a sales pitch format called a “workshop” by ALEC.

The priorities of ACCE, as one might expect, mirror those of ALEC: privatization of government functions, evisceration of public unions…the group is evidently working hard to expand both its membership and the number of corporate sponsors, but it is already cranking out cookie-cutter “model” ordinances intended to move local governments toward their goals.

Sometimes, just keeping track of the corporatists and crony capitalists is exhausting.

 

Whatever Happened to Integrity?

I concluded yesterday’s post by saying “We have spoiled toddlers running state and federal offices, but at least adults run the cities.” Evidently, some of those adults are less  praiseworthy than I suggested.

Indianapolis recently held a referendum on transportation. It wasn’t easy convincing the General Assembly that residents of the city should be allowed to decide for ourselves whether to impose a modest tax increase dedicated to the expansion of the city’s painfully inadequate bus service. It took a couple of years, but we finally did.

The vote was advisory, meaning that it will inform members of the City-County Council, whose votes will be dispositive. I think it is fair to say that voters expect the Councilors’ votes to reflect the clear results of the popular will.

The referendum won handily. But some Councilors– in districts where constituents voted decisively for the transit expansion– are vacillating. According to several people who have talked to them, the reluctant Council members are ambitious politicians who plan to run for higher office; they have been telling transit proponents that they don’t want a future opponent to be able to accuse them of raising taxes.

Think about that for a minute. This isn’t about legitimate disagreement about the merits of the proposal; this is about personal political calculation– a conflict of interest between the public good and personal advantage.

These City-County Counselors were elected to serve the constituents in their districts. Those constituents have signaled their belief that improved transit is sufficiently important to them to justify the (relatively minor) tax increase required. Rather than considering the wishes of those constituents, rather than considering the needs of the disabled and elderly people who depend upon transit, or the needs of workers to get to their places of employment without changing buses and enduring lengthy commutes (when they can get there at all–see yesterday’s post), these Councilors are viewing their votes only from the perspective of their personal self-interest.

Why, they might have to defend voting for the public good in a future political campaign!

I can understand why someone representing a district that voted against the referendum would decide to ignore the interests and expressed preferences of the overall community, but when elected officials disregard the wishes and needs of both the overall community and their own constituents in order to protect themselves from potential criticism in a potential future campaign, I find that contemptible.

I think it was Maya Angelou who said “When someone tells you who they are, believe them.”

And remember them.

Because if those who are threatening to vote no simply to protect themselves from criticism in a future campaign actually follow through with that threat, and if and when they do run for higher office, those of us with a different understanding of “representation” and “integrity” need to make a very public issue of their self-serving behavior.

 

RFRA, Pence and Holcomb

What has been interesting about having Indiana’s Governor Mike Pence on the national ticket  has been the research on Indiana’s Governor being done by national media outlets.

Here in Hoosierland, we know Pence as an avid culture warrior uninterested in the day-to-day administration of state agencies. We know him as an opponent of Planned Parenthood whose disinclination to authorize needle exchanges led to an HIV crisis in southern Indiana, as an adversary of public education responsible for diverting millions of dollars from the state’s public schools in order to provide vouchers for religious schools, and of course as the anti-gay warrior who cost the state economy millions of dollars by championing and signing RFRA.

The national press has investigated Pence’s previous activities, both in Congress and as editor of the Indiana Policy Review, a (very) conservative publication. What they’ve found won’t surprise anyone who has followed Pence, but the research has confirmed that the Governor has certainly been consistent….

For example–and despite his disclaimers of discrimination to George Stephanopolous and others–Out Magazine unearthed an earlier article advising employers not to hire LGBTQ folks, and describing homosexuality as a “pathological” condition:

“Homosexuals are not as a group able-bodied. They are known to carry extremely high rates of disease brought on because of the nature of their sexual practices and the promiscuity which is a hallmark of their lifestyle.”

Another article, from December of 1993, was entitled “The Pink Newsroom” and argued that LGBTQ folks shouldn’t be allowed to work as journalists without being forced to identify themselves as gay publicly, since their LGBTQ status would surely create a conflict of interest when writing about politics.

Other outlets have reported his efforts while in Congress to defund Planned Parenthood, his speeches warning against the use of condoms, his insistence that climate change is a “hoax,” and his longstanding support of creationism and denial of evolution.

It’s highly likely that the Trump-Pence ticket will lose nationally in November, relieving Indiana voters of the task of defeating Pence at the polls. In his place, the GOP is running Eric Holcomb for Governor. Holcomb, it turns out, is pretty much a Pence clone. (The link has video from his meeting with the editorial board of the Indianapolis Star.)

Eric Holcomb had his chance to distance himself from the economic disaster of Mike Pence’s RFRA legacy in Indiana.

Instead, in a painful 4 minute answer to the Indianapolis Star editorial board, Holcomb doubled down on the same discrimination law that risked $250 million for state’s economy, and threw his weight behind Pence’s failed agenda.

Holcomb has previously embraced all of Pence’s agenda.

In November, we’ll see whether Hoosier voters have had enough of incompetence and theocracy, or whether we will vote to endure more of the same.

This is a very strange political year.

Outsourcing Responsibility

Sometimes, I wonder why we bother to elect chief executives, since an increasing number of them are clearly uninterested in that boring activity called…what was it? oh yes…governing. Public administration. Management.

Yesterday’s news highlighted the latest in a series of missteps (a nicer word than “fuck ups”) by the Pence Administration. (Actually, I believe this one dates back to Daniels’ time.)

State officials threatened Wednesday to find a private developer in default of its contract for building a 21-mile section of the Interstate 69 extension in central Indiana after a major subcontractor stopped work over lack of payment.

The Indiana Finance Authority has issued a notice of non-performance to I-69 Development Partners LLC for the project upgrading the current Indiana 37 route between Bloomington and Martinsville.

According to bids submitted for the project in 2013, I-69 Development Partners consists of OHL Concesiones of Madrid, Star America Fund LLC of Roslyn, New York, and UIF GP LLC of Delaware.

The dispute comes after Crider & Crider Inc., the contractor responsible for the project’s earth-moving operations, halted work this week.

For the past several decades, public officials–especially but certainly not exclusively Republican elected officials–have had a love affair with so-called “privatization.” I say “so-called,” because genuine privatization involves government’s withdrawal from a given activity (Margaret Thatcher selling off steel mills to the private sector, for example.) In the U.S., what is usually called privatization is actually outsourcing–the practice of choosing a for-profit or nonprofit surrogate to manage a job or provide a service on behalf of a government agency.

I have written extensively about the issues involved in outsourcing, and I’m not inclined to belabor the issue here. Suffice it to say that agencies of government may contract with private entities to provide government services, but they cannot contract away their ultimate responsibility for seeing to it that the project or service is appropriately managed or delivered.

When government hires a contractor to perform a service–in this case, to build a road–it still has the obligation to supervise that contractor’s performance. Effective and competent outsourcing requires that the relevant government agency retain sufficient capacity to manage and monitor the contractor.

Some government functions, of course, simply should not be outsourced. (Private prisons come to mind.) Reasonable people can argue about the wisdom of contracting with private developers to manage the building of roads, but those reasonable people will usually agree that the state retains an obligation to supervise and control its contractors, who are, after all, being paid with tax dollars.

In this case, clearly, that supervision was lacking. And we all know who pays the price when government fails to discharge its most basic responsibilities, one of which is infrastructure:

State Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said many people are frustrated with the traffic delays on Indiana 37 caused by I-69 construction and that he’s not been able to get answers from state officials or the developer.

“People don’t understand why they’re driving through miles and miles of traffic barrels and seeing little, if anything, getting done,” he said.

About 95 miles of the I-69 extension have opened since 2012 between Evansville and Bloomington through southwestern Indiana. The total cost of the I-69 extension is estimated at $3 billion, but the cost of the final leg from Martinsville to Interstate 465 has not been determined.

When that cost is determined, we all know who will pay it.

The (P)art of the Deal

Economic development efforts often seem like a zero-sum game; Indiana offers training funds or infrastructure improvements or property tax abatements to businesses relocating from, say, Illinois, and Illinois does the same for businesses coming from Indiana.

Even within the state, municipalities try to lure employers to City A from City B by offering tempting “goodies.”

There are lots of problems with this state of affairs. It tends to be unfair to small businesses that have been longtime corporate citizens, and all too often, the relocation would have occurred without the (legal) bribe represented by these incentives. Worst of all, however, is the reluctance of the state to require or enforce appropriate “clawback” provisions.

When state or city government offers incentives to businesses, it is in return for that business undertaking to create a certain number of jobs. The idea is that the government will recoup its up-front investment in the form of additional taxes paid by a growing workforce. The agreement, or contract, obligating the unit of government to provide the incentive should include provisions protecting the government in case of default; in other words, if the business fails to create the promised jobs, or moves its operations elsewhere, it should be required to repay the amounts advanced.

Fair enough. You do what you say you will do, or you pay us back. The Pence administration, however, pursues a narrow version of the clawback.

An IndyStar analysis found that the Indiana Economic Development Corporation — which Pence leads — has approved $24 million in incentives to 10 companies that sent work to foreign countries. Of those incentives, nearly $8.7 million has been paid out so far.

During that same period, those companies terminated or announced layoffs of more than 3,800 Hoosier workers while shifting production to other countries, where labor tends to be far less expensive.

The state has clawed back or put a hold on some or all of the incentives in four of those cases, returning $746,000 in taxpayer subsidies. But in the other six cases, the companies faced no consequences.

The primary reason: The job creation and retention requirements in the state’s incentive agreements are usually narrowly tailored to a single facility, leaving workers at other sites owned by the same company vulnerable to offshoring.

During the last legislative session, House Democrats  authored language that would have required corporations that move facilities out of Indiana to re-pay any property tax incentives they had received, and also would have prevented those companies from receiving other state tax breaks. The proposal–which was an amendment to another bill–ultimately went nowhere.

Meanwhile, as the Star reported, the state’s much-touted job growth figures pale in comparison to the jobs lost to offshoring.

Those records show that the same 10 companies or their related subsidiaries have laid off or plan to layoff more than 3,820 workers in Indiana because work has been shifted to other countries since 2013.

Those losses are more than three times larger than the number of jobs that would have been created under the state’s incentive agreements, even if they had all come to fruition.

Here’s the thing: companies have the right to move their operations. But that shouldn’t mean they have the right to move and keep the tax dollars that Hoosiers forked over in the expectation that they would honor their commitments, stay in the state, and create jobs.

A deal is a deal–and the state should play hardball, not wiffle-ball.