Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer visited WFPL News for an interview Thursday. In the hourlong chat, he discussed his bid for a second term in office, the city’s controversial plan to re-open a potentially dangerous jail, a recent audit of the Air Pollution Control District, an attempt in the Metro Council to restrict package liquor sales and, as always, the local option sales tax.
Here’s the audio:
And here are the highlights:
“It’s all about jobs.”
Fischer says the motto of his second term will be the same as his first: “Jobs jobs jobs.” Though this time, he’s speaking in the past and future tenses.
Fischer acknowledges that the quality of the 42,000 jobs created in the Louisville region in recent years is an essential factor. A fast food service job, for instance, does not necessarily bring the same reward to the worker or the city as a job on a factory line.
Fischer says he remains focused on building high-paying jobs in advanced manufacturing, aging care/healthcare, logistics and the food and beverage industry, adding “all this stuff is backed up by education.”
Fischer narrowly defeated Hal Heiner in his bid for the mayor’s office in 2010, and he’s expecting a similarly close race this year.
“We’ll take any action that needs to be taken”
Fischer also addressed the recent finding that the city’s Air Pollution Control District’s particulate monitoring (a part of the agency’s air monitoring program) is severely flawed.
Metro Government has already issued an request for proposals for an independent consultant to perform a full audit of the district. And while the APCD board stands by the agency’s staff in the matter, Fischer says he will do whatever’s necessary to correct the agency after it spent years collecting incorrect data.
“Until we understand all that, which we need to do quickly, and we’ll take any action that needs to be taken,” he says.
“What you want to do is understand the business effect, the crime effect.”
In the Metro Council, Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton has sponsored an ordinance to end package liquor sales after 2 a.m. to help reduce crime. Fischer says he hasn’t yet formed an opinion on the measure.
“First of all, I need to see the full ordinance,” he says, adding that he’s “certainly open to it. I want to understand it.”
Fischer recently pushed to expand by-the-drink alcohol sales on Sundays, allowing restaurant patrons to order booze with brunch in the mornings. Fischer says if he does end up supporting Hamilton’s proposal, it won’t be a contradiction of his earlier stance.
“No more package sales after 2 in the morning…that’s different than being able to get a Bloody Mary at 10 on a Sunday morning, c’mon,” he says. “What you want to do is understand the business effect, the crime effect.”
As WFPL’s Phillip Bailey notes in his piece on Hamilton’s proposal, “Anti-violence advocates who work on crime prevention programs and tactics doubt curtailing liquor store hours will impact crime.”
Fischer says he hasn’t thought about changing the city’s last call from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m. to match the package law if it’s passed.
“My job is not to tell [the Metro Council] what to do.”
Fischer won’t say whether he thinks Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin should have been removed from office. Shanklin was recently on trial before the council for alleged violations of the city’s ethics code, and avoided removal by just one vote.
“The trial process worked. The verdict, obviously, people are concerned and upset about,” Fischer says. “I did not sit there. I can’t say factually which way I would’ve gone.”
Fischer believes funds were misused, and he’s discussed reforming the council’s discretionary fund policies as a result.
“Clearly the NDF system, the discretionary funds, needs to be continued to…be tightened down,” he says.
There are multiple proposals for reforming discretionary spending, but Fischer won’t say whether there are any he supports, or if he would rather eliminate the practice of letting council members allocate funds altogether.
“My job is not to tell [the Metro Council] what to do,” he says.
“We’re not going to arrest our way to safety.”
“[Corrections Director Mark Bolton] is in a tough spot,” says Fischer of the plan to re-open a 60-year-old unused jail to house overflow arrestees.
The state has sent an inspector to the jail to assess whether it could safely house inmates. Fischer says the city needs the facility in the short term, but he hopes to develop plans to keep some arrestees from ending up in the jail. That includes transitional housing for frequent arrestees with mental illnesses or addictions. Currently, the mayor says the city spends about $62,000 a year on each such person, whereas transitional housing would cost about $30,000 a year per person.
Fischer also attributes the crowded jails to an effective police force.
“When they do a good job, people end up at the jail,” he says.
It could take up to $500,000 to repair the old jail, and Fischer says he’d rather keep people out of jail that spend the money on repairs.
“We’re not going to arrest our way to safety,” he says.
“It’s be great to have a new jail. That’s about $65 million. Who wants to pay for that? Where’s that money going to come from?”
“Pro sports would be good for our city.”
Fischer says he doesn’t see any reason why GLI, the city’s chamber of commerce, shouldn’t release a recent study it commissioned that showed Louisville likely couldn’t support an NBA team.
The study says it was unclear whether there was enough corporate support to bring in an NBA team. Fischer supports the proposition to bring pro sports to Louisville, but says “the University of Louisville needs to see a win” in any plans to bring a team to town that would also occupy the KFC Yum Center.
There have been calls to release the full study, but GLI has declined. Fischer says he wasn’t aware only an executive summary was made public.
“I read the report, I don’t see anything controversial with it…I could tell you if the city paid for it, it would be up on the website right now.”
“The executive summary thoroughly recaps all of the survey’s findings. But the entirety of the study will remain confidential,” says a GLI spokesperson. “That was our agreement with those who were interviewed as a part of it.
“People should have the choice to vote.”
Fischer also says his push not to increase property taxes is not at odds with his support for a change to state law to allow public votes for short-term sales tax increases.
Many consider the local option sales tax a regressive tax, as it places an extra levy on consumption, rather than on earnings, thereby affecting low-income residents unequally.
Fischer disagrees, since essentials such as food are not subject to sales tax.
“If you’re from a low-income family, that’s where the majority of your income is going to be spent,” he says. “I don’t see it as overly regressive because food and medicine are excluded. And I do see some of the benefits that could come from such an investment.”
Such benefits include better funding for public transportation, which Fischer says low-income residents can use to get to and from work.
Improved public transportation is among the chief requests made by the public to the mayor’s office through the Vision Louisville project, which will craft a 25-year plan for the city.