Penticuff: Grant for Grads
by David Penticuff
Our “Grant for Grads” program is gone, for which we are grateful.
In a fit of logic and submission to real life, our county economic growth council will no longer be shoveling so many tax dollars out the door to new college graduates in order to entice them to buy or rent in our county. Forget that there’s a good chance they were moving here anyway. The old program offered a grant for $2,500 for up to a year of rental assistance. For homeowners, a gift up to $5,000 was to be used as down payment assistance on a home purchase.
As with any giveaway, the program had a waiting list. It was sort of the ultimate example of the growth council philosophy of paying people and businesses to settle in the county. Instead of developing our county into a place where more people want to live, we bribe them. It required no means test or anything for the resident to do in return except let the growth council use tax dollars to help pay for their shelter here. That meant working and retired people with no college helping pay for a lot college graduates to have a local place to live.
This has been replaced by a program called “Grants Got Talent.” No mention of an audition in front of growth council for graduates to compete for the grants as its name might imply. This program operates through local employers along with the graduates, which we think should improve accountability. Grant recipients may receive $2,500 or have their funding increased to $5,000 if the employer matches at $2,500.
Employers, who should have skin in the game since they are directly benefiting, can help themselves by chipping in. But we’d like to see employers come up with first $2,500, then taxpayers, through the growth council, could choose to match it rather than the other way around.
These funds are only for the purchase of a home in the county, so renters are no longer covered. The budget for this program is $25,000 as compared with the $100,000 that the Grant for Grads program had. This is an improvement in much the same way that being stabbed in the hand is preferable to being shot in the chest. The degree of violence matters and this program has reduced its bad impact. We think this news is largely due to the good work of the county council, which cut the growth council’s access to tax money for this year. They didn’t eliminate it. Perhaps that can still happen at budget time this year.
The problem is that our county economic growth council is a nongovernmental organization but for a long time before today, it’s been funded by taxes like the sheriff’s department or any other local government agency. Except, unlike the head sheriff’s department or any other local government agency, no one elects the executive director of the growth council. Voters don’t pick the board of the growth council. It has been an unaccountable organization for much of its life. At budget time in 2018, the county council finally blew the whistle.
“The growth council budget looks very different from the county’s budget right now, because we’ve given them that kind of money,” said one county council member last year. “The question is whether tax dollars should be going to the growth council . . . Although they are private, I regard them as a county department, and all department budgets are on the table (for cuts) this summer.”
They should be regarded as a county department again this year or simply cut loose to fund their own way.
David Penticuff, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, is editor of the Marion Chronicle-Tribune, in which a version of this essay first appeared.