Hogsett Offers More Hope (And More Questions)
As I sat down and watched Indianapolis Mayor Joe’s Hogsett’s second State of the City speech, two thoughts came to mind. The mayor is a great at two things, giving an impassioned speech that reaches the heart of the listener and leaving me with more questions when he’s done.
In his first state of the city address, the mayor talked about public safety, poverty and getting the city’s finances in order. He spoke about a new approach to fighting crime, addressing the mental health component of jail overcrowding, addressing poverty and improving the overall quality of life in the city. In his second speech, the Mayor stressed similar themes. He talked community policing, summer jobs for teens, increasing educational opportunities, more street lights and tackling the problem of homelessness.
I give the Mayor kudos for spelling out his vision, but he still gives me pause on some issues that are still left over from his first speech.
Take the proposed Criminal Justice Center for example. The current cost of the project is $575 million, that’s $167 million more than under the previous administration. And while a big part of the overall plan is to treat mental health, no one knows for sure what the Trump administration and Congress will do with mental health funding. Also, a big part of the “cost savings” was supposed to come from bail reform ordered by the Indiana Supreme Court. The last I saw that program was still in limbo. So how will the Mayor tackle this going forward? Not mention under his first year Indy had its worst homicide record in history and we’re hovering near 40 to date, putting us on track for 135 by the end of the year, provided the bad guys have poor aim in the summer months.
Another question I have is when it comes to the issue of poverty. If you’ve seen the stats, it’s not pretty. Last year the Indy Star reported a 41 percent increase in poverty from 2005 to 2013. I believe the Mayor wants to break the cycle just like the rest of us, but is he willing to have the discussion that a lot of people will find unpleasant? It’s no big secret, if you break down the data, according to National Center for Children in Poverty 68 percent of kids in poverty live in a single-parent household. Eighty-eight percent of kids in poverty have a parent with no post-secondary education, and 76 percent of kids in poverty have a parent who either only works part-time or has no job. IIs the Mayor ready to have the “tough talk” about lifestyle choices that contribute to a life of poverty? I hope so.
And when it comes to city finances, they get credit for cutting the structural deficit in half, but there’s an asterisk mark. As I pointed out several months ago, part of that hole is plugged, in part, with $13 million in state funds as part of a one-time distribution of local option income taxes. And the city reduced its contribution to its rainy day fund by about $17 million which one could also argue helped close some of that shortfall. Can the city do that again in next budget? We’ll see.
As I have written before, I want the Mayor to do well. Because when he does well, the city does well. I like his ideas about making sure kids have jobs and know about their opportunities to get a good post-secondary education. I also want safe streets and the true homeless (not panhandlers running a scam) to get the help they need. I’d like to see some answers to my questions, because, at the end of the day, they will make Indy a better place to live.