David Dawson: Mayor Ballard learns to love CYA politics

Have to share this piece by friend of the blog and public relations guru David Dawson. He hits it just right in his Facebook post today regarding Mayor Ballard’s punting of the Indianapolis Water Company to Citizen’s Energy:

“Utilities were created for a reason – a lot of that is to take politics out of decisions,” (Indianapolis Mayor) Ballard said Wednesday, quoted in the Indianapolis Star. “When it comes to an election, (politicians) say, ‘I’m going to stand up and protect ratepayers,’ when infrastructure is decaying underneath.”

That perspective may look correct enough to an officeholder facing re-election for him to turn his back on the populism that put him in office. That’s exactly what he’s doing in proposing to sell the Indianapolis water and sewer systems to Citizens Energy, an independent public trust.

Historically, Ballard’s view is myopic. Privately owned utilities developed because they could raise capital, build systems and operate them at a time when governments did not have resources to do the job. Many were regulated locally until their operations spanned municipal boundaries, leading to control over rates and investments by appointed commissioners at the state level. The Mayor is correct in that having regulation vested in a state commission allows politicians to rail against utility rates without accountability for the amount and quality of planned investments.

While that situation is convenient for the office-holder, it may not be preferred by the voters. If you asked a water and sewer customer in Marion County about whether he or she would like a voice in when and how Indianapolis spends $4 billion for infrastructure improvements, I’d bet most would opt for accountability.

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