Saturday, December 24, 2005
I am in Cleveland for Christmas, visiting relatives- the Koles and the Langmacks. Of course, everyone is very interesting in seeing our little Isabel.
Our Isabel, with her older cousin Isabelle!
I hope all who visit here are enjoying time with family and friends this Holiday season, inside of however you celebrate the season.
Regular postings will resume shortly.
Because Libertarians believe that the ability to raise and spend public money does not make doing so a necessity. Because we believe that spending public money should cause an obvious and significant public gain.
What would you say about roadway projects that took an existing two-lane highway, widened the public right-of-way to accommodate a green strip in the center of the old roadway, and left a new two-lane divided highway? Would that be a worthwhile investment of thousands of dollars?
How about millions?
The City of Carmel, under the leadership of a Republican mayor and an all-Republican city council, have authorized several such projects. Go to Springmill Road, Ditch Road, Oak Ridge Road, and a host of others, and you will find scenarios that match what I described above, and what is shown in my pictures.
Springmill Rd, on a section of original two-lane highway.
Springmill Rd, on a section of improved two-lane highway. Millions of dollars. Poof!
These projects cost millions of dollars. The resulting roadways yield no additional vehicular capacity.
The drainage was re-worked, which generally means that expensive new storm sewers were installed. Expensive right-of-way was often acquired from private property owners. Utilities had to move over to accomodate, without compensation... except that the buck is passed to the customers. And yet, the best thing that can be said about the results is that the new roads look nice.
If a Libertarian were mayor, or dominating the Carmel City Council, the first order of business for roadways would be function. Crumbling roadways would be replaced, to be sure. Perfectly functional roadways would not be replaced merely for the sake of asthetics, as has happened here.
Carmel is clever, though. Raise a fuss about these projects, and you can expect the mayor and council to remind you that Carmel has the lowest tax rate of any city. That is true- today.
These projects were financed with municipal bonds, and will be repaid over a span of 30 years. These projects started popping up not long after Carmel began aggressively annexing existing communities into the corporate limits. As the annexations increased, the City's tax base- and bonding capacity- grew exponentially. The ability to spend gobs of money appeared, and the City took quick advantage of the opportunity.
Carmel has nearly completed the annexations it could hope to. Southwest Clay is the last great bonanza, as it is the wealthiest address in the state. After that, the City's ability to effortlessly pad its' population numbers, tax base, and bonding capacity through annexation will decline significantly. In a few years, the piper will have to be paid.
It looks great today, but its a mortgage on the future. Carmel has based its financing on a Ponzi Scheme. Soon enough, the population growth will fail to provide economic cover for the spending, and taxes will have to go up.
We'll see how keen today's Carmelites will be on paying tomorrow's tax bill. I predict a flight from Carmel in 20-25 years, as the tax rate hikes upward. In the meantime, the mayor and councilors will likely have moved on to other political pastures- having campaigned on the premise that they created the shining city on the hill.
This is what looms for Fishers, with its first attemp to forcibly annex the Geist neighborhoods. This is why the annexations should not merely be fought by the people of Geist, but by the people of Fishers. I want to live in Fishers for many, many years to come. My thinking is long term.
This short term grabbing is the hallmark of Hamilton County Republicans. If your thinking is long term, if you want your property to hold its' value, you need to vote Libertarian. Hamilton County is a magnet today, but on course to be the slum of tomorrow.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
I drove my car through some heavy traffic on I-69 this evening, in the Castleton and Fishers area. I had my radio on and I smiled.
I smiled because even though there was congestion, there was motion. When I had my fill of I-69, I exited the highway for some side streets.
I smiled because I was hearing reports of the mass transit strike in New York City. I was not taking delight in the misery of Manhattan workers struggling to return to the Bronx or to Queens. I was taking delight in the fact that while automobile traffic can be difficult at times, it is not subject to a crippling at the hands of a labor union. Link to AP report on NYC transit labor strife.
In previous posts, I stated opposition to the proposed regional light rail system for Central Indiana, on economic grounds. Now I'll state additional opposition on the grounds of independence.
New Yorkers are thoroughly dependent upon mass transit. Most New Yorkers don't even own cars. Without the trains, they are virtually immobile. Not here in Indiana. Even if I-69 were swallowed into the earth tomorrow, I would have several other ways to get where I need to be.
Let's not move towards dependence upon a commuter system. Even if everything works mechanically, the unions can still grind the system to a halt. You would think Republicans would understand that. Let's remain independent- free to move, and free from the crushing tax burden that would be a Central Indiana light rail system that Republicans support.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Because while Libertarians are very growth oriented, they don't give away the store.
Hamilton County features some of the hottest real estate property in Indiana. Farm ground that went for about $5,000/acre 10 years ago now goes for upwards of $75,000/acre from SR 32 and south. Some farmers receive two or three offer calls per week from developers who make pitches involving this kind of money.
These developers take on all the risks. Because it is their judgment that they can re-sell the improved property at a substantial profit, they will lay out millions of dollars to build the basic infrastructure before they sell a single sublot. Developers build roads, sewers, utility mains, walking paths, detention ponds at their own cost, and then turn this infrastructure over to the municipalities as a gift, all for the privilege of being able to sell the developed results.
So, why do we have this to look at on Greenfield Avenue (fka SR 238) in Noblesville?
This is the Noblesville Corporate Campus. Today, it has zero tenants operating, and yet, there are roads to nowhere, sanitary sewers serving corn fields, and snappy-looking entrance signs. For two years, it's all been sitting unused.
Which developer built this infrastructure? No private developer. This was built with public money, spent by the all-Republican Noblesville Common Council. Of course, no private developer would have begun building without a sense of urgency for filling the available parcels.
The stated purpose for building these roads and sewers was to lure high-wage life sciences companies to fill the Corporate Campus. One biotech company, Helmer, had announced its intentions to relocate there. In the last year, news about Helmer- or any other biotech company- has been completely absent from news about the Corporate Campus. Now it's all about the retail giant Simon, and the new shopping palace they will construct here.
Don't get me wrong, Simon's shopping area will create jobs in the area. They just pale next to what the life sciences had to offer. Moreover, retail jobs weren't the stated purpose for this gamble. This is fall-back success.
There is simply no way that a Libertarian official would have voted to approve this kind of development, where the city provides the infrastructure as a gift to anyone who will finally come along, the reverse of how it should be done. Yet, this is what the Republicans did in Noblesville.
They gave away the store. They now are reduced to hoping that sufficient development comes in and quickly, so it can generate the tax revenue needed to repay the bonds floated to build the roads and sewers a developer would have given to the city for free.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Dan Drexler was kind enough to email some photos from the Libertarian Party's "Election Night 2005" party at Bearno's, in downtown Indianapolis. While we didn't have a statewide election, we still got together to watch national returns and to talk local politics. I had a delightful conversation with a couple that came in from Pulaski County for the event.
Here I am giving my stump speech. I used a dining room chair in lieu of an actual tree stump.
My ubiquitous envelope box is in hand. It contains donation and volunteer sign-up cards. I joke that the box clears the room faster than a stump speech.
Dan Drexler is the Executive Diretor of the Libertarian Party of Indiana.
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.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.
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.
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
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.