Friday, January 27th, 2012

Do Unto Localities As You Hate the Federal Government Doing Unto You

Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. – Matthew 18:23-34

If there’s one thing you can count on in state government, it is complaints about federal red tape, unfunded mandates, and general over reach. Witness, for example, the battle royale over the health care law, with many states suing to overturn it. I think in many ways it is totally justifiable for states to be upset that the federal government takes money from their citizens, then just sends parts of it back with string attached.

So when dealing with local governments inside of their states, you would think state level politicians would remember how it feels to be on the receiving end and avoid tangling up their localities with red tape and mandates, instead empowering them by devolving power as much as possible and not meddling.

If you think that, you think wrong.

Another example is happening before our eyes in Indiana. After years of local study and consensus building, metro Indianapolis finally came up with a consensus transit plan called Indy Connect. It is a bus centric system that, while not exactly cheap, is certainly more cost efficient than many cities’ grandiose rail plans.

Unfortunately, Indiana doesn’t allow localities to impose taxes without specific state authorization and has a long tradition of keeping municipalities on a tight leash. Legislators complain when places like Indy keep coming to the well, but the reality is they don’t have the powers they need to do things without specific state approval.

So it is with transit. In order to fund the transit system, a special local tax levy would be required. So the backers of Indy Connect went to the General Assembly to ask, not for any taxes to be imposed, but only for permission to put a referendum on the ballot that would allow locals to decide for themselves whether or not to pay for a transit system. That’s it.

Unfortunately, that was too much for the legislature, which killed the transit bill in committee. This is the same legislature that, by the way, on the very same day passed a bill out of committee allowing “creation science” to be taught in schools. Glad to see they have their priorities straight.

Lest you think this is all evil anti-transit Republicans, the transit measure failed because Democrats voted against it. The Republican committee chair insisted that the transit bill include a “right to work” provision that prohibited mandatory unionization of transit workers. Now, I think right to work is a sideshow myself. And I don’t think that Republicans should have insisted on what is clearly an ancillary matter and one they know would tweak Democrats. I would have removed the provision, especially as I believe it conflicts with federal law anyway. But for Democrats to throw transit under the bus because of it exposes the extent to which at the state level, the Democratic party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the unions. They’d rather have no transit system at all than a non-union transit system. The died in the wool blue urbanist crowd in Indy has expressed some surprise that Democrats opposed it – including, incidentally, Rep. Bill Crawford, who represents an Indianapolis inner city district that would benefit enormously from improved transit – but that’s only because they are naive about how politics works at this level. They should keep that in mind going forward.

In any case, there are still ways to pass the law, such as by inserting it into another bill that then passes. This happens routinely in Indiana and elsewhere. But this recent vote is part of a pattern of dis-empowerment of localities in recent years. Tax caps (which I support, incidentally) were one – but the rules go well beyond that to impose de fact spending caps on local government. The state has stepped up increasing control over school districts and now basically dictates per pupil funding around the state. Other busybody bills include proposals this year to limit the power of redevelopment commissions, strip state universities of their ability to set tuition, and to mandate a return to single class high school basketball. A lawmaker from Cedar Lake, 150 miles away from Indianapolis, wants to eliminate Indy’s at large council seats. If there’s one common theme, it’s that this legislature has been more about taking away the ability of others to make their own decisions rather than doing much positive themselves.

It should come as no surprise that this is showing up in the state’s economy. For example, Gov. Mitch Daniels has said of Indianapolis, “The Indy metro’s our star cylinder in the engine.” Indeed, during the 2000s metro Indy outperformed all peer regions in population and job growth.

But recently it has taken a stumble. Between December 2010 and December 2011, metro Indy lost jobs. It was the only metro with over a million people in the Midwest to lose jobs other than Cleveland. That’s right, even Detroit gained jobs. A recent Brookings Global MetroMonitor report report ranked Indianapolis 183rd out of 200 global metros and dead last in the Midwest. The recent Milken Institute top performing cities index ranked Indianapolis 121 out of 200 large US metros, down from 81 a few years ago. Obviously in the Great Recession there are complex dynamics affecting how cities perform, but I don’t think it’s any accident this stumble has occurred against a backdrop of progressive local dis-empowerment in Indiana.

I appreciate the need for lean government, particularly today. But while the logic of minimalistic government spending as a road to success makes sense in some cases, it clearly doesn’t in central Indianapolis. There we have a city burdened with legacy costs and problems. As a result, central Indianapolis is always going to have higher taxes, more crime, and worse schools than other regional areas. Always, no matter how much it cuts. It cannot make itself competitive by cost cutting alone, as the exodus from Center Township shown in the last Census illustrates. Instead, it has to built a differentiated environment that is not in direct cost competition with suburbs. Obviously it has to keep a keen eye on the bottom line, but it can’t simply rely on cost cutting alone to drive success.

Transit is a big part of trying to do that. There’s no guarantee of success. But given the history, more of same is highly unlikely to work. The heart of the proposal is a quality urban bus system for the central core. This creates a more differentiated environment, better serves the mobility needs of carless residents, and links central city residents with emerging suburban job centers (which is one reason business has been so on board with the plan). It’s also comparatively cost efficient.

Let’s hope the legislature comes to its senses on this one. The idea that what happens to the urban core of Indy doesn’t matter to the state is ludicrous. The fate of Indianapolis and Indiana are bi-directionally linked. There can’t be a successful Indianapolis without a successful Indiana – but also vice versa.

Some have reported that Indianapolis has accounted for something like 80% of the economic growth in the state. Contrary to popular belief, it sends far more to state government than it gets back in taxes. Indianapolis, as the governor noted, is the economic engine of the state. But that engine is sputtering. Given that there’s no precedent for a region to thrive with an urban core that dies, we can expect that if central Indianapolis ultimately fails, it will take the region with it, and with that likely the state. The trajectory of the state economically, especially the central 2/3rd that are in Indy’s economic area, would be quite different indeed even if metro Indy merely regresses to say a Cincinnati level of growth.

Who knows what the state will ultimately do, but the micro-management of localities that occurs all too often not just in Indiana, but across America, is crippling the metro areas that are the economic drivers of our economy.

Indiana’s legislature ought to take a hard look in the mirror and ask why they have to try to act like the city council for the whole state. Given that there’s no federalism at the state-local level, that’s certainly their constitutional right. But if they want to be in that business, they, like the ungrateful servant, deserve every drop of torment the federal government chooses to inflict on them.

Topics: Public Policy, Transportation
Cities: Indianapolis

36 Responses to “Do Unto Localities As You Hate the Federal Government Doing Unto You”

  1. Bob Cook says:

    There is a resentment of the Indianapolis area at the statehouse level, and one that’s growing stronger as the area grows more powerful and more diverse as other parts of the state die on the vine. I suspect this resentment would grow stronger with Mike Pence as governor, given he’s represented a House district that has been in serious economic decline during his tenure, and that was even when times were good.

    But the bigger issue with the state legislature, historically and particularly as constituted now, is that there is no trust of local government, and if a local government does something legislators don’t like (such as pass any gun restrictions), the state legislators come crashing in. Heck, the state has set up rules that effectively made it the uberschool board, wresting a lot of local control away. It’s supreme cognitive dissonance for anyone proclaiming support of small government to vote for any of this stuff.

    Then again, that’s how the state government is set up by statute. Look at IC 36-1-3-8, “Powers specifically withheld.” It seems like a municipality can’t pick up a penny off the street without asking state permission.

    I appreciate that where I live in suburban Chicago, we have home rule that allows for the imposition (and cancellation) of taxes. That allows our village to raise money if needed for local projects, or at least for those discussions to happen locally.

  2. Jeff Gillenwater says:

    Thank you for this. To your point about Democrats and unions I would simply add that the Republicans’ insistence on keeping right-to-work language in the bill (or inserting it in the first place) “exposes the extent to which at the state and local levels, the Republican party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the chamber of commerce.”

    Beyond that, though, your analysis is dead on. For all the rhetoric about lessened government intrusion, self-determination, competition, etc., Indiana’s strict control of municipal government is a hypocrisy that negatively impacts municipal function on a daily basis, and mot just in larger metro areas.

  3. Jeff, I think RTW is less about Republicans catering to business than simply trying to cut off the money supply to their opponents. Ultimately, I think RTW boils down to a money issue on both sides.

  4. CityBeautiful21 says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Gillenwater’s post above. I would also suggest you add some links to your posts from last year or the year before that asked:

    “Are States Relevant: Yes and No.” I remember your “No” piece was very persuasive on the economic merits, and your “Yes” piece was persuasive on the fact that states have the political capacity to damage their healthiest metropolitan areas’ economies.

    A lot of the problems faced by metropolitan regions, for both cities and suburbs, are that they need to work with an anachronistic level of government that has little relevance to the modern world, the states.

  5. Danny Handelman says:

    Municipalities don’t need to increase taxes or user fees or receiving more funding from the state or federal governments. Municipalities should take responsibility by shifting money from areas which have a low or negative rate of return on the investment (roads, police, interest on debt) toward areas which have a high rate of return on the investment (public transit, brownfield remediation, burial of hydro poles) and not blame the state or federal governments. Municipalities can also take responsibility by shifting property taxes with emphasis on the buildings toward the value of the land, which will cause the (potentially) most valuable land (downtown) to be used more efficiently (upward), which will decrease the cost of housing and services, and will essentially eliminate inefficient uses of the land (vacant, brownfield or parking). Municipalities can also increase development charges for low-density buildings and decreasing development charges for high-density buildings to more accurately reflect the cost of services.

  6. Danny Handelman says:

    Education and health care also have a high rate of return on the investment

  7. Jeff Gillenwater says:

    Urbanophile, I agree and have said the same thing about RTW, but following the campaign money trail points directly to the chamber of commerce as the source of much of the GOP agenda. The chamber in no way represents “business” in Indiana. There’s no sense in equating the two, as the chamber’s agenda is so often unfriendly to the small, independent companies that actually make up a large majority of business in the state.

  8. Chris Barnett says:

    It is more clear than ever that “first class cities” in Indiana (of which there is exactly one) need much more home-rule capability in budgeting and taxation. It is also clear that Indiana counties should have a built-in right to form multi-county compacts for regional projects and services, both mundane (waste service districts) and special (stadium).

    It is insane that almost every law governing cities and counties has a “special” section of provisions for “first class cities” or “consolidated city-county governments”. Since Indy residents can’t vote for or against the Indiana legislators outside the county, I don’t think they should have the right to act as a “super city council” for Indianapolis. They don’t live here or pay taxes here; as pointed out above, there is always an undercurrent of anti-Indy sentiment in the legislature.

    Over a couple decades of civic involvement, I have come to know several Councilors of both parties. To a person, they have been regular folks who’ll listen to citizens…because they share a life investment in our city.

    In short, I trust our 29 local City-County Council members to do what is right for our city, much more than the vast majority of state legislators who don’t live in the metro area.

  9. Chris Barnett says:

    Bob Cook: Regardless of the boundaries of his US House district, Mike Pence is from Columbus. It is neither a shrinking backwater nor a place with open antipathy to Indianapolis. I wouldn’t expect him to be anti-Indy generally.

    By the standards of Chicagoland, Columbus is commutable from Indy, less than an hour’s drive from the southern 2/3 of the metro area.

  10. Jeff Gillenwater says:

    Chris Barnett, I don’t disagree but would again point out that the state’s centralized system impacts every municipality in much the same way it impacts Indy. Indianapolis residents don’t vote or pay taxes in other parts of the state, as you say, but their state reps, who often have little to no knowledge of those other areas, are just as empowered at the state level to make decisions that effect them. In other words, I don’t think the state legislature should determine whether or not Indy area residents can hold a referendum to decide if they want to spend their own money on mass transit. But I don’t think they should be involved in deciding that for any city or town. That such a thing occurred in reference to Indianapolis is of no consequence to the overall argument. The home-rule capability of which you speak should apply to everyone, not just one city.

  11. Chris Barnett says:

    Jeff, I disagree regarding home rule. My argument for it is pragmatic, not principled: there is not another city in the state with the population, density, regional infrastructure, or economic mass of Indianapolis.

    I might agree that several of Indiana’s second-tier cities are also entitled to home rule, especially if they fully consolidate adjacent townships.

    And I might agree that any county to abolish township and town government entirely around a “home-rule city” and consolidate functions into the county would also be so entitled.

    But home rule for small cities and towns apart from that? No. Residents of adjoining unincorporated or unconsolidated areas would be too much at the mercy of their town neighbors without voice or vote.

  12. Jeff Gillenwater says:

    Chris, my argument is pragmatic as well. I live in New Albany, among the smallest of second class cities. When our city government approaches something like economic development, they are immediately confronted with a laundry list of state regulations that disallows innovation and a budgeting process that acts as a disincentive. The lack of flexibility is particularly troublesome in border areas such as ours where local officials are often trying to cooperate with or compete against areas controlled by a completely different regime. And for what it’s worth, Indiana law tends to favor empowering counties over municipalities. Even in those instances where city governments are trying to negotiate with county governments, the county often holds most of the bargaining chips.

  13. Chris Barnett says:

    Jeff, I have no problem if the Indiana suburbs of Louisville and Cincinnati are subordinate to the county level–you get to vote for the county government too, and in suburban/rural counties, both voices should be heard in governance.

    I’m not sure there’s a strong case for a suburb the size of New Albany or Clarksville to try and fund a separate ec dev function from their county unless it’s done through a TIF or EID. County is the right level for that…and probably even multi-county. (But that’s a digression for another day.)

    The problem in giving small-town and rural legislators the last say in Indy is that there is nothing here analogous to their hometown or home county. Not much farmland left. No Main Street centered on Courthouse Square. Huge enterprises to provide water, sewer, street, fire, police, court, jail, stadia, trash and transit. Unionized municipal employees. Large civil service. Big budget. 900,000 people. Few (if any) have any relevant experience with anything that big and concentrated.

  14. Ryan says:

    Good article. I’m a little behind on my transit policy, but would the local union need to sign off on any federal monies that come into Indianapolis? Long ago, that used to be a requirement but I wondered if it is today.

    I think a non-union transit company would be a travesty but I agree that a non-union company that is better funded beats what we have today. I make note that the state also tried to cut maximum funding through that referendum to 2%, whereas the plan recommended 3%. The legislator pointed out that the locality could pass its own referendum to raise the additional monies needed but it seems to be smarter to stick to what is recommended by the study. Why add another layer to the process?

    By the way, none of this would be necessary if politicians in the Indianapolis area and the surrounding region would have agreed to a higher tax rate. Instead, we have to hope that residents, not politicians, will make the correct decision. Ideally, the politicians are looking towards what is best for the population, instead of delaying because mass transit is not sexy. Ok, maybe I’m ranting now more than I’m making sense.

  15. Jeff Gillenwater says:

    Chris, there is nothing in Indy that is analogous to their situations, either, which as you point out are very different. The idea that representatives from rural and/or suburban areas just can’t fathom Indy-size operations but that representatives from Indy have no problems going the other way is precisely why their is anti-Indy sentiment across the state. An Indianapolis area politician has no better idea how to handle Floyd County than a Floyd Countian would in trying to handle Indianapolis.

  16. Jim Russell says:

    I have a problem with the line of thinking that implores states invest in their cities. Yes, starving Indianapolis of funding is self-defeating. Then again, you have smaller cities and towns investing in education to the benefit of Indianapolis. I can appreciate the backlash.

    Think about Chicago and Illinois. Chicago’s economic engine benefits more states than just Illinois. What does Indiana contribute? Talent. So does downtstate Illinois, along with tax dollars. Indiana (particularly Indianapolis) gets a free ride on Chicago’s coattails.

    Metro issues are federal issues, not state issues.

  17. Indy area citizen says:

    Here are a few points on this issue:

    #1: The rail portion of this plan isn’t needed. Indy don’t have the density, but rail is the head God of the mass transit folks. These are the folks that made most of the calls with this plan. Their original plan would have been double the costs, as it has a lot more rail involved. Only after understanding that people in more rural suburban counties wouldn’t vote for fancy trains for rich suburbanites did they scale back the plan on a massive level. Instead of a six county plan, they scaled it back to a two county plan.

    #2: Even with a much smaller plan focusing on Marion and rich Hamilton County, a lot of residents I know felt this plan was nothing more than a rush hour stuck in traffic bailout for rich suburbanites who make their money in downtown Indy, but live north outside the city limits.

    #3: The plan called for an income tax increase, but no one knew how the referendum would be worded or how the tax would be levied. Would it be each individual municipality voting on it, or the entire county? Huge parts of both counties would see no benefit, other would see only small benefits (maybe one bus line). The bill called for a tax increase that was 33% less than requested. One politician said locals should be forced to use their road building funds to make up the difference. If the whole argument is that this plan will reduce traffic on the roads, the politician has a point.

    #4: The transit folks need to forget about rail. The people who moved to Fishers and Noblesville who have to take I-69 and I-456 to Indy or points beyond knew that rush hour traffic is bad. They choose to live in a very populated suburban county. Some may not have planned for that, but that doesn’t mean others should be taxed to give them a costly fixed rail line. Instead, the plan needs to focus on expanded bus service, with two or three express buses from the suburbs. Say three buses serving Noblesville, three for Fishers, and three for Carmel.

  18. Chris Barnett says:

    Citizen, yours are all arguments to be aired in a referendum campaign where the voters get to decide the merits of the plan.

    The whole point of this argument is that we should NOT be debating your points in the Statehouse. The debate belongs at the City-County building and at town-hall meetings around the city ahead of a local ordinance or referendum.

  19. Chris Barnett says:

    Jeff, Jim Russell unintentionally makes my point for me: outstate counties contribute people to the Indy metro.

    Aaron has documented quite well that Indianapolis gains residents from all counties in the state except its own suburbs. There ARE plenty of people in Indy who understand every other county in the state from firsthand experience. I am not familiar with the life-history of every single Indy metro legislator, but I suspect some come from other parts of the state…or even other states.

    Even though two points represent insufficient data, look at this blog post: Aaron grew up in your part of the state, went to school in Bloomington, and has lived and worked in Indy. I have lived and worked in Logansport and Columbus as well as Indy and other cities/states.

  20. Chris Barnett says:

    Jim, in part I’m arguing the opposite. BECAUSE the state is a net taker from Indy, the Legislature should cede home rule in return instead of micromanaging the city’s service choices and fiscal options. I am certainly not making a case for state funding, instead arguing for the city’s right to self-determine and self-fund.

    Unless the legislators want to do the right thing and lighten my city-county property and income tax burden by making a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) for all the state land in the city and for their personal use of municipal services while in session. I’m not going to hold my breath an wait for that. :)

  21. Indy area citizen says:


    I’ve argued elsewhere for the locals to have a say in this w/o state approval. However, how local do we go? Should the state even have to pass a law that allows for a referendum? Will a small town like Cicero be allowed to vote yes or no on a local level, or will the entire county be taken as a whole? (example: Citizens of Cicero, Atlanta, and Westfield vote no, Carmel, Noblesville, and Fishers vote yes. Shouldn’t only citizens in those municipalities that voted yes have to pay?)

    I’m not a big fan of “home rule,” as then you end up with a tic-tac-toe board of rules and regulations. The first comment talked about guns. I don’t like home rule when it comes to mere carrying of firearms since the state has a licensing system in place at the state level. A law-abiding citizen shouldn’t have to worry about becoming a criminal simply because they walk across an invisible municipal line. We seem to be seeing a move toward the legalization of marijuana, and I suspect as the older generations pass, this movement could actually spread. Imagine being able to smoke marijuana in Indy, but getting a citation with a large fine in a county 30 miles away. These are the downsides of home rule. How many law and code books do people need to memorize to stay legal?

    Home rule also allowed K-12 to go nuts with spending. Don’t forget the almost 3% tax rate on assessed value on homes in the Meridian-Kessler and Butler-Tarkington neighborhoods (those in the IPS district). Around 50% of that tax was for IPS, not known as a good school system. People here complain about municipalities not being able to raise taxes, but what happens if they jack them through the roof? Like him or hate him, Mitch and the Republicans saved a lot of older urban areas within our state. Those small neighborhoods with nice homes in areas with K-12 schools that serve lower income students. The districts went crazy with spending, using the “If we just spend more!” mentality. The results were protests all over the state, and in the MK-BT neighborhoods, for sale signs.

    Look at what Birmingham, AL is doing, not making bond payments. So instead of passing on massive taxation to pay for their obligations, they are just deciding not to pay their obligations. Is this how this country should run? Allow local municipalities to borrow and borrow, raise taxes a little, then declare bankruptcy and leave bond holders taking a huge hit? Or should courts mandate massive tax increases on just the residents of the municipality? While this issue seems local, it has national implications. The entire country has be built in part by government bonds, at the national, state, and local level. Unless we get our house in order, the entire system risk total collapse. Maybe that is what we need? No more municipal bonding, everything must be paid for in cash? Force governments to hike taxes income taxes 20-50%, property taxes at 10% assessed value, then see if the people really want mass transit, football stadiums, etc..

  22. John Morris says:

    Interesting conversation.

    One interesting thing about the Birmingham situation was that I think there were supposed to be limmits that forced all new bond issues to be voted on. Instead they county issued “warrants” and played other tricks to allow it to issue more debt.

  23. Jeff Gillenwater says:

    Chris, if those other counties were static, I’d be more inclined to agree. They’re not.

    I’ve lived and worked in other cities and states as well. That’s hardly uncommon outside of Indy. The Louisville MSA counts about 1.3 million from all over the region, country, and world and over 275,000 of those people are currently Hoosiers. As a college educated, working professional among them, I’ve seen others from Indy and parts north badly stumble locally both in policy and presentation owing to an Indy-centric viewpoint that has little relevance here. That’s my firsthand experience.

    As an aside, I had dinner with a group of friends living in New Albany last night. More than half have graduate degrees, including urban planning and law. Cities of life and professional experience include Louisville, Cincinnati, Denver, Tampa, Seattle, New York City, Vienna, and (gasp) Indianapolis. Indiana state agency related experiences include universities, social services, housing, and the arts, not to mention the one Floyd County lifer who has built a nationally recognized business and is a state leader in his field.

    I mention that not because its some wild anomaly but because it isn’t. By insisting that those folks and people like them around the state are somehow less qualified to make broad decisions than Indianapolis area residents and pols, I think you may have unintentionally made my point.

    The irony, I guess, is that most of the people I mention are in Indiana at all owing to family, a particular job, or some other similar circumstance. Were they to roam, Indy wouldn’t make their top 10 list of potential destinations. I’d much rather see Indy work on that rather than inflicting some haughtier-than-thou view on the rest of the state.

  24. Chris, I am surprised to see that you are so opposed to more home rule throughout the state. Clearly, Indiana has a very fractured economic geography and many diverse regions and needs (even if there is some cultural commonality and some common challenges).

    On the other hand for Jeff, there are clearly things that Indy needs to be able to do that are not applicable to other areas. Southern Indiana won’t be building a major football system, a major transit system, hosting the Super Bowl, building Indianapolis International Airport or many things that only big cities do.

    Most states recognize these differing needs. The distinguish between towns/villages and cities. And there are different classes of cities with different types of powers. There is some of this in Indiana, but the various classes (clearly first and second class cities) need additional powers to meet their needs.

    Back to Chris again, I can tell you that Southern Indiana has made great progress in unifying its economic development efforts, such as through the One Southern Indiana chamber of commerce. The conflict between cities and counties is orthogonal to the home rule debate IMO.

    However, I think Jeff gives a somewhat overstated view of the cosmopolitan nature of Southern Indiana. College degree attainment is only 19.8% in Clark County and 22.8 in Floyd County. I suspect other regional counties are even lower. I was very surprised when it hit me that there isn’t an actual Starbucks store in all of Southern Indiana. (There are two I’m aware of, but they are basically cafes inside other stores. And oddly enough the New Albany one stocks Indianapolis gear). This is probably one reason Southern Indiana never attracted the type of business that has come to Northern Kentucky across the river from Cincinnati, for example.

  25. Jeff Gillenwater says:

    Using Starbucks as an indicator is itself an indication of a very different worldview, particularly as it pertains to economic and/or cultural development. One Southern Indiana serves as a constant reminder of that, as many local businesses have organized against them on various issues and they’ve lately been struggling with membership levels. Interestingly, former 1Si head Dalby is now working in Columbus, OH, touting some of the very same solutions he fought against here.

    BTW, New Albany currently has three independent, locally owned coffee shops. Jeffersonville has at least one. In neither place is a Starbucks particularly desired. In fact, some local property owners, at least in downtown New Albany, have turned down overtures from chains. Many would suggest that the lack of desire for a chain like Starbucks in favor of local options is an indicator of more cosmopolitanism, not less.

    The transit question is interesting, too. A mass transit expansion would very much require the participation of Southern Indiana and support from the statehouse. Their overall lack of support for such has not gone unnoticed, as Hoosiers currently have to depend on the relative kindness of Louisville based TARC in order to have access at all.

    A regional transit plan was hatched over a decade ago with early indications of federal support but was killed by the states in pursuit of the Ohio River Bridges plan. Had Indiana state government responded differently and asserted itself in favor of transit, we may well have at least some light rail in place as we type.

    My overall point is that there are people scattered all over the state with well researched, highly developed notions of economic and cultural structures and how to positively impact them. The thing they have in common in many cases is roadblocks at the state level.

  26. Jeff Gillenwater says:

    And, for what it’s worth, Marion County sports a college degree attainment level of only 25.4%. The idea that it’s better educated than Floyd hinges on 2.6%. If Indianapolis is effectively functioning as a major talent magnet inherently more worthy of statewide support and/or autonomy, how does one explain such a minor difference? Doesn’t it make just as much sense to suggest that Floyd is ultimately more successful in that it attained its level without the benefits often reserved for Indy? Besides, isn’t the definition of “better educated” situational or are we just resigning ourselves to misguided hegemony as a matter of policy?

  27. Chris Barnett says:

    Jeff, you do seem to be conflating “Indianapolis” and “state government of Indiana” or “state legislature”, which I suspect us the root cause of the “anti-Indianapolis” sentiment that we all agree exists in the state.

    I assure you, Indy residents don’t all serve in or work for state government. But because we share our metro with them, and because we have distinctly different service and revenue needs than any other municipality, the legislature is a bigger factor in our civic lives than in yours. And probably more disliked, because our mayor has to go up Market Street, hat in hand, to beg for authority to raise money for the things we tell him we want.

    I’ll restate more clearly: I am concerned with the anti-urban bias of small-town/rural legislators and their frequent fellow-travelers, the Republican suburbanites. Their collective “one-size fits all” approach is probably fine for the rural, small-town, small-city, and exurban areas which are still a majority of the state’s population. But not Marion County, and probably not Lake or Allen either. Home rule is needed.

  28. Jeff Gillenwater says:

    Again, Chris, you demonstrate the central problem– i.e., the idea that “one-size-fits-all” is fine for everyone else except Indy alone. It’s not fine for everyone else. It’s counterproductive here and elsewhere, too. The same cabal that creates problems for you often creates problems for us, and vice versa. I am in no way suggesting that the city of Indy should be so thoroughly micromanaged by the statehouse. You, however, continue to suggest that my city should be. That you can’t see that as a form of arrogance that often exacerbates anti-Indy sentiment is baffling. You can’t realistically expect a level of respect in return that you’re not willing to give yourself.

  29. Chris Barnett says:

    Jeff, what other Indiana city/metro is comparable in population, size, or economic mass to Indy?

  30. Jeff Gillenwater says:

    Chris, what do any of those things have to do with the ability to manage one’s own affairs? Simply being bigger doesn’t make one a better manager. Entities of all sizes are managed both poorly and well depending on a variety of factors. Size is an insufficient predictor of which is more likely.

  31. Chris Barnett says:

    Jeff, the issue is “within what boundaries shall each Indiana community manage its own fiscal, legal, and developmental affairs?”

    Different frameworks are acceptable for each size/type/class of city and county.

    Indianapolis has long had its own unique framework, as the state’s only “first-class city” when the framework is based on cities, and as the only consolidated entity when the subject is counties.

    The rules of the current framework are too binding on the City and the metro area, insofar as changes/adjustments require constant tinkering by legislators who neither represent us nor live in a place anything like it. The locally-conceived and locally-led transit initiative is merely the latest example. The excuse of the Ways and Means chair (“the city can just use other revenue streams”) belies the size, complexity, needs, and expressed wishes of a modern large city that is the most densely-populated county in the state. Those other revenue streams are maxed out, not to provide concierge service but just the basics.

    We seem to be arguing over the relative need for more home rule for different places; my pragmatic argument is based on the unequaled position of Indianapolis in the state. One cannot make the argument for any other municipality or county in the state that it has no peers inside Indiana. Thus, it isn’t a stretch to suggest that some state-level policy limits applicable to similar places similarly situated is perfectly appropriate.

    But over a long period of time it has become obvious that Indianapolis suffers too much from state control over its fiscal options and is thus too limited in providing a major-city environment and services to match. (And one of the major drags is the amount of tax-exempt state land, state-level non-profit occupancy, regional non-profit health centers, and regional public facilities that I and other city residents subsidize by paying higher property tax and income tax rates.) In that discussion, it is irrelevant what other classes of cities in the state want; none are similarly situated. A major regional center simply has to provide more and different public and semi-public goods than the state’s dozen or two cities of 35-50,000.

    Note that I am not demanding that the state government pay its fair share of occupying Indianapolis (i.e. return every dollar colllected in state tax IN Marion County TO Marion Count, or pay property tax on its extensive developments here). I get the notion of commonwealth and public goods, and I do understand that we benefit from having the jobs and people here.

    I argue for symbiosis: allowing Indy far more room to maneuver in its own budget and provision of public goods will ultimately be good for the city and state. Indy has outgrown the state-imposed binding Unigov framework, and more state patching and tinkering is the wrong solution. Let the mayor and council drive our bus, plan its route, and manage its maintenance according to the wishes of the voters here.

  32. Jeff Gillenwater says:

    Chris, no one has argued against Indy’s unique position in the state nor its need for increased autonomy. But, statements like “…it isn’t a stretch to suggest that some state-levl policy limits applicable to similar places similarly situated is perfectly appropriate” belie much actual knowledge of the state, at least in the terms you’ve used to define “similar” thus far. As Aaron said, “Indiana has a very fractured economic geography and many diverse regions and needs”. You’ve shown a tendency to lump together what doesn’t fit together, which is exactly what the state does. Indy is unique in certain ways but other cities are just as unique in others.

    In terms of proximity to a major urban downtown, character, and function, the older portion of New Albany in which I live is more similar to a place like Fountain Square than it is to several other second class cities. Imagine that general circumstance, but draw a line between Indy’s CBD and Fountain Square, declaring that all the urban initiatives, services, and potential funding streams necessary and/or available in Indianapolis will not be accessible on the Fountain Square side of the line. And then tell FS they have to compete for business and residential investment with all the other parts of the city anyway. And then use Indiana state law to treat it just like Kokomo. I won’t waste pixels on lengthier descriptions, but you get the picture.

    Our symbiosis only works to the extent that we can maintain a position as a highly functioning part of a major metro area. That requires services similar to those in Indy in many cases. Other municipalities have a very different situation, no more or less unique than ours or Indy’s. It’s not a function of size or having outgrown something. The Unigov framework doesn’t work well for anyone and the patching and tinkering you mention have tended to make that worse, by virtue of blaming and further restricting locals who have already had their hands tied for decades.

  33. Matthew W. Hall says:

    I’ve often wondered how indy and columbus, Ohio would be able to grow beyond their college town, state govn’t, back office, branch plant, economies into full-fledged metros with a series of home grown and interconnected businesses and industries that could provide a more full-service employment, educational, and social experience than other midwest metros while still being cheaper and more ‘pro-business’. I’m beginning to consider the possibility that they simply can’t.

  34. Walbikus (walk-bike-bus) says:

    Excellent! Right on the button. What ever happened to the Republican’s previous string-less, local block-grants back in the day when Republicans thought that locals should be able to make their own decisions based on their own needs.

  35. Chris Barnett says:

    Matthew, Aaron has frequently commented on Indiana as a low-tax, low-services state. Indianapolis leaders understand the need to break that mold to attract talent and jobs, hence the decades-long sports and life sciences strategies.

  36. Pragmatically speaking, and also out of general principle, I’m having trouble seeing where Starbucks is any indicator of educational achievement. If I believed that sort of connection, I’d still be drinking and selling Budweiser, and there’d be no craft beer — and that would suck, indeed.

    My partners and I have invested heavily in brewing craft beer in downtown New Albany, via the New Albanian Brewing Company. Apart from administering a $50K loan coming from the Horseshoe (Casino) Foundation, One Southern Indiana has not only done nothing to assist in remaking of downtown New Albany, it has hindered progress by supporting things like bridge tolls.

    I’m enjoying the discussion. Thanks to all the participants.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

About the Urbanophile


Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.

Full Bio


Please email before connecting with me on LinkedIn if we don't already know each other.



Copyright © 2006-2014 Urbanophile, LLC, All Rights Reserved - Click here for copyright information and disclosures