Friday, March 27, 2009

CIB Bailout: Listen Closely, Legislators!

So our unelected Capital Improvement Board is in an operating hole that will get worse next year if the Pacers refuse to pay $15 million in operating expenses for Conseco. The Pacers tell us they lose money year after year. But then they pull a PR AIG.

Ruth Holloday reported last week that the Pacers took 60 people, including supportive corporate elite, on a five-day excursion to Cancun, Mexico. While one might argue the Pacers are prudent to ensure their advertising base is safe in a tough market, it bothers me that representatives from WISH-TV and the Indianapolis Star attended.

Holloday reports that the group was wined and dined at le Blanc Hotel and Spa, an all-inclusive oceanside resort with hot tubs in every room. The trip included side excursions for every one in attendance, and the Pacers gave the women expensive jewelry and the men fancy sport watches.

The question I would ask (were I a full-time reporter) is whether the Pacers have done THIS every year, or is there something special about THIS year and this TIME that makes it necessary? Oh, sure, there's a bad economy, but there was one last year, too. MIGHT the Pacers be trying to ensure a favorable corporate climate precisely when they seek to hoist the new costs onto the taxpayers?

Are we supposed to believe that there's NOT going to be any spillover from Star marketing to news/editorial? Really? Then why wasn't the story about this trip reported? Didn't every paper in the country report when the automotive executives who got bailed out fly to Congress in corporate jets? Remember when AIG execs paid for a $440,000 weekend retreat? EVERYBODY covered it. But the Star says nothing? (Look, we know the Simons are billionaires. But the rule of thumb is that if you're asking us to open the taxpayer wallet to bail you out, at least have the decency to ACT broke. Tighten your own belt first before asking us to go digging).

Also, the Indianapolis Star today runs a story about the CIB/Pacers fix under the heading of "Shared Pain." Guess where? BELOW "the internet fold." In other words, you WON'T see it unless you expand for today's top stories. What ran above it?

Homeless man held in blaze at complex
Officials say suspect set fire to intimidate his ex-girlfriend into coming back to him.
Indy says 'no' to Louisville's Downtown light show
Tourism promoters wanted to project messages onto buildings during NCAA regionals.
City, stadium get dress rehearsal for Final Four
Head-on crash kills Franklin man - 8:50 AM
United Way issues $1.4M in grants - 8:35 AM
Ban on smoking in car with kids advances - 8:26 AM
Finish Line 4Q losses narrow, beat estimates - 7:38 AM
12-year-old dies in industrial accident - 7:27 AM
Dozens seek Noblesville police chief job - 7:25 AM
Golf cart crash kills boy, 9, in Owen Co. - 7:25 AM
Read all of today's breaking news

I'm glad that the United Way still has money to give and that Finish Line did well (Hurray! They can keep their Pacer sponsorship!), but how do either of these stories have the impact that this one does on public policy? The meetings about the CIB are already being held "behind closed doors," and we can't even get the Star to front the options that are on the table so we can respond?

(As an aside Advance Indiana offers an interesting view of Jim Shella's coverage of a protest rally during which AI talked about the CIB bailout. Was any of the CIB portion covered by WISH-TV? Nope).

Anyway, here's what the Star says is on the table, along with my thoughts in response:

THE IDEA: Increase Marion County's 2 percent food and beverage tax to 3 percent. This would raise $18 million a year.

THE PROBLEMS: Every time you go out to eat, you get socked. If I owned a restaurant outside of downtown, I'd be hopping mad because my customers get popped, and I get close to NO benefit from the Pacer attendance. (MAYBE I get the guy who stops through after the game on his way back to Noblesville). You know who else would be hopping mad about this option? Me. I like to go out, but I will start eating at home more often, and every dollar they thought they would raise in new revenue goes off the table.

THE IDEA: Increase Marion County's motel/hotel tax from 9 to 10 percent to raise $4 million per year.

THE PROBLEMS: Let me understand this. We need the Pacers as the "bookend" for our convention business, but we're going to make it too costly for anybody to want to actually stay in Indianapolis? If somebody doesn't think a 1% increase matters, you're sadly mistaken when you're thinking about booking convention business. You're talking an additional $1,000 PER NIGHT for a small conference of 500 people with $200 per room PER PERCENT that the hotel tax is higher than competing cities. If I'm contemplating taking a conference that will book 2,000 rooms for three days to either Louisville, which has a 15% rate, or Indianapolis, with its 9%. Assuming only $100 per room, I can save $36,000. Why in the world would we give away that kind of competitive advantage if we're trying to make tourism our thing? Also, why apply the tax to EVERYBODY in Marion County? If I owned a hotel or motel near the county borders, I'd be hopping mad because people will just stay in the doughnut counties. In other words, my customers take a hit when I get NO advantage from downtown events.

THE IDEA: Raising the 6 percent admissions tax to 7 percent to bring in $1.5 million a year.

THE PROBLEMS: There aren't any with this idea. Having the "users" of the service pay for the service is the only equitable way this gets done. One percent increase? I'd make it five before I'd pursue any other options. The Pacers will say, "Yeah, but if we raise the cost, we'll lose some fans." And I'll say, "Then reduce your payroll! You were the ones who let the Pacers image get tarnished by not getting rid of the trouble spots earlier." I'm tired of rewarding bad management with bailouts. Aren't you? Also, as I understand this tax, it's for ALL Conseco events, not just the Pacers. People who go to concerts or rodeos at Conseco pay more.

Republicans may say, "Yes, Chris, but what about public libraries? You want us to make books available for free. Why not charge an admission fee for the central library?" Because, respectfully, some things should be public goods, such as educational information. So, no, I don't mind the "wealth transfer" that occurs when rich people have to pay so poor kids can get a place that encourages reading. Call me crazy! Are the Pacers a public good? Is a L'il Wayne concert a public good? There might be some camaraderie value, but certainly nothing that is close to a library. Sorry.

THE IDEA: The Indianapolis Colts are asked to give back a share of the revenue they now get from concessions, and we get $3.5 million.

THE PROBLEMS: None, in theory. The Colts should have never been offered concessions for events that had nothing to do with their product in the first place. But good luck getting that back from Jim Irsay! He's Christian and charitable, but he's not crazy.

THE IDEA: Expanding taxing districts: Adding new hotels and other stadium-related businesses to a sales tax increment financing district in Downtown would generate $10 million a year. Odds: Possible.

THE PROBLEMS: None. Next to having the fans absorb the entire operating cost of events they choose to attend, at least if you do this, you are putting the cost on those business ONLY that actually benefit from downtown events.

THE IDEA: Alcohol tax: Indiana's spirits, wine and beer taxes are on the low end, but lawmakers are more interested in solutions that affect Marion County alone, not the whole state. The taxes raise about $42 million a year, which is split between the state and local governments. Odds: Unlikely.

THE PROBLEMS: It's an easy fix to tax "sin," but thankfully this isn't really on the table. It's grossly unfair for every bar owner and grocery store in the state that does not benefit from downtown Indianapolis events.

In sum, legislators who try to make the pain TOO shared might be feeling their own come election time.



Eclecticvibe said...

It's too bad that most of the ideas seem to focus on the costs being absorbed by people at the bottom of the income scale. How about a sports team owner income tax? Or just taxing the profit that the teams make to make sure the city/states' costs are covered? Oh wait! We're supposed to believe these are financial drains.

stAllio! said...

it's news to me that the CIB story was "buried" because i read the star via their news feeds. also, the story was on the front page of the print edition—not the best way to bury a story—which you can see right there on the left column of the site above the archives.

also, do you seriously believe that shella's report on the protest was negative because of some grudge against gary welsh, and not because the event... you know... actually lacked focus and was full of crackpots? i mean, seriously?

anyway, congratulations. gary has now reposted your post in its entirety on his blog. i hope he asked your permission first.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to chime in about the taxing district expansion to make one thing clear.

This option would mean state sales and income tax dollars that would otherwise go to the state budget would funnel directly to the CIB. Last I checked the state is down almost $1 billion in revenues and is talking about not giving schools any new money.

So why should state tax dollars go to fix an Indianapolis problem?

M Theory said...

I read this blog sometimes, but would not have read it today, but for Gary's coverage of this story. Thank you for speaking out against the bailout.

The CIB bailout was a major focus of the Revolt state house rally on Wednesday and Shella gave it no coverage instead focusing on a volunteer at one of the tables who were allowed to set up at the event. (We denied no one who asked for a table).

I'm sure Gary's blog is going to drive extra hits to you today.

I'm going to link you up at Hoosiers For Fair Taxation too.

Thanks again for covering this story from your perspective and asking the questions that need asked.

I've updated our audience at HFFT about behind the scenes stuff since Shella aired his hit campaign against taxpayers.

Paul K. Ogden said...

You are my hero IPOPA. For months the Democrats have remained silent on this billionaire bailout crap and finally someone stands up and tells the truth. If only Jen Wagner (or any other Democrat)had the guts to do the same.

Not that our R elected officials are any better. But at least R bloggers and others Republican and Libertarian bloggers are taking up the cause. We can't even get the D bloggers to address issues like this, issues that is totally consistent with their political philosophy of being for the common man and woman.

Then you come along and post this. Again, you are my hero.

Paul K. Ogden said...


Jim Shella did not talk to any organizers of the rally, including me who was the chief organizer, and did not talk to a single speaker. Do you really think that's good journalism?

Did you see the cut he did of Attorney Mark Small talking about why should the state fund education followed by a quick cut before he could offer an explanation.

Or how about his mocking that woman named Melissa who forgot her group's goals? She was not at all involved in the rally and her group wasn't a speaker. Yet Shella's report featured her. Shella went out of his way to find people to fit his preconceived story of unfocused rally filled with a bunch of cooks.

Since that story, we've heard from elected officials, Republicans and Democrats, liberal and conservatives, all decrying the Shella piece.

Tell you what...take Shella's piece on the rally to a journalism ethics professor, show it to him or her, and get some feedback. I guarantee you those cuts will be labeled as unethical and the piece will be trashed as unprofessional and not in keeping with journalistic standards.

I've dealt with the media for years, and thought I'd seen everything. I'm about the last peson you'll find criticizing the media. I think the media often gets a bad rap from consrvatives. But Shella's report reached a new low...I think it's probably the most biased slam piece I've ever seen a reporter do.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Mr. Berg (stAllio's real name), To answer your question, IPOPA asked me to cross-post his post on my blog. Is that okay with you? Hope it didn't ruin your weekend.

Sean Shepard said...

I'm going to echo a lot of what Paul Ogden commented. A lot of us may not always agree on everything, but this bailing out of billionaire's expensive hobbies and taxing people who don't even go to, or can't even afford to go to, the games is nonsense.

(note: IRS rules stipulate that for tax write off purposes, a business should show a profit 3 out of 5 years or it is "a hobby").

Thanks for discussing what I've seen few other Democrats do even though, as Paul said, this should be right up their alley.

Just the $15 million that the Pacers want the taxpayers to cover is $28 per ticket (based on current sales of just under 14,000 per game). That's a $1200 subsidy for a season ticket holder.

Chris Worden said...


I never said the Star ignored the story. But I subscribe to the view that a media outlet can exhibit bias by placement of a story. If Obama does something good, and the Washington Times puts the story on page 23 when every other major daily in the country has it on page 1, then, yes, I feel justified in saying there's bias. If the on-line version of the Star is read by more people than the print version, and this story is below the on-line fold, then yeah, it makes me wonder. Sorry.

Also, I never said that Shella's coverage was biased because he had a grudge against Gary Welsh. I have no idea how Jim Shella feels about Mr. Welsh. My point was, and still is, that he could have been spot on in depicting the rally as a rudderless ship, but in addressing the myriad issues that brought everybody together, he could have talked about the CIB rescue (which is obviously news since the Star covered it), but he didn't. Nothing more, nothing less.

Tully wrote an editorial that basically said, "Sorry, Pacers." I give him kudos for that. But we'll see how objective the news coverage on this issue is as we move forward, and we'll see how the editorial board weighs in. Then we'll know if I'm wringing my hands for no reason.

But having said that, are you just being a curmudgeon? How should we make up this shortfall, in your opinion?

stAllio! said...

My point was, and still is, that he could have been spot on in depicting the rally as a rudderless ship, but in addressing the myriad issues that brought everybody together, he could have talked about the CIB rescue (which is obviously news since the Star covered it), but he didn't. Nothing more, nothing less.

but why should he have talked about that one in particular? the rally schedule had eleven speakers talking about eleven different subjects. the CIB was only one of many. shella could have spoken about that issue, but he still would've been ignoring all the other speakers who talked about other issues.

paul: i never said shella's report was cut fairly. but that doesn't mean his central point—that the rally lacked focus—was wrong.

tv journalism is fast and short; it's not like blogging where you can ramble on forever. after commercials, a tv newscast is only 22 minutes long, including local and national news, sports, weather, features, and unfunny banter between the anchors. any given story has at most 2-3 minutes. but your protest was about a dozen different things. it's impossible for them to cover such an event. so some of them just picked one issue to talk about. shella instead focused on the fractured nature of the thing.

a good rally that is geared for getting media attention should be focused on one issue, not a vague "theme" and a dozen sorta-kinda-related sub-issues. if you can't sum your protest up in one or two sentences, you're going to have a hard time getting good press.

if this had been a focused protest specifically about the mess at the CIB, it would've been much easier to cover, and would've been taken much more seriously by people like jim shella.

M Theory said...

For folks that think taxpayers have given enough already....

Paul K. Ogden said...

St. Allio,

Actually there was one subject discussed - that government is out of touch and not listening to the common folks at the rally. There are several different sub-issues under that common theme.

It sounds like you actually agree that Shella's report was not at all fair. I guarantee you though a rally that just focused on the CIB wouldn't have been viewed any more favorably by Jim Shella. In fact, it would have been probably covered even more negatively if that is possible.

There is no excuse for Shella's edit on Mark Small or the way he mocked that Melissa woman, who wasn't a speaker and whose group didn't even speak at the rally. There is no excuse for his not interviewing a single speaker or organizer of the rally.

He clearly went into the rally with an agenda and went about getting footage to fulfill that agenda. That's lazy reporting and in the case of what he did to Mark and Melissa, it's completely unethica.

Certainly people didn't leave that rally thinking it was some sort of failure. Shella reported that organizers had to consider it a failure. I haven't the slightest idea what he's talking about. Of course he didn't actually talk to any organizers.

You'll find that no other reporter anywhere did the slam job in its reporting that Jim Shella did.

stAllio! said...

Actually there was one subject discussed - that government is out of touch and not listening to the common folks at the rally.

that's not "one subject". it's a whole bunch of loosely related subjects. way too vague for tv.

I guarantee you though a rally that just focused on the CIB wouldn't have been viewed any more favorably by Jim Shella.

you're dead wrong. shella treated your protest dismissively because, in his eyes, it appeared to be amateur hour. he didn't think it was worthy of being taken seriously, so he didn't do so.

That's lazy reporting

yes it is, but that's the thing about working with the media. you have to expect that journalists will be lazy and thus make their jobs as easy as possible. if properly covering your event requires every journalist to personally interview you and all the speakers, then your event is too hard to cover!

think about this: the 2007 property tax protests were reasonably successful at getting positive media attention. how was your protest different?

the answer is that those protests were narrowly focused on a single, timely issue. they were easy to summarize in a single sentence. and thus they were very easy to cover: talk to a couple people, get some footage of folks throwing stuff in the river, and you're done! "thanks bob, people sure are angry about property taxes!"

your event had no "hook", and it had no simple theme that was comprehensible to anyone but the organizers. this is why you got one news story that only talked about libertarians, one that only talked about gary's speech, one story that talked about the guy from hammond who compared legislators to serial killers, and one story that outright treated you dismissively. you had no easy-to-understand storyline for journalists to grab onto, so they had to find their own story. and as you discovered, when you let them tell whatever story they want, you might not like the story they end up telling.

Shella reported that organizers had to consider it a failure.

i think he was remarking specifically about senator delph's comment that he didn't get much out of the rally.

stAllio! said...

Actually there was one subject discussed - that government is out of touch and not listening to the common folks at the rally.

all political protests are about people being unhappy because they feel like government is deaf to their concerns. every single one. the question is why specifically are you unhappy? if you can't answer that in a sentence or two, you'll run into problems.

melyssa said...

St Allio, you media guru you! Thanks for that single webhit HFFT got from your blog last week.

Sean Shepard said...

StAllio makes a good point about it possibly being perceived as "amateur hour". But, that is exactly the problem, the dismissive tone towards regular citizens who dare to get involved and speak out.

And let us not forget, that when it's not an "amateur" they call them a "lobbyist".

stAllio! said...

melyssa, if you'll recall, i said a month ago that the protest lacked focus, and specifically predicted that you'd have trouble with tv reporters. you blew off my advice then, too.

M Theory said...

St Allio...believe it or not we weren't there to make the media's job easy for them.

This is not my first press event.

Funny thing is that a college kid reporter from Purdue Calumet student paper could understand the unifying theme of the topics.

I don't think it is too much to expect that a news veteran of 24 years be able to understand it too.

Channel 8 did not read the news release. This was confirmed to me by Kevin Finch, the station's news director who stood behind the broadcast which reported it was a Libertarian organized event.

I confronted Finch and asked which Libertarians organized it. He stumbled and could not tell me. Shella and Channel 8 were given a media release with organizers' information stating the event was non partisan.

The website had the same information on the postcard flyers, which they received.

Rather than read the media release, he and Shella made a decision to report hearsay (or fiction they invented) as truth.

It is a good thing we found exactly what the journalistic standard of Channel 8 really means. Now we have PROOF that what we say about MSM is true.

I have a proven track record for making lemonade out of crap like this.

A Friend said...

Melyssa honey, why don't you go lay down. The constant attacks on any and every one who doesn't agree with you or let you have your way is extremely tiring to watch. I can't even imagine what it must be like for you. Your little tantrums must be quite taxing especially since so very few people pay any attention to you or your moral compass on the street; log off the internet and you disappear. There are those who will not have anything to do with whatever you are trying to turn into the cause du jour or manipulate to your advantage, there are those who find you tragic and pitiful, and then there are those who are impressed with you (for now) but it never really lasts long before you show your true colors, does it. Shella's report was his eyewitness account and he has every right to it; frankly, it was purely hilarious. Seriously, Melyssa, do us all a favor and stop trying to serve up your crap lemonade. A little bit goes a long way.

Anonymous said...

Melyssa honey, why don't you go lay down.

Gotta agree. The woman is a legend - a legend in her mind and in her living room.