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The bill will come due in due time.

A friend commented this morning on Facebook that he drove through Carmel, Indiana’s downtown.  He noted how lovely the area is and also the fact that he didn’t have to dodge a single pothole, and said how great Carmel’s mayor is and how shitful the mayor of Indianapolis is.  (If you’ve driven through Indianapolis lately on the surface streets, you know what I mean.)

Well, now.  How about that.  Because I think BOTH mayors are shitful, just in different ways.

The mayor of Indianapolis is a typical Democrat, working with a majority Democrat City-County Council.  Nothing substantial is ever going to get done because Dem politicians in this town are too busy looking for ways to line their own pockets at the expense of their constituents.  This is as it has always been when Democrats run the city, and the way the demographics look, they’re going to run the city for a long, long time.  The one good thing Dick Lugar did for this city was also one of the worst things Dick Lugar did for this city, and it was called UniGov.

In 1970, Lugar and the powers that were managed to con the General Assembly into consolidating the city of Indianapolis and Marion County (less 11 “included” towns, e.g., Lawrence, Speedway, Beech Grove, etc.) into a single governmental unit, under the mayor and a new City-County Council.  You can argue the whys and wherefores of this move till you’re blue in the face, but the bottom line result of the change was to breathe new life into the city’s Republican governing majority by bringing GOP voters who had moved into the county outside of the “old” city limits back into the fold.  And this worked for nearly fifty years, even as the city started to turn purple again and then the blue stain started moving up from the southern end of the county.  Sure, there were a couple of Democrat mayors, but they were fairly conservative as such things went, and the city-county council got to where it had only a thin GOP majority but was still presided over by a Republican.

That finally blew up in the GOP’s face during Ballard’s second term and now we have a thin-majority Democrat Council and a Democrat mayor.  And as GOPers continue to flee the city, you’ll see that Council turn more and more blue.  (This is one of the reasons why I’m less and less opposed to my wife’s idea of retiring to Florida — specifically, Collier County, Florida, the reddest of the red SW Florida counties.)

Now, frankly, as much as I rail about UniGov and yearn for the good old days when we were serviced by the county out here in the sticks, the fact is that that’s my old curmudgeon yelling at clouds.  While I believe the snow plowing service is pretty horrible compared to what it was when I was a kid, a lot of things have improved as services were consolidated and the county no longer had a big doughnut hole in the middle where the city ran things.  I don’t even have a problem with the consolidated police force at this point; it’s proven (other than the occasional drunken cop) that it can do a pretty decent job, for much the same reason (no more doughnut hole for the county sheriff to drive around).  The downtown area, which was a hole when Hudnut took over as mayor, is a pretty sweet place to be, at least during the daylight hours (and that’s a policing problem, not a civic one — although a crackdown on all the panhandlers is long overdue, and in my opinion there is a large swath of the East Side that ought to be surrounded and gone through house-by-house to take out the drug gangs.  But that’s my opinion).

The problem today is that our Democrat mayor can’t keep his promises.  At least, he can’t keep his promises about fixing the potholes.  You can look back in this blog and find a couple of mentions of a four-day assault on potholes.  Well, that failed utterly.  And weeks later, after they had finally filled holes in our street that you could lose a Smart car or a Mini in, we had more snow, the plows came out, and voila, the crappy patches all got yanked out of the holes and we had bigger holes.

This is what happens in a city that places big spending on sports venues and 10-year tax abatements to lure large companies to relocate here, rather than keeping up with infrastructure maintenance.  Face it:  Paving roads isn’t as sexy as building big stadiums and putting lipstick on the pig that’s downtown.*  And frankly, I blame every mayor and every city councilperson we’ve had for the past 50 years for this mess, regardless of party.  But the guy in the hot seat right now is the target of everybody’s ire, so we’ll just go with that.  We’re looking at millions of dollars of infrastructure repairs that are needed just to fix the damn roads.  But we’re spending those millions of dollars enriching the owners of sports teams and subsidizing community development in areas that we’ve already dumped millions of dollars into over the years.  Oh, and the fucking worthless Red Line.

The hell of it is, Marion County can afford that kind of thing, at least at the moment, because it has a huge tax base.

Carmel, Indiana, however, is a different story.

Carmel is a small city in a large county.  Granted it has a high-income component to its tax base.  But there are a lot of common middle-class folks who live within the city limits of Carmel, too.  Carmel used to be a sleepy bedroom community inhabited by a lot of families of privilege.  Then, 20 years or so ago (I can’t arse myself to look it up), a guy named Jim Brainard carpetbagged into town from Ohio, and ran for mayor under the GOP banner.  (Which is interesting, because by all reports, he was a Democrat in Ohio.)

Since then, Carmel has spent millions of dollars on a revamped downtown that includes a new city hall, a performing arts center, shitloads of roundabouts that most people hate (even if only secretly), and outside of the downtown it’s taken over responsibility for at least one road corridor that used to be a state highway and turned it into an expensive parkway with roundabout exits that nobody can figure out how to use.  Carmel has also annexed (over the protests of the wealthy folks who moved out there to get away from Carmel) areas to its west to help pay for this, under the aegis of “you use Carmel services like sewers and first responders, so you can help pay for them.”  Well…maybe.  Because the real story is probably more along the line of, “we need to expand the tax base so we can service all the debt we’re going to have to pay back when the bonds we floated for all this work come due in less than 10 years.”

So sure, Carmel has great roads and always has the snow off of them quickly, and it’s a beautiful place to drive through if you can negotiate all the fucking roundabouts.  But I’ll bet on paper it’s practically bankrupt.  I know people who have served on its city council over the last decade or so, and they all think the mayor is nuts, and skirting the law in the bargain.  And if you talk to the general public up there, they all think the mayor is nuts.

But he keeps winning re-election.  He’s in like his fourth or fifth term.  And the same people who complain about him keep voting for him; I have no idea why.  You’d think they’d throw him out in the primary, or hold their noses and vote Democrat in the general, just to get rid of him.  I mean, you could always vote the Democrat back out in four years.

So going back to what my friend opined about this morning:

I question whether or not having a lovely downtown and no potholes is truly better than having a reasonable downtown and a shitload of potholes that will eventually be fixed (I mean, spring IS coming, it’s just not coming real fast) if you’re sitting on a ton of debt because of it.  Carmel isn’t that big of a city, and it is constrained from growing much larger because it’s surrounded on all sides by other municipalities and/or county lines it can’t cross.  And it’s building up its unimproved areas very fast.  Sooner or later it’s going to grow to its limits and it won’t be able to easily increase its tax base, at least not with the kind of people it can tax at a high rate and expect to keep around to help pay off its bonds.

Stein’s Law informs us that if something cannot go on forever, it will stop.  In that vein, Maggie Thatcher (apocryphally) told us that sooner or later, you run out of other people’s money.**

Well, that’s Carmel, Indiana, in another decade or so.

Indianapolis?  Who knows.  And since I don’t intend to be living here in another decade, I don’t honestly much care.  But we’ve seen what Democrats do to cities, and I don’t see Indianapolis regaining a GOP hegemony any time soon.

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* This is a fair metaphor, because while we have a beautiful downtown on the surface, what’s going on underneath the surface is pretty much a dog’s breakfast.  The work never ends underground at North and Pierson Streets, for instance; I’ve been watching them dig big holes in the road there for the last 10+ years.  And the rest of the downtown infrastructure isn’t much better — remember the vault fires that were blowing manhole covers out of the street, a few years back?  And let’s not discuss the 150 year old sewers and ancient water distribution system.

** Whether she actually said it or not is unimportant; it is simply an illustration of Stein’s Law, and she did say things like it about socialism.