Friday, June 4, 2010

iPOPA Schools You on "Expectations Game" and Greg Ballard's Thin Line Between Hero and Con Artist

People who follow politics know the most consistent foe for an elected official or candidate is the “expectations game.”

If expectations get set high, the best case scenario is an “as good as expected,” which means you can never actually “win.” If they get set low, you might hold your own with a seasoned opponent just by asking him, “Can I call ya, Joe?” winking, and uttering a complete sentence.

In other words, as paradoxical as this sounds, having people expect nothing from you is great. But here’s an iPOPA corollary. If done right, playing up a catastrophe that isn’t is just as valuable.

Think about it.

You go to a restaurant, and they say you can’t be seated for an hour. But the next thing you know, your little chimichanga-shaped beeper is lighting up 30 minutes later. Or your auto mechanic says, “This will cost $600,” but when the works gets done, it’s only $425. Awesome, right?

Now imagine the scenario where a 3rd party, the manager, steps in at the restaurant and says, “Your wait is an hour? That’s won’t do at all. (To hostess) I want these folks to be seated within 30 minutes!” Or the body shop chief says, “We’re going to cut this bill to $425!” You’d love those people, right? But what if you found out later that the restaurant knew the wait was really probably going to be around 15-20 minutes and the mechanic really had the cost pegged at $350? Wouldn’t you feel suckered?


So I’m with my little man at the Marion County main library about two months ago, and as we're walking out, I see somebody I know on the library board photo. Two days later, I see this person, and I mention I was just at the Glendale branch, and that I hoped they could avoid closing it because it was jam-packed. The person responds that (s)he looked at the books and so has another "well-informed individual" and there are cuts to be had to keep the libraries open. I ask for confirmation, and I got what I felt was a pretty resounding expression of confidence.

That was a staggering revelation to me because I’d read the horror stories just like you all about the impending doom. I started wondering about who has a vested interest in claiming impending tragedy that really isn’t? My first thought was that this was an effort to sway referendum voters on whether they really want permanent property tax caps (more on that coming to you later). But then the Mayor swoops in with a solution that isn’t really, and as Democratic mayoral candidate Melina Kennedy pointed out, the financial pinch won't hit until 2014, so it's not like we're going to turn Keystone Avenue in front of the Glendale branch into to a Half-Price Books.


So next I hear Indygo is about to be reduced to apparently one bus that just drives in circles from 10th and College to West and Washington. [Okay, it wasn't really that, but it sounded equally cataclysmic.] The next thing I know, the Mayor swoops in with "solutions" that aren't really. I kid you not, his ideas are: (1) tap a $5 million Indygo line of credit without knowing how it will be paid back; (2) shift $1.6 million that has been set aside for insurance to cover lawsuits; and (3) take $3 million from capital improvements (i.e., making the buses less rickety) and use it for operating costs. And for this, the Star gives Ballard the headline: "Ballard Says City Will Help Indygo Pay Expenses." Wow.

My first thought was that Indygo must really know its drivers to put aside that kind of cash for liability. But here's the Mayor, deciding they’ll use this cash to keep the company operational instead of waiting for lawsuits that might never happen. Brilliant! Thank God Ballard is on the 25th Floor because certainly nobody associated with Indygo could have ever come up with "borrow, raid the reserves, and spend our legal funds and pray we hit fewer pedestrians this year."

My point is this … even though I know the economy is bad and dollars are probably tight in most places, after the Mayor's CIB inflated its deficit figures, because of most likely inflated Pacer operating losses, and because of the episodes above, I now find myself suspicious of the books of any entity that the Mayor controls directly or by appointment power or for whom he shills. They keep, curiously, putting him in a position to "save the day" only for us to later learn the day didn't really need saving to the degree claimed or that the saving was just for a day, not a long-term solution.

Conspiratorial? Alright, I admit it. But explain this. Mayor Ballard said he would go into the city and cut 10% of its budget. He hasn't come close. He smashed Bart Peterson for passing an increase in the County Option Income Tax (COIT). But notice he kept the money. Insiders will tell that if Peterson wouldn't have done the COIT, the Indiana General Assembly (cough - Luke Kenley) wouldn't have authorized a state takeover of police and fire pensions, which unloaded a huge burden on the city's finances. In addition, you have a massive federal influx of dollars, which I would wager means that if you add all revenue streams, Greg Ballard has more dollars at his disposal than any Mayor in Indianapolis history. (I'm going to get these numbers!)

So why is the Mayor raising taxes on almost every service provider in the county, and why do we need an imprudent, back-door tax increase in the form of a $170 million bond issue just to fund sidewalk repair? (I still don't know anybody who can say specifically how the separate $262 million from the back-door-tax-hike Cit Gas purchase of the water and wastewater operations will be spent).

Sorry, but, yet again, something doesn't add up here.

In the Ballard Superman story, maybe truth is the kryptonite, which is exactly why the administration, quite frequently, seems to have it tucked away in a lead box.



stAllio! said...

which glendale branch did you go to? because the glendale i go to is most certainly not on college avenue.

(the branch on college avenue is called "college avenue branch.")

Chris Worden said...

Yep. I goofed. I meant to say "Keystone." The branch I was talking about is the one in Glendale mall, which is NOT on College.

Blog Admin said...

Chris, "conspiracy" is the word that's been used to derail the critics. Unfortunately, it seems to be an ongoing theme in Indianapolis city government that municipal corporations don't have to be too honest with their books. And no one in city government has the cojones to have them open them up. Sure, we see the annual budgets, but I think there's more to it than what those show.

Anonymous said...

Bad headline......there is nothing thin about the Mayor

Marycatherine Barton said...

Good, clear thinking here, eyepopuh.

Had Enough Indy? said...

Great overview here, Chris. I can only add that the current proposal for the sale of the water company only excludes spending the next $200 million or so, on sports teams. Other than that, anything is fair game, even though the Mayor keeps repeating infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. Before we believe that, we should demand it be put in writing.