Is it “breaking faith with taxpayers” when a city administration makes a promise, then gets ousted by voters in favor of a new administration that then decides it can’t keep the promise?
A year ago, the City-County Council, with the full support of then-Mayor Bart Peterson, increased the local option income tax by 65 percent. Many taxpayers were angered by that move but took some solace in the promise that the money would be used to add 100 officers to the police force to confront a surge in violent crime.
Now comes news that despite the tax increase the city can’t afford to add the new officers.
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The higher income tax raised $76 million, but about half of the money was siphoned to pay fire department pensions and to shore up the general fund. Most of the rest is going to meet the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s immediate needs.
In exchange for shelling out more of their incomes to the city, residents are now promised the addition of only 40 civilian officers, qualified to take accident reports and respond to vandalism claims. The promise of more professional crime fighters on the streets? That’s been set aside.
Fiscal reality may leave new Mayor Greg Ballard little choice but to break the previous administration’s promise. But it’s a lousy way to treat taxpayers and a poor message to send to the community. Who will trust the mayor or other local leaders to follow through as promised if the need should arise for another tax hike in coming years?
The more a government takes care of daily business, such as paving the potholes and hauling away the trash, the more it is on safe ground with taxpayers. The more long-range its plans, the shakier the ground gets. Plans that obligate future administrations also bind future taxpayers. Anything that goes beyond the current administration, such as multi-year leases (the toll road) or delayed fruition (Harrison Square) should automatically get more scrutiny and skepticism.
When a government raises $76 million in new revenue for soemthing new only to find most of it sucked into existing programs and obligations, that’s not just a public safety problem. That’s a problem of a government that is too big and doing too much.