Following a decisive defeat of one of his key initiatives, a Fort Wayne city councilman has taken aim at fellow local Republicans in a letter submitted to The Journal Gazette.
“My stint on City Council has been enlightening,” Councilman Jason Arp, R-4th, wrote. “I serve on a body that consists of seven Republicans and two Democrats. Looking at the track record of this body of the last few years, you would never know it.”
Accusing his fellow councilmen of being in the pocket of “the cottage industry of commercial real estate development,” Arp decried the use of public funds in private developments and the use of tax abatements as an economic development tool.
“A well-organized lobby, partially funded by the city and county government, pushes for tax expenditures on private projects to benefit its constituency of lawyers, architects, construction managers and real estate developers,” Arp wrote. “This is a national trend in its second decade of this iteration in second- and third-tier cities eager to be more like Chicago or San Francisco. The first go around bankrupted places like Detroit and Flint in the early 1980s.”
Councilman John Crawford, R-at large, who is seeking the Republican nomination for mayor in next year's election, declined to comment. He described Arp's position as “a matter of opinion.”
In an interview Tuesday, Arp said his letter and a corresponding scorecard are less about accusing individual councilmen and more about encouraging voters to have more information as they prepare for the May primary election.
“People seem to have ideas about what they think Republicans are and what they think Democrats are,” Arp said. “You couldn't plot a correlation between who a Republican was. The votes are kind of all over the place. What I'm saying is that just because the carton says milk doesn't mean there's milk in there. Labels don't mean they are what they say they are.”
Arp's letter focuses specific ire on the creation of certain state agencies and programs, such as the Regional Cities Initiative and the Indiana Economic Development Corp.
“These moves at the state house have been ratified at (a) convention in Evansville, where the Republicans made this expansive role of government a plank in the platform,” Arp wrote. “The local Republicans are not immune to this lurch to a government-run economy. Local businesses are required to stop by City Hall, hat in hand, to get their equipment taxes abated in order to compete.”
Arp has tried twice to eliminate Allen County's business personal property taxes and has failed both times. In both instances, Arp's proposal received swift backlash from area taxing bodies including the public library and area school districts, who say eliminating the tax without a clear path to recover the lost revenue would seriously hurt their operating budgets. Several local business owners also weighed in to say the tax was not a burden, despite claims by Arp and Councilman Paul Ensley, R-1st – who co-sponsored the latest iteration of the proposal – that businesses are clamoring to have it eliminated.
“The Republican-dominated council has voted to approve every tax increase proposed in recent years, while simultaneously voting to use tax money on private developments,” Arp wrote.
“When offered a plan to reverse all this by simply removing business equipment taxes, they decidedly voted it down.”
Arp's proposal failed 6-3 last month. After it failed, Arp said the proposal could come back for a third time, but not before the 2019 election.
To underscore that point, Arp included with his letter a “scorecard” of votes cast by fellow councilmen that Arp said reflects “whether a councilman favors more government interference or less.” A 100 percent score, Arp said, indicates a perfect “Liberty” score, while a 0 percent score indicates an authoritarian.
Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th, was rated as an authoritarian with a zero percent liberty score. Councilman Glynn Hines, D-6th, received a 3 percent score on Arp's index.
In fact, no councilman aside from Arp and Ensley received more than a 32 percent score. Arp's rating is 93 percent and Ensley's is 80. The highest-rated of the remaining seven councilmen, Russ Jehl, received the highest score at 32 percent.
In an interview Tuesday, Paddock said he was surprised at his authoritarian rating on Arp's scorecard. Paddock said no one has ever referred to him as an authoritarian before. Paddock described himself as a capitalist and said he has participated in efforts to make the city's tax abatement policy more business-friendly and provide more accountability to the process.
“I'm proud of what we've done with our tax abatement and tax phase-in process, which I think works more in line with county government for businesses with tax phase-ins that want to relocate here and to provide accountability,” Paddock said. “I think the system I've worked on with Councilman Jehl and others has been a pretty astute way to help business development and provide accountability.”
Arp noted that “anybody can agree or disagree” with his findings, based on their ideal policy positions. However, he said he feels his rankings are objective when looking at whether specific votes increase or decrease the size of government.
“They're not right or wrong, but simply on that metric, I think they're pretty objective scores,” Arp said.
To read the letter in its entirety, visit this link or check out Friday's edition of The Journal Gazette.