Opinion: Legacy Fund should benefit our community for decades and generations to come


Fort Wayne City Councilman Mitch Harper


Fort Wayne City Councilman Mitch Harper, (R-4th) recently wrote an op-ed piece appearing in the News-Sentinel regarding the Legacy Fund. It is re-printed here with his kind permission.

Legacy Fund should benefit our community for decades and generations to come

Fort Wayne’s Legacy Fund should be treated in the same way as the assets of a private foundation. Custodians of those funds have an obligation to ensure those funds benefit the community decades from now and for generations to come.

Using the Legacy Fund as a line of credit for the civil city does not meet that test. I voted against introduction of the ordinance to pay snow removal bills from Legacy Funds and I intend to vote against it on final passage.

Others have said that money is fungible. That is, it is easily converted from one purpose to another; if it is in the possession of the holder then it can be drawn upon for any purpose regardless of which fund it had originally been placed.

While that is one way of viewing public funds, I don’t think that is the right way to think about the Legacy dollars from the settlement of the final disposition of City Light assets.

There are different ways to characterize monies. One of the best definitions is as a store of wealth; that is, a representation of payment for past work and labor.

The Legacy dollars are not a legacy this present generation is leaving for future generations. The Legacy dollars are a legacy from past generations of ratepayers and citizens — ratepayers and citizens who were served by the electricity generated by the City Light plant.

And these are dollars that are the legacy of the City Light employees who operated the plant and maintained distribution to the homes and businesses of decades ago.

The City Light assets represented the cumulative remainder of their labor and their treasure.

It is a gift – a legacy, a bequest – from those past generations to our future generations.

The role of the current generation is to safeguard that legacy, to act as stewards and to exercise prudent judgment as a fiduciary.

The Legacy Fund is not a rainy day fund.

The two types of funds differ in a fundamental way. The official name of the state rainy day fund is the “Counter-Cyclical Revenue and Economic Stabilization Fund.” The fund was established in order to counter the tendency of governments to spend too broadly during economic bad times and then, when declining economic activity took its toll on tax revenue, the tendency of governments to raise taxes to try to garner enough revenue precisely at the time such an increase in taxes was the wrong thing for the economy.

The taxes increased under those circumstances were rarely reduced when the economy recovered. An economic downturn worked as a ratchet in increasing the level of taxation.

The idea of the rainy day fund was that you would store revenue from a time when the economy was good in order to support level spending when the times turned. That made the rainy day fund “counter-cyclical.”

The Legacy Funds, on the other hand, are in the nature of a trust. The custodians of those funds – the Common Council and the mayor are the custodians – have a duty to invest and preserve those funds so that those funds are preserved for future generations for ideas and dreams that we cannot yet imagine.

When the economy takes a downturn, the underlying investments in a trust will take a downturn. The trust can lose much of its value. The events of 2008 and 2009 were jarring to those entrusted in caring for such funds.

At those times, the trustees generally reduce the amount available for grants so as to preserve the fund for its long-term purposes. They may make alternative decisions regarding composition of the grants so as to support organizations providing relief in terms of food, shelter and energy, but they generally reduce distributions to preserve the fund.

A rainy day fund is counter-cyclical. A trust is not. The purpose of a trust is different, and the duties of those charged with its care are different. You should expect all your elected officials to respect that difference.


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