In his first six months in office Daniels, Bush's first OMB director, has displayed a heretofore unsuspected talent for throwing snit fits every 72 hours. He oversaw a rough legislative session despite having Republican majorities in both houses. He had to retreat almost instantaneously on his proposal to levy a surtax on incomes over $100,000, called Democratic legislators "car bombers", threw his political weight behind daylight savings time, which has pissed people off and may wind up not changing anything at all (except probably costing at least one Republican legislator, who reneged on his promise to vote against, his job), had his BMW director try to close dozens of license branches by fiat, and slashed school budgets across the state.
His final legislative battle of the year may wind up costing him dearly. Republican legislators balked at Indianapolis mayor Bart Peterson's proposal to finance a new stadium for the Colts with slot machines. Daniels stuck his teensy nose into the process, quite possibly averting a crisis but winding up with a stadium/convention center project which will be paid for with new taxes on the so-called "doughnut counties" around Indy and an increase in the city's restaurant/hotel tax. And the sweetener for the counties is they get to keep half the tax.
So instead of paying for the stadium with gaming money, Mitch has grabbed the project for himself and his party. And now he's got to sell a bunch of disgruntled citizens on the idea of paying for a new stadium while their schools layoff teachers and cancel programs. And it's not playing too well. Mitch has been holding a series of townhall meetings in the counties, but he forgot to hand-pick the audiences. Here's the Star's new political columnist Matthew Tully on a bit of political comedy theatre:
Standing in the back of the room with his arms crossed, the 33-year-old dad from New Palestine waited for his chance to pounce on Daniels.
He had to wait and wait. Other pouncers were already in line.
But when Stockton finally got his chance, he didn't waste it.
"A couple of weeks ago I read in the newspaper that they're cutting money out of my kids' school," he said. "And the first politician I talk to after that is here asking for money for a stadium."
On the defensive, Daniels blamed the stadium project on Mayor Bart Peterson, even as he took credit for saving it. Then he defended his stingy state budget, saying past Democratic spending had made the stinginess necessary.
"You've got a state that's broke -- flat broke," the governor said. "You know how you get broke?"
"By building stadiums," Stockton shot back before Daniels could answer his own question.
The real capper came this week, when it was learned that the $48 M payment the city owes the Colts to close the lease on the RCA Dome wasn't included in the state funding package. State officials had overlooked it until city officials pointed it out to them. Daniels tried at first to insist that the bill was the city's problem, while simultaneously reassuring everyone it wasn't a deal breaker. Peterson said nope, it's your project now. By the end of the week the matter had been solved--by the project's directors agreeing to foot the bill out of the contingency fund. Which will be no problem, they now say, because they overestimated everything in the first place. Besides, nothing could wrong go possibly.
I don't think Bart Peterson could have mapped this all out, but it couldn't have worked more in his favor. He's run rings around Little Mitch, the former Lilly CEO who's now bought himself a $500 M stadium project in a time of extreme belt-tightening, a project he won't get any particular credit for but stands to absorb any blame if things go south. Peterson, like most Indiana Democrats these days, is more of a moderate Republican, but he's kicked every ass that got in his way. Don't be surprised if you hear Indiana has a new governor in 2008.