The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce: More Progressive than our Government

Image Credit: Paul Sableman via Flickr

When I think about the Chamber of Commerce, I envision a small group of old white men in suits sitting around smoky board rooms, glumly deciding the fate of the world.  Their Neo-Gothic building does nothing to dissuade that impression.  However, the Chamber has been nothing of the sort in recent history.  Their recent push for mass transit improvement in the city highlighted that they have actually out ahead of our government on many important issues.

Not surprisingly, this separation is much more pronounced with the State Government than the City’s Government.  The most notable local schism happened when the Chamber backed a proposed comprehensive smoking ban that the City County Council voted down.  Unfortunately, there has been little local progress on other issues we could at least be standing firm on that the Chamber backs, such as gay rights and comprehensive immigration reform.  This leaves our city vulnerable to the whims of the State Government, as we saw during the most recent session.

The Representatives at the State House often repeat the mantra that if it’s good for business, it’s good for the state.  While this may or may not be true, I hope that they someday come to the conclusion that if it’s good for the businesses of Indianapolis, it’s also good for the state.  Until that day comes, we’ll have to keep pushing our city councilors and the mayor for reasonable action on the aforementioned issues.  It’s good to know that the Chamber of Commerce will be at the front lines in these fights, as we look to attract new businesses and residents to our city.

Comments 15

  • Is “progressive” a code word for liberal, big spending, never meeting a tax or fee increase or corporate welfare scheme it wouldn’t support, then yes I would agree with you that the Chamber is “progressive.”

  • That is going a bit farther than I wanted to go here. I wish to promote urban living for younger people and new residents. In general, young, talented people don’t care much for the gay bashing or immigrant profiling we have seen arise at the state level. They’re even driving and smoking less than their parents’ generation. That’s what I meant by progressive: forward thinking and skewed to attract next generation of residents. No code words intended, although maybe I could have used a different term here. If there’s another one, I’d like to hear it.

  • Gotcha, Kevin. I don’t get the whole comprehensive smoking ban though. It’s already banned at what 90% of establishments. It’s not like we don’t have a law in place now.

    • There are many servers and bartenders who would prefer to continue working in bars without the risk of getting lung cancer. 3rd hand smoke is also a big problem, where the workers bring it home to their kids on their clothes. The surgeon general in 2006 declared there is no safe level of involuntary smoke exposure. It should be banned at 100% of public establishments, because the externalities are just too great to ignore.
      That is the main justification for the smoking ban. It also has additional positive side effects, such as increased business for the bars/taverns and a negative feedback effect on smoking in general, so that public health improves and life expectancy goes way up.
      As a public policy standpoint, I don’t believe that people have a right to poison others in the name of personal liberty.

  • “There are many servers and bartenders who would prefer to continue working in bars without the risk of getting lung cancer. As a public policy standpoint, I don’t believe that people have a right to poison others in the name of personal liberty.”

    The server and bartender are free to open up their own establishment. This is the problem with America: It is no longer a country based upon individual freedom and pursuit. Instead, it is a country based upon the path of least resistance and “my, myself, and I” greed. No one wants to take the risks, they just want things handed to them. The bartender and server don’t want to put their assets on the line for a loan to open their own smoke free bar/club. They would rather someone else do that, and then force that person to run their business as the employees see fit. Oh well, I’m glad my life expectancy will get another five years added to it. Another five years of sitting around in some nursing home, barely able to walk to the bathroom by myself. Just what we need, add five to ten years of Medicaid nursing home costs. That is what “living” a human lifespan has become: Make it so your so weak and sick, that you sit around in a room 24/7. If that extended lifespan would mean five more years of hiking through Yellowstone, driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, or touring NYC, I would be all for it. But for the vast majority, that additional five years will just mean living through losing your sight, five more years of buying Depends, etc..

    This is the future of America. One would be a total fool to start their own business in this country. It is better to be a government wage slave: Decent money, decent benefits, and a so-so to awesome lifetime pension (depends on the plan). I should have been one of those California lifeguards who will get a $200K/year pension payout…for life!! Better yet is to work for some “not-for-profit” that takes government money. Look at the CEOs of some of these NFP or public-private partnerships: Salaries that are over six figures, take home vehicles, tickets to Colts/Pacer games, etc..

    Of course the Chamber of Commerce is pushing for mass transit. They know that their members will just pass on any of their tax increases onto consumers. Lots of people support something when someone else is paying 3/4ths or more of the costs.

    • Actually, people who live in traditional neighborhoods can stay active and maintain a high quality of life well past retirement age.

    • I don’t know, James, a death from smoking-related illness can be pretty ugly. Despite having been diagnosed with emphysema and COPD when she was in her mid 60s, my grandmother lived for nearly another 20 years. During most of that time, she managed her illness and continued to live an active lifestyle, but I wouldn’t wish her last five years on my worst enemy. That she remained mentally with-it until nearly the end only made matters worse. The idea that decreased lifespan because of exposure to cigarette smoke will make for a more graceful exit from this world strikes me as positively unhinged.

  • Thats a very pessimistic view of things James. I agree with Graeme. I play in a punk rock band and often times, my wife will not even come to our bar shows because the establishments are so full of smoke. I sympathize with bartenders and servers because its a low skill service job that nearly anyone can get. To say that a potentially well paying job is available to everyone, but you are going to have to sacrifice your health with no means of guarding against it is a pretty evil thing to do. Not only that, smoking stinks. I hate going to wash my clothes and they smell like a pack of marlboro reds. It sucks.
    Regarding mass transit, I will pay a tax for it. A healthy tax in fact. If I know that we are going to get some good transit options I am all in. Back to your comment about paying 3/4 or more of the cost, we all currently pay 100% of the bill for public roads. Unless it is a toll road, it is not paying for itself. Not through vehicle registration fees. Not wheel taxes. For a number of years, Federal roadway funding has been backed by the general fund, just to keep up with the number of projects. The point is, if we are going to be paying tax dollars on transportation infrastructure, Id like to see more mass transit options here.

  • Curt,

    I agree wit your stance on funding for roads vs. transit. It is one of the most used, yet most incorrect arguements presented that roads pay for themselves through user fees. Even the small percentage of fees paid for driving are subsidized. The registration fee is paid into by gambling revenue and the long list of oil subsidies won’t fit in this window, but to truly have a competitive transit system, we must be able to actually shift funding from roads to transit. We scratch and claw to get a fraction of a percentage increase in local taxes to fund a lowly startup plan yet roads are given huge federal dollars without question. When will we be able to take the magic money from roads and invest in worthwhile transportation policies? haha

  • Curt – great post. Thanks for all your continuous efforts to clarify, educate and give transparency to the important issues in our city and region. MassTransit is sooo important for Indianapolis! Like you (and many others),definitely committed to pay for a good connected transit service. Leaders asked and the public has responded. If we want a specific quality of life and wish to attract people to our city, leaders and officials need to put aside there own personal and political agendas and ambitions. It really is time to work together and figure out a way to acomplish what is best for the city of Indianapolis.

  • James-
    per your post, it seems that you are unhappy with government, private entities, non-for-profits and certain individuals (and their choices). All that in just two paragraphs….that’s a very coherent starting point for a dialogue.
    Fact vs. fiction: I was wondering about this argument of growing government….so I did a quick research, and found out that our federal government employed more people in 1992 (earliest data I could find) totaling little over 3 million full and part-time employees, then it employed in 2009 totaling little over 2.8 million. Even when you include Department of Homeland Security which didn’t exist in 1992, the federal government employed less people in 2009. So, it’s inaccurate to say that we are growing government in that sense. Considering that we had a significant increase in population, I would argue that we had a significant reduction in government employment over the last 20 years. The same is true on the state and local level for Indiana (I didn’t check in aggregate for all states, but I bet you would see the same pattern). Now, the government deficit is increasing, but that’s a whole different argument and it has nothing to do with “inefficient & lazy” government employees.

    • I won’t say that government didn’t shrink in shear numbers of employees, I will take your word for that. Thankfully we got some tax cuts, but look at what these government and quasi-government entities are pushing for: More and more taxes. So while my federal income taxes have gotten cut, and my property taxes have gotten capped (my taxes have actually went up some, almost right at the cap level), other taxes have went up. As gas prices have went up, so have taxes related to gas sales. Food and beverage taxes have went up. A while back, my county adopted a wheel tax for all vehicles that are registered. If you are in Marion County and rent a car or stay in a hotel room, taxes have went up for that.

      What upsets me the most is that people who are involved in government, provide good service, usually want to jump into the “private” sector. What I have seen is more and more of these so-called private sector jobs are nothing more than quasi-government departments. By getting them off the government roles, this has allowed politicians and political hacks to jump into these jobs, some of which have CEOs that make close to what Obama gets paid to run the whole country. While I’m a fiscal conservative, I don’t support outsourcing if it is only done to enrich some connected people and make them wealthy. Any sort of outsourcing seems to need lawyers, real estate types, bond banks, etc.. All of which bill the municipality at top dollar.

      I agree transit is needed in Indy, to some level. However, I see this as just another get rich quick scheme that we see happening all over the country. Government work projects should be cheap. Look at this gem from CIRTA minutes:

      “$174,255 represented salary and salary related costs for the new Executive Director and Administrative Assistant.” Top level admin assistants make $45K, unless they are really up there with some Fortune 500 VPs or something. So that means the executive director is likely making over six-figures. For what exactly? How many employees do they oversee?

      I see this stuff happening in large universities as well. Universities paying people huge sums of money that their counterparts in municipalities might be lucky to make 75% of.

      We have a broken, corrupt government.

  • The executive director reports to a board of 14 people from all over the region. He is continually engaging in work day hours as well as after hours meetings at all times of the year attempting to make sure that this job gets done. He has a family to support.
    There is also the notion that to retain quality people in key positions, they must be paid. Sure maybe they can find someone for a lot less per year, but what sort of quality of work are they going to get out of this? I can tell you point blank that CIRTA’s executive director invests a lot of personal time into cooperating across multiple levels of government, community and organizations without a vested interest.
    Furthermore, what you imply about fiscal conservatism is a shaky slope. MOST (not all) political conservatives are all about cutting taxes and privatizing public services. These all still require some sort of taxpayer subsidy. Additionally, those same conservatives continually push for lower corporate taxes for “job creation” aka economic development. How often are these corporations still outsourcing? Its all about the bottom line. As more of these taxes get cut, that means less money for municipal organizations like IndyGo to provide quality service. The recently completed Comprehensive Operational Analysis (located on IndyGo’s website) points out the rising cost of doing business. Facility upkeep. Energy prices, etc. How do you propose we solve these problems by cutting taxeS?

    • The MPO director, has similar reporting requirements and to my knowledge does not make a similar salary. Everyone has a family, even if that family is just themselves.

      The conservatives you are referencing are big government republicans, who want to spend just as much as liberals; they just want to spend some of the loot on different things. When they see a way to steal money from the rest of us, they will be for mass transit also.

      Some of us are actually against the death war spending, the subsidizing of outsourcing, the charade of privatization as well as tax abatement, TIFs and all of the other government give-aways.

      Additionally, the only reason that the number of federal government employees has decreased is because of the expanded use of contract employers that even the military uses, at pay grades far beyond the rank and file soldier. No matter how much other items get cut, the contracts keep being let in every increasing amounts. In addition to the legacy costs of pensions and healthcare, it is the increasing use of and dependence on contracts that is bankrupting most levels of government.

      As for mass transit, one needs mass that doesn’t exist here. Even in places where some mass exists, for the most part, enough funding can not be obtained to maintain the system once constructed. So, in fifteen years or less, the system would begin to deteriorate as it has elsewhere. And then everyone who thinks that they won’t have to pay more will clamor for more funding (taxes), making life even more miserable for those who can’t afford another nickel taken from their pocketbook.

  • Tobacco smoking is obviously very unhealthy, but I wonder how many who are concerned about inhaling second-hand smoke know what is in the Indianapolis air that they breath. How many would support greater pollution controls in order to clean up what is routinely and factually rated as very dirty air, or would that be too much government interference with business? How many would favor returning to vehicle inspections by which the greatest polluters would not be allowed on the roads, or would that be government infringement of personal liberty? Even further, how many anti-smokers want the controls and costs needed to stop sewage from being dumped into our streams and rivers? How many are willing to pay higher electricity bills so that IPALCO can reduce goal-burning emissions? How many Hoosiers would punish BP for dumping chemical waste into the Calumet River and Lake Michigan? These are strange (terribly inconsistent) days indeed.

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