The Outstater

September 4, 2019

THE MAN AT THE NEXT DESK says nobody wants to read about our city’s problems anymore. He is almost surely right, but there remains the possibility that some other Indiana city is experiencing an arrogant administration unchecked by a fawning newspaper. On that slim chance, the following observations are offered.

It began with an editorial this week dismissing the mayor’s unwillingness to discuss a $3.2-million spending plan as an issue of no concern. A mere “spat,” a problem of bad “messaging,” we are told, the complaining councilmen engaging in political “posturing” during an election year.

But wait, we need to back up a bit.

The newspaper defines the $3 million (rounding down) as a “windfall.” The discerning reader might wonder, since the city cannot print its own money, from whence a fiscal windfall might come. The dictionary applies the analogy of an apple being blown down from a tree.

And that, it turns out, is nowhere close to describing the issue at hand. We are talking about money from an increase in the amount of local income tax paid and collected — our money from our apple tree, to be exact, falling not to us but to the city administration.

That, sigh, sends the mind off in a depressing direction so let’s move on to how the mayor would use the money. It is a matter, the newspaper assures us, unfit for argument among reasonable persons, an unnecessary delay considering that all of the money is going to obviously good works.

Being curious by nature, though, we find it difficult to see how a week or two of discussion — it’s millions of dollars, after all — would hurt anyone. At the least, let’s spend a few minutes here walking through the mayor’s spending list.

By bad messaging, the newspaper apparently means the mayor hasn’t made clear that his plan isn’t plain, old socialism. It divides $1 million between the city’s four arbitrarily defined “partnership” areas, thereby establishing a political and economic plan of social organization advocating that the means of production, distribution and exchange be owned or regulated by the city. Socialism, our newspaper insists, is an entirely different thing, just ask South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Or perhaps the mayor should have conceded the point for harmony’s sake, saying that even if it is technically socialism it isn’t the kind that doesn’t work, that is, the kind underfunded by an uncaring, lazy and perhaps even racist citizenry. Now, wouldn’t that make for a lively discussion?

The next $1 million of the “windfall” would go to the mayor’s housing department for free loans to means-selected property owners for household repairs. These lucky folks could monetize the mayor’s kindness by selling refurbished homes at improved prices and moving to a less punishing tax district — cynical, yes, but worthy of a fuller explanation.

Another $500,000 would be spent on what the suspicious might call social window dressing, proposals of such grand altruistic intent that they carry the other items along with them. There would be $300,000 to “fight” the opioid epidemic so prominent in the news lately. It would be in the form of a gift to what some had thought was an adequately funded police department for drug testing. Another $200,000 would go to a well-endowed church foundation to provide new beds somewhere. There would be $500,000 to a long-established charity to provide vocational training for the substance abused. Don’t you wish your household budget could be organized in such round numbers?

Finally, there would be $250,000 for a “facade” grant program, an aptly and tellingly named example of how government thinks commerce is generated. It puts lipstick on the pigs of the local commercial real estate market, handing cash to business owners to whom it has not occurred that the appearance of their storefront is critical to customer traffic. This is an item, the mayor might fear, that won’t bear discussion whatsoever.

In the end, it is just another boring case of $3 million here, $3 million there. You can be grateful that none of this is happening where you live, or if it is that your mayor is spared a soul-crushing spat over the details.

— tcl



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