Sunday, November 1, 2009

Wishard Hurts Self With One-Sided Shell Game

As I said on Abdul in the Morning on Friday, I'm expecting the Wishard referendum to pass. I cast my vote weeks ago in favor. But I would be lying if I didn't tell you this process has made me a bit queasy.

On policy debates, there are two components: the policy merits and what I'll call the debate and information distribution process. Unfortunately, the latter can often overshadow or complicate the former, and this happened here.

Here's what I know.

First, nobody can read the Wishard referendum language without thinking that it is insanely one-sided in its phraseology. Perhaps this is just human nature, but I think most people assume when you have to bias so markedly the question that the drafter must think a fair phrasing would result in a different outcome to the question. That suggests fear, which makes people wonder, "What aren't you telling us?"

Second, nobody can guarantee that no taxes will need to be raised over the next thirty years to cover the bond service on a new Wishard. Nobody can even tell you no property taxes will need to be raised in the next thirty years. While I am reluctant to second-guess HHC CEO Matt Gutwein (after all, he is, by far, one of the smartest guys I know, and he's 4-0 before the United States Supreme Court), I think he did his cause a disservice by repeatedly stating with certainty something that can't be said with certainty. Fortunately, he has changed his approach. Though he repeatedly stated during his presentation to the Washington Township Democrat Club about six weeks ago that no tax increase would accompany the construction, here's what he said this week at the Rotary:

"The level of risk that the property taxpayers are taking in Marion County is a very small level of risk, and I don’t think at all it is disproportionate from what the county receives from Wishard."

Matt should have just said, "In life there are no absolutes. We will have the authority to tax you for this hospital. But it's not going to happen and here's why...."

Third, by the time we get to the time where any tax increase will be needed, none of the principals who helped push this will be in elected office or at HHC. For those who are so inclined, there will be nobody to "hold accountable," and I don't suspect saying "I told you so" through their dentures would be all that satisfying.

Fourth, too many people in my party act like if we get money from the federal government, it's not really money. If we get to build a new Wishard because the government is subsidizing bonds, it's not like we found the money in a parking lot. Also, if IU has to absorb the cost of demolishing or renovating the the old hospital, that is a cost as well that will likely be passed on through even higher tuition for students.

Fifth, Wishard tells you that if something happens to its revenue stream, (which is likely during the lifespan of these bonds), that it can avoid a tax increase by diverting some of its operating budget. But Wishard never told us (nor could it at this point) what services it would have to cut that it is currently offering.

Sixth, I was not surprised that every other hospital in the city supports a new Wishard. This ensures that low-income or no income patients aren't in their pristine new buildings. If there is racism in this process, Amos Brown, it's not just that white guys don't want to pay to build a hospital for "the indigent" (code for "a lot of brown and black folk"). It's that the other hospitals don't want to live without a place where they can ship what they perceive as their undesirables.

Seventh, Wishard acts like if this referendum didn't pass, it would have to close. It acts like if the refendum doesn't pass, any police officer shot in the future will die. This isn't true. Wishard could continue to renovate by shifting some of its apparently easy to shift general revenue into incremental renovation.

Eighth, I really am starting to see the power of the "Indianapolis construction complex," an alliance of construction companies, engineers, architects, law firms, government agencies, and the building trades, that seems to always make sure there is a major construction project going on at every moment in Indianapolis. It is an unstoppable juggernaut.

So, why, you may ask, iPopa, do you support the hospital?

Because, without inking a deal now, we will pay more in the future to keep Wishard up and running. Because I do not believe any tax increase will occur for the first decade, and then it won't be more than a nominal increase for the value provided, even if the total cannot be capped, and because I strongly believe what I said about the other hospitals. They will not absorb a Wishard overflow.

Further, if HHC did divert revenues later to offset what would be lost by foregoing the Obama bonds, care would suffer. HHC has numerous community-based treatment centers that would probably be the first thing on the chopping block. Only through new construction will indigent care in Indianapolis stay strong, and I view it as an indicator of our humanity how well we care for our sick. Plus, this project will create desperately needed construction jobs.

Finally, though I love the Colts, I'm just glad this time the Indianapolis Construction Complex is on the side of something a bit more noble than grown men playing a game.



varangianguard said...

I don't support this, and here's why.

1) Too many people (with a "build it" agenda) trying to play the misdirection game with the facts of the matter.

2) Nobody seems to have seriously (if at all) considered lower cost alternatives (like smaller, more decentralized clinics, leaving the big stuff for the donut hospitals and IU/Methodist).

3) Resistance to authority. Really tired of having something shoved down my throat that I don't want/need. The more they shove, they less likely I'll swallow it (their stories).

This may pass, but I have a really sour taste in my mouth regarding how it's been promoted.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of what you say, Chris, well done!!

This is most likely going to pass, and I personally plan on voting for it. For me, it boils down to your sentiment of: "Yes, there is a good chance that they won't be able to pay the bonds like they think they can, but if I am going to be taxed, at least it's for something beneficial and not for another sports stadium." That's what it boils down to for me, I want us to be a healthcare powerhouse, even if I have to pay for it.

As for Varangianguard, I do agree with you but I do take isssue with point #3. The stadium was shoved down out throat, we didn't vote for it and didn't vote for the tax increase for it. The Wishard issue however is being voted on, if it's "shoved down our throats" it is done Democratically! The people are voting on it, so if it passes, I am sorry, but it was done in a Democratic process!I am a Democrat in Indiana, I RARELY agree with the choices of the electorate, but I take comfort in the fact that the Democratic process is alive and well.

If your issue is not so much the vote and more the tactics, it's a valid point, but I have to ask why you didn't do anything about it. Someone on a blog complained about how unfair it was that the "yes on Wishard" group was well-Funded when the opposition wasn't. Well, guess what, that's life! If you don't like it, start your own PAC and take action, no one is stopping you. If you can't get people to support your PAC then what makes you think they support your cause? If you don't think your information is getting to the public, then do what you can, the news doesn't have to cover your opinion, but nothing stops you from starting a blog and doing a grassroots movement. Once again, if people don't sign on to your cause then they probably don't support you!

Advance Indiana has been the forefront of the opposition to this cause, and I've read everything he's had to say about it. He's practically been screaming and setting himself on fire to get people to notice him and it's not taking hold, because we just don't care! I know that Gary is right on a lot of what he drivels, but I just don't care, and it looks like most people don't either. Even if I bought everything he has said, it still wouldn't change my mind on this project.

We don't get to decide what projects we do and do not want to fund on an individual basis. It's usually decided by the people we elected (Democracy) but this time it's going to be decided by the people themselves (Democracy again!) and I am going to sleep well no matter what the decision is because the people have had their say.

varangianguard said...

Yes Anon, I could have started my own PAC, but it is a facile dismissal to claim that I could play catch up so late into the game.

Plus, I don't remember electing Matt Gutwein to anything, much less most of the other players in this petty drama.

If the "people" really had their say, then this would have been placed on the ballot during a regular election (like last year's), unless you expect me to believe that this idea just popped into their heads this year?

This referendum will likely be decided by people let off work to go vote by those entities most likely to benefit by this costly boondoggle.

If you really were interested in becoming a healthcare powerhouse, then I suggest that it would have been much better to put the patients best interests first, rather than those of the providers. I just don't agree that big, glitzy buildings have anything to do with providing better healthcare. I'm interested in results, not glittering symbols or icons.

Anonymous said...

Varangianguard: Why were you playing catch-up, the legislation authorizing the referendum was passed on the legislature which is completely public, you could have started a PAC the second it passed and started campaigning against it right then. Instead you did nothing and just complained about the process, which is your right to do, but don't expect any of us to feel sorry for you when you didn't try your best to do anything about it.

As for Gutwein, you are absolutely correct, he isn't an elected official, which is exactly why he can't approve this bond issue on his own. He can do what a bunch of other quasi-governmental corporations can do, ask the voters for their permission, which is exactly what he did and what today's vote is all about.

varangianguard said...

By the time the public learned of it, the developers had already been working for many months on the project. I am sure that the major stakeholders were in on the process well before I was.

Your protestations are meaningless within the context of how political realities work around here.

Anonymous said...

Well, Varangiaguard, it looks like 83% of the voters didn't feel that this was being shoved down their throats, guess we were all duped by the machine, too bad we aren't as smart as you...

varangianguard said...

I see somebody missed the comprehending statistics lecture, or simply failed to comprehend the lecture.

I certainly agree that the proponents of the referendum won by a wide margin, but...

Only about 12% of the normal number of registered voters who bother to vote showed up for this referendum. That total is just under 40,000 of some 324,000 usual voters in general elections.

That doesn't even count the current balance of nearly 698,000 registered voters here in Marion County. Using that number would lower the turnout to 6%.

Two conclusions. One, the proponents either better argued their case, or simply had larger numbers of stakeholders. Add up the total numbers of employees of Clarian/IU/City-County, their friends and family and your tidy winning margin falls precipituously.

Two, politicos all over town will be gleeful that only 6% of voters seem to care about taxing potentialities on large capital projects. But then, they surely know that already.

Your claim of an 83% mandate is ludicrous. I acknowledge that your side won handily, but please spare me the propagandistic exaggeration of the numbers.

Anonymous said...

Settle down Van, I know losing sucks but don't get your panties in a bunch.

Guess what: If you want to complain, you have to show up. Though I know you are convinced that if every single person who was eligible to vote actually voted then this would have failed, but I can't help but thinking that if they really cared about defeating it then they would have shown up. Regardless, we take a vote of the people who vote, and of the people who voted, 83% wanted this project.

Which, I can't believe that we are arguing over this statistic. Of the people who showed up to vote, 83% were in favor, simple enough. That's all I stated, I never claimed it was a public mandate, I just claimed that it was a voter mandate, which it certainly was.

People vote as much by not showing up as they do by showing up.

Had Enough Indy? said...

What would the vote have been if Matt Gutwein and his chorus of government officials told the complete truth? That we will never know. That is unfortunate.

That should not be repeated ever again in any future referendum question.

Excellent post IPOPA.