Give Now  »

Indiana Public Media | WFIU - NPR | WTIU - PBS

Noon Edition

Local Leaders Talk Potential Sustainability Tax

Read Transcript
Hide Transcript

Transcript

>>UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Production support for Noon Edition comes from Smithville - fiber internet, streaming TV, home security, and automation in southern Indiana. More information at smithville.com. And from the Bloomington Health Foundation - partnering with local organizations and citizens to invest in programs that address our community's health needs. Bloomington Health Foundation - improving health and well-being takes a community. More at bloomhf.org. 

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: From the Milton Mets studio in IU's radio TV building, this is Noon Edition on WFIU. I'm Bob Zaltsberg from WFIU - WTIU news, and I'm co-hosting today with Sara Wittmeyer, WFIU WTIU news bureau chief. This week, we're talking about a proposed local income tax to create a sustainability investment fund. That fund would address climate issues over the next several years. We have four guests with us in the studio. John Hamilton is here. John, of course, is the mayor of Bloomington. William Ellis is the chairman of the Monroe County Republican Party and a member of the Ellettsville Town Council. Mary Morgan is director of advocacy and public policy for the greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce. And joining us again on the show is Matt Flaherty, a Bloomington City Council member. He's a member at large. You can join us on the program by calling 8128550811 in Bloomington or toll free at 18772859348. You can also send us questions for the show at news@indianapublicmedia.org. And you can follow us on Twitter @noonedition. We've done quite a bit of reporting and storytelling about the climate change issue over the last several months here. We had one live program downtown at Inkwell. Matt was on that panel, and so was - the mayor was on, too, of course I think. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Not the mayor. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: No, it wasn't the mayor. 

>>JOHN HAMILTON: Not at the Inkwell. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: No, not at the Inkwell. 

>>JOHN HAMILTON: You see me enough, you get mixed... 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: That's right, it was Alex Crowley who represented the city at that show. So - but we want to kind of set the stage for the issues of climate change. We have a clip we want to play. Savannah Sullivan is with the Environmental Resilience Institute. She's the toolkit coordinator for that institute at IU. 

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) 

>>SAVANNAH SULLIVAN: Bloomington experiences about 26 days at 90 degrees Fahrenheit per year. And by the 2050s, Bloomington will experience 74 to 87 days per year above 90 degrees. Similarly, there are currently 19 heavy precipitation events per decade. And by the 2050s, there will be 22 to 23 of these events per decade. This is important because the Midwest - the climate impacts we can anticipate are extreme heat and extreme precipitation, and we will see real outcomes in Bloomington. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Some show - that's not news to those - to the mayor and to Matt and to Mary and to William, but I wanted to ask Mayor John Hamilton to start. This tax that you're talking about would try to help combat the issues of climate change. You know, why go that direction? What do you hope to achieve with this tax? 

>>JOHN HAMILTON: Yeah. Thanks, first, for having us - having us on to talk about this really important issue. It's good to see you again, Bob and Sarah. Thanks. Let me - you know, I - there are really two big things going on. And anytime I get with mayors - other leadership around the country, one of the issues is are we going to have a planet to live on? And will our future generations have a sustainable, habitable planet? And communities around the country and our community? That's one kind of question. Are we protecting the physical world? But a second parallel and equal question is will the new society that we have have a place for everybody in it? Because climate change is going to create a lot of stress, not just in weather events like that, but also to our economy and to our society. And so what we - what we've tried to do and what I've tried to propose is to note that the 2020s is a critical decade. If we don't make major progress in the 2020s to address both of those things - doing our part, locally, to help deal with the threats and the real things coming at us from climate change on the one hand, and also doing our part to make sure that the new society that will come as we go toward a no-carbon economy - all those changes - will we make sure that we have a place for everybody - that everybody can have a job, that everybody can have a place to live - that we will have those. So both of those are meant to be addressed by this new revenue, which we need to make some new actions on that. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. Matt, from the city council perspective, you're supportive of this I think, right? 

>>MATT FLAHERTY: Yeah, generally supportive of the idea, I think, and helping to coordinate public input and engagement around that as well as initiating conversations with other folks on the local income tax council, which is ultimately the body that will vote on something like this as it's developed. But, you know, I think the mayor's framing of two - a two-part question like that is pretty good. I agree. And if you - you know, I just finished a double master's degree program at the O'Neill school here focusing on climate change and energy policy and have done some work with NGOs in that space, and I would really characterize that as a - you know, an equitable and just transition that we need to undertake to get to a low-carbon economy or a zero-carbon economy and to make sure, yes, that everybody has a place in that, you know, future world - that we are actually moving towards a more equitable and more sustainable future. And to me, that's really what this is about. It's talking about not simply reacting to the changes that are coming our way, but rather preparing for them and making sure that we are using that as a window of opportunity for positive transformation for the future of Bloomington. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. Well, I want to ask William. From the - you know, from your standpoint, let's talk about the tax and the tax council and how this tax is going to be implemented. You've got some thoughts about that, I'm sure. 

>>WILLIAM ELLIS: I definitely do. One of the things that I - and that's great what Bloomington wants to do with their - I mean, I'm not going to try to tell the mayor or anybody on the city council they shouldn't want to spend their money the way they should. But the way the state law is set up for the income tax council, right now, if the city council even votes 5-4 for it, it kind of pretty much set - they have controlling interest of that local income tax board, and that tax would be implemented county wide. And the opposition I've seen to it is not so much the use as much as you've got people that are going to be taxed for something that, whether they agree with it or not, they have no representation, really, on that board because one controlling entity has complete control over it. The county council can vote 0 and 7 and say we don't want it, Ellittsvill an vote 0 and 5, we don't want it - as long as Bloomington votes 5-4, the tax is implemented county wide. And Ellittsville is already - because of the school system, because of TIF districts - one of the highest taxed areas in Monroe County. This would be really detrimental to a lot of our residents. And, you know, I know that he addressed about the working poor and the poor. I don't think they're going to see a direct one-for-one kind of put back no matter what we spend this on because that money is going out of their paycheck. They have other things they can spend it on. We have people who are living paycheck to paycheck and Ellittsville and other places and we're talking about raising wages and making a competitive market, and then if you all of a sudden hit their income - well, that negates that. So are we going to talk about having higher wages to offset a higher tax? So, I mean, it just - these are situations - and especially the way the tax board is set up, we're very concerned with. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. And Mary Morgan is here and she's from the greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce. Mary, has the chamber taken a position on this or are you just waiting to see? 

>>MARY MORGAN: No, we haven't taken a position on this one way or another, but obviously we do have thoughts. You know, the community spent a lot of time and energy a few years ago doing the comprehensive plan. I think the word sustain or sustainability is mentioned over 60 times, and so I think we have a good framework from which to begin and I hope that the comprehensive plan and the sustainability action plan are really front and center. We're - we do have concerns about the process and some hope that the process is very inclusive and transparent as we move forward. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: So why a tax? Why couldn't this be done with shifting existing funds around? 

>>JOHN HAMILTON: Sure. Let me respond to a couple of things. First of all, the state law sets how this tax is done. You know, if Bloomington can pass their own city tax, we'd welcome that if that's an authority to do so. But the state prescribes how these taxes are done. The rules all apply to 92 counties, and we're working with the the hand we've been dealt. For example, we'd love to pass a progressive income tax too, but we're not allowed to do that. So we take the approaches we have. Indiana continues to be a very low tax state, and Monroe County, to the surprise of most people, is the lowest income tax of all seven contiguous counties that we have. We are a very low tax - Monroe County as well. But in my view, the 2020s are going to demand new attention. And it's not just my view. You know, we've done two city surveys - scientific surveys, and each of them - 90% of the respondents have said the city should spend more money - new money to help our homeless, to help create housing. And not just housing, but also job supports and support for people with mental illness. And the challenges in front of us are big and they're going to take new research. Now, I do want to echo one thing Matt said which is really important to remember, in my view. The community that we can make at the end of a 10-year investment is a great community. It's really moving us in the direction that our people want to go with more transit, with more trails, with more sidewalks, with more clean energy, with more affordable housing - all those things that we really - are in our value system, this can help us get to. At the same time, we're doing the right thing to be a more sustainable and climate-responsive community. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. Our phone numbers, if you want to join our conversation today or if you have questions - 8128550811 in Bloomington or toll free at 18772859348. We also are taking questions at news@indianapublicmedia.org. And you can follow us on Twitter @noonedition. We have a great panel in here - we had a lot of people we wanted to talk to on the show. One of the people that was recommended to us was Ross Martini Isler who's the organizer of a group called the Golden Bicycle Movement. And we did talk to him - our producer Bente Bouthier I talked to him by phone. Here's one of the things that he said. 

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) 

>>ROSS MARTINI-ISLER: Certainly, we are very encouraged to see that the city is beginning to take the climate emergency seriously. However, flat taxes are regressive, and that is due to a fact of the Republican state legislature, which does not allow a progressive tax. But the local income tax will be harder on our poor and low income fellow citizens, and so we are interested that this tax is used in a very progressive way that benefits those who are directly affected by climate change and also income inequality. And also that this isn't an opportunity for creating some other kind of slush fund or rainy day fund for the city to do projects that are nominally climate-focused while passing up opportunities to take real action on climate and other areas but choosing not to do so. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. Let me unwrap that a little bit. William talked about the tax and the way that it's going to be set up. The mayor mentioned the fact that he would like to have a progressive tax but can't. So I just want to get your reaction to what Ross said. Mayor, Matt, anybody else - Mary? 

>>MARY MORGAN: Yeah, I'd like to jump in. I mean, I think one of the issues that I've heard is concern about how that money is spent. One of the challenges with bringing forward a proposal that starts with a - the funding mechanism versus starting with the projects is that people focus on that funding mechanism as opposed to - here's our community's top 10 priorities, and how can we fund them? Maybe let's - a part of that, maybe there are the resources. Excuse me. But when - I think this speaks to the importance of having some kind of dashboard - I know that Matt and I have talked about that - where you have very clear transparency about how that money is spent. I also think the possibility of sunsetting at a 10-year - over a 10-year period might be an option that would help people accept that this is a new revenue stream that's going to have an endpoint, and at that point, we can evaluate whether or not we've been effective in achieving the goals that we set. And if we have, maybe we want to do it again. If not, then we'll do something else. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. So you're saying, basically, we'd say this is a 10-year tax and then, after 10 years, it has to be reauthorized or it just goes away. 

>>MARY MORGAN: Yeah. And I don't know that the state legislature allows that, but certainly the tax council could vote to repeal it. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: William? 

>>WILLIAM ELLIS: Yeah. I've heard the mayor and other people say that - you know, that - kind of this is the hand they've been dealt. So would you be willing to go with us to lobby the state legislature to change that this year? Some language was taken out - if you wanted to make it progressive, let's put that in. It sounds like you don't like the way that we do not - that the income tax council is set up, so will you help with that? Because the association of Indiana - or cities - or municipalities aim - it's one big lobbyists to keep this - the status quo. And if one of the major cities, Bloomington, being impacted feels the status quo needs to change, I'd invite you to help us change it. 

>>JOHN HAMILTON: Well, I appreciate the invitation, William. We usually don't find the state legislature is terribly supportive of a lot of the things that we're interested in Bloomington - in fact, the exact opposite. But I do - it's unfortunate that the state legislature seems to be dominated by voices that are not focused on the economic engines of our municipalities. We certainly work very hard at the state legislature to support all kinds of things, including local fiscal control, which if the legislature would actually let the people of our communities decide how we want to finance things, that would be a great thing altogether. I'm pretty sure that they're not going to support that, but happy to talk to you about those details. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Can I ask about - going back to the city-county split, some of the money would go to the county, right? 

>>JOHN HAMILTON: Absolutely. About half of it does go to the county. And it - you know, we actually just passed a local income tax in 2016 with no complaints from the various voices when we supported a public safety income tax that is financing very important public safety improvements, both in the city and around the county. That was really important. That was a .25%. And this would provide funding to the county directly as well as to Ellittsvill an Steinsville that they can then allocate as they see fit. 

>>MARY MORGAN: I would love to see more coordination in terms of planning with the county - Ellittsville, Steinsville, other parts of the county - because I think there's some overlapping projects that will be really important to get everyone on board with. The - there is no obligation for the county to spend its money in any way other than it chooses to, but I think transit, for example, comes to mind and some housing issues as well would really benefit from having some coordinated planning if we pass this tax. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Matt? 

>>MATT FLAHERTY: Yeah. I'll agree with Mary there - that I think - and I'm - I am working that as a member of the city council - working on that - trying to have conversations with other folks in the local income tax council. William, let's speak after this meeting too to figure out if we can get together and have a conversation about, you know, what needs Ellittsville has and how we can try to work together and see where there's overlap and interest here. But transit is certainly one area that could benefit the whole county to have increased funding at both the city level and county level and coordinate better on that - park and rides, for instance, for our net in - significant in-commute is one possible example. Even discussions around an Ellitsville-Bloomington commuter shuttle - or maybe send that all the way out to Spencer. There are ways to really, yeah, work together and work collaboratively that I hope we can explore. Our governmental entities aren't necessarily super well set up to do that, so I'm - we're trying to figure out how to have those conversations and figure out where we can coordinate, and I think transit's a great example as - of an area where we're really prioritizing equity and making sure that, not only are we helping to address our carbon footprint and reduce that and be more sustainable and reduce air pollution, but it's really helping folks who are struggling who might not be able to afford to drive or own a car or when their car breaks down not be able to afford to fix it. So we need to be able to make sure people can move around, access amenities, access jobs - that sort of thing. 

>>WILLIAM ELLIS: Really, the only thing Ellittsville wants to do with the tax is refund it back to the people that were taxed. We have - I have not had one person in Ellittsville yet come to me in support. And for a small town like that, to have - you - I've had probably 30 or 40 Facebook messages, 10 or 15 emails, numerous calls - none of them want it. And they - you know, we're trying - they're - to me, if we're going to address some of these issues, I would rather address it with tax credits and incentives - instead of using the stick, use the carrot. There's a private company now called Arcadia Energy that you can actually, for free, switch over your electric for carbon offsets. Now, every time you do that, they're actually able to use some of the funds there because it's an ad - you actually can do a paid prescription and do the whole thing and switch it. Long story short, they have built probably 40 or 50 solar farms in the last year and a half country-wide, and the more of an area that switches, the closer those solar farms are going to come to you. So it would be a direct benefit. Why don't we have a symposium with private companies like that to try to attract people to voluntarily do it? Personally, I've saved 16 tons of carbon in the last year. Now multiply that by 5,000 people - you know, that's a small amount of people in the city of Bloomington - you got your 80 ton savings that you're looking for right there. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Mayor? 

>>JOHN HAMILTON: Yeah. I think, you know, the city's done a lot with the renewable energy and we do face a - Indiana is the eighth most carbon intensive per capita state in the country. Bloomington is a little better than Indiana average, but we're still below the national average in terms of our carbon footprint. So we have a lot of great work to go. I think that kind of symposium can be - but I want to respond directly to Ross Martini-Isles' point, which is a really important and good one that I think both city council and this administration agree with, which is it's very important to see the investments of this new tax tilt toward and focus on climate justice, sustainability for our whole economy - for all the people in our economy, while we are doing environmental improvements. As Matt mentioned, transit improvements help a whole bunch to avoid transportation costs that you otherwise have to incur. They also are really good for our environment. Similarly, affordable housing that lets more people live closer to where they work and other amenities is really important and helpful. So I think his point is very well taken. I know it's sensitive to the council and it's certainly something in the front of our mind in this administration too. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: So the last time I remember doing a show like this was when we were talking about the food and beverage tax to fund the convention center expansion. And as we all know, folks have been paying that tax and there's still - there's no groundbreaking or anything on the convention center expansion. So how - with that being said and pretty recent in people's memories, how do you convince people that this is going to be different? What's going to be the plan so that we get the money and we move forward with something? 

>>JOHN HAMILTON: Well, first of all, I'd say we're really close to the convention center. The money has been collected coming up about on two years - all that's being collected and saved to to invest in the convention center. I think we're really close to being able to kick that off this year, which will be really important. And that was a dedicated tax paid primarily - at least by - half by visitors to our community who help support that. This tax will go through both in Bloomington and the county council and Ellittsville and Steinsville - it'll go through the regular budget processes. So it's an annual budget review of how to allocate this. We - I think it would be a good idea to set up this segregated fund - the sustainability investment fund to put a fence around it and say it's going to be used for these particular purposes. In terms - and I just would mention, in terms of its longevity, this tax can be repealed by the local income tax council at any time. It is not like a - it - once it gets established, the community could decide, after three years or 10 years or seven years or whenever, how to change it. So that's done. And every year is an appropriation of the tax. And I totally agree that having a - kind of a dashboard or a public reporting on how we're doing on a transit on the housing on the energy all is a really good idea. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Mary, your reaction, then we're going to take a short break. Then we have a question we're going to go to. 

>>MARY MORGAN: Sure. I just wanted to - I'm relatively new to this community, have we ever repealed the tax before? I mean, I don't know, I just - that's a legit question. Have we? 

>>WILLIAM ELLIS: They wouldn't even put a sunset clause in with the food and beverage tax, which originally, in 2013, that was discussed. 

>>JOHN HAMILTON: We put tax caps in place, you know? We've had tax caps in place. But I don't know. I'm - I don't - Bob may have a longer memory than I do. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: I don't recall any tax being repealed. 

>>MATT FLAHERTY: Well, of course, it's up to the elected officials, so if the people want it as - you know, if this is wildly unpopular and this - you know, for whatever reason - because we don't see the return on investment, in four years, when the City Council is up, that's a - you know, can be a referendum on this issue if that's where we are. So, of course, there's always... 

>>MARY MORGAN: I think it would be useful to be more planful about it. I'm just saying that I think if we say five years - 10 years - and at that point, we'll evaluate it - as opposed to being reactive, that might be useful. 

>>WILLIAM ELLIS: County and Ellittsville residents don't get that referendum chance, though. It won't matter. 

>>MATT FLAHERTY: Well, everybody's represented on the local income tax council according to where they live and the governments - governmental entity that represents them. So everybody does have representation. Nobody votes for everybody on the local income tax council, including city residents. You only vote for four city council members - any given city resident. So again, this is a state-proscribed process that has representation according to population - according to where you live, just like any other legislative process at the state or the federal level or anywhere else. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: I think - just to clarify, though, the tax council itself - the five members from the city, right? Majority of members from the - a majority is from the city, correct? 

>>MATT FLAHERTY: A 58% vote share on the local income tax council is allocated to the Burlington City Council based on population. That's correct. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Can I ask a really dumb question before we go to break? But why isn't it just a - why isn't it a referendum like we do with - if the schools... 

>>JOHN HAMILTON: State law. That's a state law factor. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: ...So it's decided entirely by this committee? 

>>JOHN HAMILTON: Yes, it is. And let me just point - referendum - you know, those are often put in place, in my view - for example, the school referendum takes enormous energy - to fund the schools that, in my view, ought to be funded with basic taxes. And referenda processes end up taking enormous efforts to get the public mobilized around specific things. That's why we have general taxes - to support our general operations, and that's what I believe this is. This is a fundamental role to help our community evolve and mature and become more sustainable, and the state law sets up whether - how taxes are imposed. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. We're having a lively discussion about this proposed .5% income tax that would help fund projects that would address climate change here over the next 10 years or so. So we're talking with four representatives of various points of view. We've also got a phone call we're going to get to right after the break. You're listening to Noon Edition. We'll be right back. 

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 

>>UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: From the Milton Metz studio at IU's radio TV building, this is Noon Edition on WFIU. WFIU news covers south central Indiana and the state throughout the day at wfiunews.org and on Twitter at @wfiunews. You can watch unfiltered video of breaking stories on Facebook Live and you can get a digest of all the day's top stories delivered to your inbox each afternoon. It's a free and easy way to stay on top of the headlines, plus the in-depth audio, video and print news stories you can't get anywhere else. Subscribe now at wfiunews.org. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Welcome back. Welcome back to Noon Edition. We're having more conversations here during the break. So it's been a lively program so far. We're talking about the city's proposal for a sustainability investment fund, which would be funded by a city - or an income tax that would go countywide. So we're talking with Mayor John Hamilton and William Ellis, the chairman for - of the Republican - County Republican Party but also member of the Ellittsville city - or town council. And we've got Mary Morgan, director of advocacy and public policy for the greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce. And Bloomington City Council member Matt Flaherty. If you have questions or comments - 8128550811 in Bloomington or toll free at 18772859348. You can also send us questions for the show at news@indianapublicmedia.org. You can also follow us on Twitter at @noonedition. And we have a question on the phone. Arvis is on the phone. Go ahead. 

>>ARVIS: Yes. I think about a year ago or so, the Supreme Court made sales tax collection mandatory on Internet purchases. And because of that, the state is now getting a whole lot of more money coming in than it used to. And I would like to know why that money could not be used for sustainability instead of us having to implement an additional tax. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Mayor? 

>>JOHN HAMILTON: Well, I'd - I'm not an expert on all of that. The state sales tax doesn't go locally. That goes directly to the state for their funding of state operations. We don't have the authority, locally, to set taxes except as prescribed by the state legislature, which are a pretty narrow list of things we can do. I do - I think it's a great suggestion for the state to consider those kinds of investments because the same challenges we face on a changing climate, a changing economy, a changing society - certainly are faced across Indiana, and it would be nice to see some leadership on those issues from the state level too. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So just to go along with what Arvis is saying - he's talking about a state tax and I understand you can't use that. I guess the question that I would have, which I think a lot of people would have, is, you know, there's eight million dollars a year for the city in this - I mean, is the budget so tight that we couldn't find some of that money somewhere else? I mean, how do you... 

>>JOHN HAMILTON: Yeah, that's a great - we always are looking for and try to achieve efficiencies. I do think it's important to note that - the big forces at work - we've had dramatic reductions in federal support for numerous things we care a lot about. We've had dramatic reductions in support for affordable housing and a lot of basic infrastructure from water to roads to others that are not keeping up with our needs. Everybody has heard, I think, the huge infrastructure needs that that everybody faces, and those hit us and those are affected by climate change - from water to to sidewalks and other things. In the same way, the state has imposed property tax caps. For example, that cost the city about a million dollars of lost revenue last year. Some cities in Indiana are losing $10 million a year from those caps. Those are - that's revenue that's pulled out of the local economy. So we have to find ways to meet the needs that our community is asking us to meet. We have homeless. We have people with mental illness. We have people who can't afford housing. We know we need to address transit. In fact, county-wide - and I'll - I won't talk too much stronger, but county-wide - there was a really strong county-wide interest in a .25% income tax increase for transit expansion, which I think is - was a good idea. We didn't get that through the legislature. But this would let us do, as a whole region, serious transit infrastructure investment. And again, we're not getting more transit money even though the needs are going up from the state and the fed. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Let me just add, Savannah Sullivan - who I referenced earlier - from the Environmental Resilience Institute - she said to us, I think that what we are seeing in cities is that there is limited funding from federal government - there's limited funding from state government to address climate change. So she's saying kind of the same thing that you are. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: How did you land on .5%? 

>>JOHN HAMILTON: Well, there's no - I think, you know, Matt and the city council and the local income tax council will be evaluating that. Part of it was based on the concept that a lot of people had been talking about a .25% for transit. That's been around for a few years. There's been an attempt to get legislation passed up in the legislature, which didn't pass - that special transit tax. From my perspective, that's probably in the ballpark for transit needs. We can go into the details of the budget, but that that would be a 30 or 40% increase in Bloomington transit's budget, which would let us do Sunday service and some significant improvements. But in addition to transit, I feel there are needs for affordable housing, for clean energy, for local food, for workforce support to help people who want to get into the workplace who aren't, and that combination is what brought us to .5%. That would also keep us, still, on the lower half of the income tax levels of cities around the state. And I didn't - I wanted to leave room - I think it would be appropriate to leave room for the things that are coming up in the next 5, 10, 20 years. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So, Matt, I wanted to bring you back into the conversation. You're the chair of the newly-formed Climate Action Resilience Committee, right? For - so how's this funding mechanism - I mean, what - how - where would you place that on just the priority list for the committee and the committee's work? 

>>MATT FLAHERTY: Yeah. Honestly, I mean, this is our main priority at the moment. We - you're right, the city council just adopted some new standing committees to help handle emerging questions in a more efficient way than we had been. And we see the purview of the Climate Action and Resilience Committee right now to be dealing with this question and considering it seriously, which is why we're kicking off a series of public engagement sessions and input sessions which began last night at the mill. We had 120 people out and a really good conversation about the needs this community's facing and how to invest in our future. I will mention at this juncture too that next Wednesday night, the 11th, at 6:0 p.m. in council chambers, that committee is hosting another committee hearing that together more public input. We're still settling on the exact format of that meeting. But yeah, you know, I think a lot of these are open questions. .5% was sort of a - I think a benchmark from the mayor to say we have more needs than just transit - to deal with these impacts that are facing our community and to make sure that we're transitioning in an equitable way and a more sustainable way. So yes, maybe more than a quarter of a percent that was the idea around transit. But I think it's open question. I think based on public input, that can change - the timing of this and exactly how the process is and - in terms of public input, not just before any vote would occur, but even afterwards and how funding is prioritized and allocated. Those are all open questions that deserve and need public input to help shape the proposal. 

>>MARY MORGAN: And I do think that there is - you know, the question of why .5% or why anything - it's sort of the question that would be answered if you started out by saying, here are the projects that the community has decided on. And I know that this is - public engagement process is happening now, but we do have the comprehensive plan and we have a sense of kind of at least a foundation for what our priorities are. And if we could attach dollar amounts to those - and I hope we will - then that would be easier to answer maybe less than .5 or maybe the entire 2.5. It's hard to say. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Matt and then William. 

>>MATT FLAHERTY: I agree with Mary and appreciate that sentiment. I think the comprehensive plan as well as our transportation plan an sustainability action plan will all have been community-driven processes that help set our priorities as a community and will help drive a conversation. I do think, when you start to talk about all these different things, we're talking about, almost without question, you could spend, you know, 15 - $20 million a year or more investing in preparing for these things. So I don't think it's a matter of, you know, is a .5% too much necessarily? It's a question of balancing how this impacts people, what the priorities are, you know, as the community defines those in our plans as well as this public engagement process to - what's most important for us to invest in now. But the need is extensive. We know we have a lot of people - Lauren Travis, the assistant director for sustainability, was citing these numbers last night - something like 60% of our community has a very hard time meeting just basic needs - housing, transportation, energy and food costs. So we're trying to address those basic needs and make sure we're protecting our most vulnerable citizens, and that's - there's a lot to cover there in that area. So I do think, as we move forward and develop more specific details and get public input on that, we'll have a much clearer picture of exactly what we can accomplish with .5% and figure out, yes, is that an appropriate number? And if not, if it should be more or less, then we can adjust that. There's no - that's up to the local income tax council. Any entity on the local income tax council can make that proposal and bring a specific, you know, percentage amount in the timing of any vote. 

>>WILLIAM ELLIS: I hear a lot the affordable housing and mental health brought up. I'm just - I'm - I guess I'm kind of not clear how that relates to the whole climate change thing. I understand that that's a need, but it sounds almost like we're just throwing a couple - bunch of different stuff in here. But one way Ellittsville's addressing affordable housing is making it easier to build more homes. I mean, that's one of the things - you get more homes in the market, you're going to actually lower the prices. Because Ellittsville's had quite a bit of a squeeze on home prices and rental prices too. So, you know, with creative zoning in that, I don't know where we would need any more money for that. We do have flooding problems in our downtown area. It's going to be a very expensive fix, but we're budgeting that with what we have. And I don't really see any need where we would ever have the need for this. We could - I'm sure there's people with their hands out that could say they'll find a need for it. But what my concern is we have people that are living paycheck to paycheck - and, I mean, our biggest industry that seems to be worth the most amount of people that I see are pretty much small businesses, fast food in Ellittsville. And if you're talking about $15 or $20 a month or whatever difference, that may be the difference of them having housing, that may be the difference of them having paying their light bill, and we're not just going to be able to wave a wand and fix that with any type of tax. How about give them more freedom to be able to earn more money and not, you know, push them - have one hand on their head while the other hand is trying to pull them up? It seems counterproductive to me. And I understand you want a progressive income tax, it's not the state law, so why don't we just pause everything and wait to get the state law changed? 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Mayor? 

>>JOHN HAMILTON: So look, I'm very sympathetic with every community that's struggling to meet needs, and I know Ellittsville is working to do that and every community is a little bit different and I encourage Ellittsville and all communities to work to meet the needs of their folks. I would say sustainability - which is what we're focused on - is very explicitly - and this is all built deeply into the public engagement of the sustainability action plan and the transportation plan and everything else - it's very deeply built on three pillars that are all important to sustainability. One of them is in the environment, but another one is economic sustainability, which does mean having jobs that pay a living wage, and a third one is equity and making sure that our society and our sustainable community has a place for everybody and treats people fairly. You know, if you want to talk about state policies - you know, we're stuck on seven and a quarter minimum dollar - minimum wage, which is a terrible thing for lots of workers that you mentioned, William, that should be getting a much more living wage that this state could make happen, you know, overnight with a bill. We just don't see support for that kind of thing. And those three legs for sustainability is what we're focused on - the economy, the environment, and equity altogether. 

>>MARY MORGAN: What kind of timeline are we talking about so that there's time for a back and forth with the public, time to make changes, and as you were saying, time to, you know, put dollar amounts next to goals and really flesh this out? Are we up against a hard deadline to do something quickly? 

>>JOHN HAMILTON: Well, I would say the - you know, the transit discussion has been going on a few years. It was - I was kind of pulled into that discussion my first year as mayor back in 2016. So that discussion about expanding transit investment's gone on a long time. This other part - we've certainly been talking about, how do you finance affordable housing? How do you finance more clean energy? How do you finance support for people trying to get into the workforce - child care, other transportation options, that kind of thing? The way the law works - if the local income tax council passes a new ordinance - a new tax before September 1st this year, then it goes into effect October 1st. If they do it a little later, then that goes into effect January 1st. But the realities are all of us governmental entities do our 2021 budget starting in the summer - really, starting in a few months. So we think the discussion over the next three months is really a good time - an important time to start to talk about - what are those pieces of the bucket that - how much does it cost to add Sunday service to buses? How much would it cost to offer rooftop solar to 100 families - low-income homeowners in the city? And kind of put that money together so we can bake it into the 2021 budget. 

>>MARY MORGAN: So three months, start to finish, is what we're talking? 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: William? 

>>WILLIAM ELLIS: Yeah. One of the things I did want to address - you're talking about the living wage situation and the state could fix it just with a law. No, because there's unintended consequences of either less jobs or less hours, just like what happened with the Affordable Care Act. And creating a competitive marketplace raises wages. The McDonald's in Ellittsville starting at 12.50 an hour. I mean, that's pretty close to the 15 - it's way - it's closer to the $15 an hour goal than it is the 7.25. Now, that may be because I'm down there five times a day getting a Diet Coke, I don't know. But the point is that those market forces - even in a town like Ellittsville - are driving the raises up. I don't know of any places around us that are paying 7.25 an hour. You cannot keep an employee for 7.25 an hour. 

>>JOHN HAMILTON: Then let's raise the minimum wage because it's - look, William, all the evidence shows it does not destroy jobs. It creates - we have people working who are on welfare, which shouldn't happen. But that's a debate for another day. 

>>MARY MORGAN: That's another show. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: We have a phone call. So let's - no, we don't have phone call. We thought we had a phone call. Right. But I wanted to follow up - Matt, I wanted to just ask you - let's - you know, we're not going to hold you to anything, but can you be a little specific about some of the things that this money might go toward? You know, the mayor mentioned environment, economy, equity - are there - you know, we've talked about transportation a lot, but what are some things that, you know, might just - that the - our listeners might just say, oh, OK, I get it now. 

>>MATT FLAHERTY: Yeah, of course. I think transit, again, has already been a part of this conversation with support and a lot of buy-in from the community, including the business community and county council members - or some of them, anyway. So that, I think, is central and really important. I think that's an obvious one too. What I'm looking at and hoping for are actions that help do our part in reducing our emissions. We do have a, you know, commitment to our broader global community to do our part and we have - that's been adopted in our plans and resolutions from the city council and commitments from the mayor with the global covenant of mayors on climate energy. So let's not entirely lose sight of that either. We're trying to do our part to address the massive collective action problem like the world's never seen. So we look for the actions - or at least that's what I'm looking for, are the actions that do our part there but also help people here and now. Transit's a big one because that's really targeting benefits to folks who are struggling to meet transportation needs. Other things that we could look at are other mobility options - making sure that we are an accessible community, you know, and a walkable and bikeable community for folks who want to use those options in a safe way. That does have to do with housing and where housing is located and making sure we're pursuing transit-oriented development. Some of that is zoning changes. These are broad conversations that go beyond just, you know, the idea of a sustainability investment fund. But to speak to a few more specifics, you know, we could look at the possibility of both low-income grant programs as well as zero interest or low interest loans for renewable energy - for energy efficiency measures to make sure we're building an inclusive and equitable transition to a low-carbon economy and energy sources as well as lowering bills for people who are struggling to pay their energy bills. So, you know, augmenting the federal dollars that are there on the energy efficiency front. Stormwater infrastructure is another big one, and looking at managing that so that it's, you know, folks that can least afford that surface flooding - when your basement floods and kills your washer or dryer - making sure we're mitigating those things so that it's not our most vulnerable community members who are dealing - left dealing with the fallout from these changing impacts and changing climate. So it's identifying those needs. And we had a really great conversation last night with seven tables based around different subject areas including local food, planning for climate change, green infrastructure, sustainable housing - led by a lot of subject matter experts from the city department heads. And we're in the process of gathering input to use in combination with our already adopted plans to really help shape our proposal. But I hope that helps speak to some of the specifics. 

>>MATT FLAHERTY: Sure. 

>>JOHN HAMILTON: Maybe I can give two other - Matt, those are great options - just two ideas of things that are already kind of underway. One, local food. We have big institutional buyers that find it difficult to buy a lot of local food, and being able to assemble the products and encourage the growth of more - of food here can require a little investment into some infrastructure in the middle to aggregate that local food. So IU and IU Health and school corporations can buy lettuce from a lot of farmers. That's not a big dollar - it might be a few hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, but can really make a difference in that kind of program. A second one - we actually have a program in the city where we work with Center Stone with some of their clients dealing with mental illness or substance use disorder to get them jobs and get them trained and ready and used to be in a - getting a job. And we did that - we did a pilot program with that. That cost some money - not a ton. We've actually had one person graduate and now is a full time city employee and it's a great story. This fund could help us reach a bunch of people who we just don't have the federal or state money to do that, but this would help us create a pathway for folks like that to climb into the workforce where they want to be but it's difficult and takes a little help. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: We got a couple questions from Dee. So the first one here, she asks - she brings up the issue of walkability and high density areas and is asking, why do we have to have a big grand idea? Why can't we just work on fixing the small issues that affect everyone every day? 

>>MARY MORGAN: And I would echo that. Almost every time I go for a walk - I live downtown, go for walks, and I end up complaining - the word is probably not complaining that I will use if I'm not... 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Suggesting. 

>>MARY MORGAN: ...That's right. About the - two things. Quality of the sidewalks and the lack of sidewalks in a lot of areas. In some cases, it's quite dangerous to go for a walk in certain areas. So I think that the current infrastructure is part of this conversation as well. 

>>JOHN HAMILTON: That's absolutely a big target of this kind of infrastructure - to help that. It's - it is small ball in a way. It's basic, common sense stuff. It's expensive, but it's important, and we don't have the resources right now to do that. So that's absolutely a good focus. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: She also asks about the innkeepers tax. And why can't we use that? 

>>WILLIAM ELLIS: Well, I think that is by statute. It has - it's split between the convention center and the visitors bureau, if I'm not mistaken. I don't think that can be used - it may be able to be used for some tourism-related, but I don't think it could be used for much else. I mean. 

>>JOHN HAMILTON: For its history, an innkeepers tax is paid by people in hotels and now AirBnBs too and those kinds of things. That it is dedicated to convention and tourism-related activities. It can pay for trails, parks, connectivity like that. It actually does have a little provision that says for economic development too. But our community, over a 30-year period, has really focused on two pieces - one is the visit Bloomington support, and then the convention center. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: OK. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: I want to go another clip. We want to bring Ross Martini-Isler's voice back in. He's got one clip where he basically makes a comment, but it has a little danger point in it that he wants to bring up as well. So let's just listen to Ross. 

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) 

>>ROSS MARTINI-ISLER: Perhaps the biggest danger is if we think that this is enough or, by creating this fund, then the city is on the right side, job done, box checked, and we can all go home. The kind of changes that our city needs to make - they need to be made on every level of government, but including the city and the county level - are transformational. So if what this is is a first step, I think everyone would be very happy and appreciative of it. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So I just want to get reaction to that. Matt? 

>>MATT FLAHERTY: Sure. I think Ross is right that, you know, an acknowledgement of the climate crisis and understanding what that means for our future in Bloomington requires, you know, actors at all levels of government as well as, you know, private and - private sector and institutional sector, like IU, to consider this in all our decisions. So every decision we make in the context the built environment - including zoning, to callback Dee's point - and how we're developing and how our land use policy evolves - all those questions need to look at, you know, what is the right choice to lower costs for people, to lower our carbon footprint, and do our part on solving this big problem and addressing the impacts that are coming our way? So certainly a sustainability investment fund is part of that conversation in getting us moving in the right direction, but it's by no means the end of the conversation. 

>>MARY MORGAN: I guess I'd like to know a little bit more about what he means by transformational because I can guarantee you that the business community is very concerned about sustainability. But if you talk about, you know, some apocalyptic agrarian future, you know, we might have difficulty getting buy-in for that. And I do think it's also important to note that the local income tax is restricted into four categories - so you can levy it in different categories, and the one that is being framed for the sustainability fund is actually, I believe, the economic development category, which - so there's overlap between the economic development and the business sector and a lot of the issues that are being talked about now, but it's definitely - I don't think we're on a trajectory for transformational projects, unless I'm wrong. 

>>JOHN HAMILTON: I would just add, too, I think Ross is right. Ross was one of hundreds of people who have twice come to City Hall - many of them young people - insisting that we take action and take it seriously. And one of the things I've mentioned is I want to be able to look today's 10-year-old, many of whom were at city hall - in 10 years, when they're a 20 year old, I want our community to be able to look them in the eye and say we did our best. We did our effort. We did our part to move forward. I do think transformational - I don't know the exact word, but the - one of the leading capitalists in the globe from Blackrock sent a letter last - in January that said, this is transformational of our whole financial global system. We are going to change to a no-carbon - low-carbon future, and that's going to be very transformational in how we live, and we need to do it well. And the thing - the optimistic and the good thing is, when we do this right, it actually creates a community that will be so high in quality of life. It will be the kind of place that I think speaks to our values and will help us incorporate our values of inclusion and sustainability altogether. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: William and then Matt. 

>>WILLIAM ELLIS: I really think that - it scares me to hear the word transformational because I don't quite know what that means. I think it's more of a philosophical thing on the hairs on the back of my neck because it - we have transformed what we have done in this country and in the world a couple times before. We went from whale oil to gas - you know, to oil to build things without government invention. The private industry is, to me, what we need to be nurturing and what we need to be actually focusing on to go - if you want to go carbon neutral or carbon zero, actually, to do that. I mean, we've got Elon Musk with Tesla. I mean, they're doing phenomenal things. I mean, he's got his hand on everything. We need more like that. But we don't necessarily need the government to change it. And I know in Ellittsville, we don't need it. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: We've got one minute. 

>>MATT FLAHERTY: OK. I'll - you know, I already addressed Ross's point, which I do think that we do need to transform and change. I think the science is unequivocal. The IPCC 1.5 degree report that came out in 2018 is quite clear. The private sector, no, is not accomplishing a transition to a low carbon economy fast enough. We do need help in pushing that along. And it's not just government either. It's everybody working together, which is why the mayor has also proposed a green ribbon panel that will work with private sector and others - the chamber, BEDC, other regional players - to address these challenges. I want to quickly quote Gretta Thunbreg who addressed the European Commission yesterday and said, "when your house is on fire, you don't wait a few more years to start putting it out." And I think that struck a chord with me. This is an important thing to do now. This is a really important decade to address these challenges and I look forward to continuing the public conversation around how we can do that. 

>>JOHN HAMILTON: I would just add - the railroads transformed our country, the highways transformed our country - those were both big government programs. Government does actually step in and help us transform to become the kind of community we want to be. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. We are out of time. We've got a couple more questions, but we're just not going to be able to get to them. I want to thank our guests today - Mayor John Hamilton. Ellittsville town council member and Monroe County Republican Party chairman, William Ellis. Mary Morgan, the director of advocacy and public policy for the greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce. And Matt Flaherty, a member of the Bloomington City Council. For Sarah Wittmeyere, producer Bente Bouthier and engineer Mike Paskash, I'm Bob Zaltsberg. Thanks for listening. 

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 

>>UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Noon Edition is a production of WFIU public radio. A podcast of this program is available at wfiu.org. Production support for Noon Edition comes from Smithville - fiber internet, streaming TV, home security and automation in southern Indiana. More information at smithville.com. And from the Bloomington Health Foundation - partnering with local organizations and citizens to invest in programs that address our community's health needs. Bloomington Health Foundation - improving health and well-being takes a community. More at bloomhf.org. 

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

courthouse

(WFIU/WTIU News)

Noon Edition airs on Fridays at noon on WFIU.

This week, the city is holding a public discussion to take input and share information about creating local income tax to create a Sustainability Investment Fund.

The fund would be to help pay for city efforts to prepare for and combat climate change.

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton announced his support of a local income tax of half a percent at his swearing-in ceremony January 1. He says that meeting the challenges that come with climate change will require, “major efforts and new resources.”

Hamilton says the 0.5 percent increase would generate an additional $8 million per year to fund the city's efforts to fight climate change.

In a press release from the city about the public input session this week, it detailed, “that the increase in the local income tax for Monroe County residents would raise approximately $160 million for sustainable economic development.”

The city and county would split that money evenly.

The income tax would take Monroe County from having the lowest income tax-rate in the area to having the third-lowest.

Approval of the tax and Sustainability Investment Fund goes to vote at the county-wide Local Income Tax Council. That council's next meeting has not yet been scheduled.

Join us this week as we talk about financing preparation for climate change and the proposed local income tax increase.

You can follow us on Twitter @NoonEdition or join us on the air by calling in at 812-855-0811 or toll-free at 1-877-285-9348. You can also send us questions for the show at news@indianapublicmedia.org.

Guests

John Hamilton, Bloomington Mayor

William Ellis, chairman for Monroe County Republican Party, Ellettsville Town Council member

Mary Morgan, director of advocacy and public policy for the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce

Matt Flaherty, Bloomington City Council, At-Large

 

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About