Sunday, December 18, 2005

Why Libertarian?

Libertarians believe in the best possible use for public resources. Libertarians believe that transportation is a private matter, to be paid for in full by the person using the transportation. Libertarians are unwilling to fund expensive pie-in-the-sky marginal solutions to large problems.

This stands in contrast with Hamilton County Republicans, who take the opposite position of Libertarians on light rail and mass transit. Of course, they would never say that they are for the worst use of resources, or for pie-in-the sky, but actions matter. Republicans are acting to make the least of the Nickel Plate route, and launch a painfully expensive boondoggle.

The Nickel Plate line is being eyed as a starter route for a light rail mass transit network. The cost would be conservatively $850, and more likely better than a billion dollars. This network has been touted to take a maximum of 4% of cars off of I-69. Four percent!!!

Republican Hamilton County Commissioner Christine Altman has repeatedly spoken on record in favor of spending around a billion dollars for this starter system. The latest quotes can be found in a December 16 article in the Noblesville Ledger, under the headline, "Official wants mass transit sooner than later":
The three proposed routes for mass transit's initial route in the region are along the old Nickel Plate Road rail line in Fishers and near Allisonville Road and Interstate 69. The possible forms of mass transit are high-tech express buses, trolley-style light rail or an elevated electric train.

Estimates have placed design and construction costs at $850 million.

"We are strongly exploring ways to bring this out more rapidly," Altman said, noting that one way would be to use all local funding instead of asking the federal government for help. She wants to talk with the Indiana General Assembly about the importance of regional transportation, in the hopes they will approve a regional tax.
Carmel's Republican Mayor Jim Brainard recently addressed Hamilton County Democrats to show affinity between the two parties on this issue. It is worth noting that neither I-69 nor the Nickel Plate line run through Carmel. It is also worth noting that the Monon Trail, a former Monon Railroad line that does run through Carmel, has not been offered for a conversion to light rail. Likewise, Altman represents Clay Township, which is to say, Carmel.

Best Management of Resources. The Monon, like the Nickel Plate, was a former freight railroad. The passenger traffic dried up by the late 1950s on the Monon, and by World War 2 on the Nickel Plate. That should tell you a lot about the viability of rail on these routes. As the freight traffic withered in the 1960s, the lines became run down, and adjacent property values suffered. In Carmel and Indianapolis, the Monon was converted to a trail and greenway. Property values skyrocketed, as the adjacent areas went from undesirable to hot property.

You won't find anyone near the Monon willing to reconvert it back to rail. It would crush their property values. So, why not convert the Nickel Plate into a greenway and trail, and let it do for Fishers and Indianapolis in the areas parallel to Binford Blvd. what Monon did for Carmel? Does this make too much sense?

Unfortunately, Republican officials are trying to solve one problem, congestion on I-69, by squandering a precious resource. The best use for the Nickel Plate corridor is obviously a greenway and trail, but their judgment is clouded by the desire to use it to solve a problem.

Only the Libertarian Party has made the policy proposal to convert the Nickel Plate into a trail and greenway. I hope to help cause this issue to gain traction shortly.

Transportation is a Private Matter. You would expect Republican officials to agree with this statement, and yet, they seem bent on backing the expansion of public transportation. Some argue that the person riding the train pays a fare, and therefore pays his way. If IndyGo is any model for comparison, and I think it is, then riders get a virtual free ride. From page 9 of IndyGo financial statements for 2002, here's where the revenue came from:

16% Passenger Fares
30% Property & Excise Taxes
26% Federal Assistance
26% Municipalities
1% Charters and Special Services
1% Other Revenue

In other words, 82% of IndyGo's 2002 operating revenues came from taxes. It's virtually a free ride for the passengers. There's more.

In 2000, IndyGo lost $5.2 million.
In 2001, IndyGo lost $3.4 million.
In 2002, IndyGo lost $4.0 million.
In 2003, IndyGo showed a profit of $2.8 million.

So, people really started riding the bus, right? No. According the 2003 IndyGo financial statement, fares only increased by $400,000. So how was there a swing of $6.8 million? In a word, taxes.

In 2003, Federal assistance increased by $1.8 million, and local assistance increased by $2.2 million. You will recall that property tax re-assessments were made, with assessed values rising dramatically. As these values soared, the taxes received by IndyGo did likewise.

It's startling to consider how significant the tax support is for IndyGo when you consider just this one line item, found on page 26 of the 2003 statement:

Prior to the collection of taxes, IndyGo had an operating loss of $37.4 million. Fares only provided $6.3 million in income.

That's a lot of tax money to cover. And yet, it happened. This is what Hamilton County Republicans are fixing to bring to us- the reinvention of Marion County. Why on earth would we want this? Answer: we don't.

To date, I have not heard a single Republican official speak out against a mass transit boondoggle such as the proposed Nickel Plate light rail starter system. I have heard Commissioner Altman, Mayor Brainard, Noblesville Mayor Ditslear, and State Senator Luke Kenley -all Republicans- speak in favor of it.

Big Difference. This issue is one of many that illustrates the difference between Republicans and Libertarians. Republicans give lip services to smaller government and lower taxes, but act in an opposite fashion. Elect Libertarians, and you will see officials who will call this what it is- bad public policy. Elect Libertarians, and we would make sure it would not come to pass.

Here are links to some of my previous posts on this issue: 1, 2, 3, 4.


Debbie said...

Mike, I admire your attempts to create a difference between the Libertarian party and the Republican party. However, in the process, you are raising all sorts of questions. (Now, I will probably be accused of going more into philosophy and theory here, and be told to take my tin foil hat off my head, but I think these discussions are very important if things are indeed ever going to change.)

You say in your post: "Libertarians believe in the best possible use for public resources."

But that's essentially meaningless because the definition of "best possible use" is merely up to opinion and endless debate. Sure, you could rely solely on cost, but that's not the only concern when politics comes into the picture. This is because there are always groups that directly benefit from a government project, no matter how ridiculous the cost. So there will always be people touting the new idea or project.

And in reality, they are no different than even the libertarians if libertarians go ahead and say it's legitimate to have public resources, we just have to spend it "right" and only the libertarians know how to do this. So now it's simply a matter of choosing the party that has the best spending plan, and again, the choice will not always come down straight to costs.

Another quandary in your post is that you say transportation is a private matter and then go on to say how great a greenway and trail would be for that area.

So why aren't greenways and trails also private matters?

Of course your analysis makes a lot of sense when one looks at it purely from a cost perspective, but like I said before, that is not what always happens when we start to spend other people's money.

I am encouraged that at least the commissioner is looking to local funding rather than taking federal money. We can hope that this will at least help people in the area to better see how much of THEIR money these people want to squander and it may help make your fight against it easier.

But if libertarians only say they have "better" ways to spend the money then we simply have opened yourself up to endless fighting and debate over what that better spending would be.

Just like the other parties.

And that doesn't seem to be doing anything different which makes me wonder how any real change is going to happen.

Mike Kole said...

The Nickel Plate line is already publicly owned. Sure, it could simply be divested, splitting the corridor in half, ceding the land to the adjacent property owners as often does happen when a railroad 'rationalizes' a property.

The idea with the greenway & trail was to create a counter-proposal. It isn't satisfying enough for me, or for my Republican critics, to simply declare a plan 'bad' and move on. It is important to offer some kind of alternative.

This counter-proposal is the difference between $850 million, and about $1.5 million.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that construction and maintenance of a greenway would neccesitate an increase in the size of the (government) park budgets of the municipalities adjacent to the rail line. Carmel spent a very pretty penny for their section of the Monon and I would be curious as to whether the increase in property values has yet caught up to the gross investment. Actually the rails-to-trails folks put this idea forward for the Nickel Plate route over ten years ago.

Debbie said...

Okay, so now I'm confused Mike.

You said: "The idea with the greenway & trail was to create a counter-proposal. It isn't satisfying enough for me, or for my Republican critics, to simply declare a plan 'bad' and move on. It is important to offer some kind of alternative."

Your counter proposal is only in reaction to using this rail line in a manner you deem inappropriate.

But, to do what you say is necessary, don't you need to offer a counter proposal to the transportation issue, which you said is congestion on I-69,instead of just saying "it's a private matter?"

It seems to me that you did indeed "declare the plan a bad move" and moved on to what you consider to be a "proper" use of the Monon line.

GadFlier said...

The only true non-socialist solution to the Monon trail is to return the entire easement to individual property owners. Otherwise, the Monon Trail is morally equivalent to the proposal for the Nickel Plate--it's merely a bit prettier. Is maintainance on the Monon Trail carried out ENTIRELY with funds raised by property owners who abut the trail? If not, then it's morally no better than the Nickel Plate proposal. To not demand that the Monon Trail immediately be dismantled and returned to private property owners is hypocrisy if one likewise opposes the Nickel Plate proposal.

GadFlier said...

Here's the reality--if one wishes to get votes in Indiana, one had better either pander to low-income social-programs patronage or pander to public spending boondoggles that benefit the wealthy. Since there is no way that an official Libertarian candidate will get significant amounts of votes from the low-income patronage crowd, that leaves pandering to people who demand that taxes be squandered on rich-boy toys like the Monon Trail.

Anonymous said...

Here's the reality with Libertarians, Mike. Are you old enough to remember Pogo? We have seen the enemy and he is us.

Mike Kole said...

I regard my more radical libertarian friends as allies. They are arguing for an absolute application of principles, and I have a deep appreciation for that.

Unfortunately, absolutism rarely gets a seat at the table. Because I believe libertarians *need to* have a seat at the table, I do sometimes come up with counter-proposals that only eliminate 98% of the tax burden that would be foisted upon us by our current elected officials.

Anonymous said...

I thought the important part was exposing how much tax money is sucked out by Indygo. I thought that would rile your libertarian friends against the light rail, not against you. Well, who needs enemies...

Debbie said...

Anonymous, where do you see anyone "riled up against" Mike?

I see posts with questions and comments concerning the specifics of what he posted.

I find it so odd how some seem surprised when libertarian-minded people give a libertarian candidate's ideas and positions the same skepticism and critical thought as they would give to any other candidate.