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Thank you all for being here today! I hope your new year is going well, 12 hours into 2020, in our 202nd year as a city, as we enter the third decade of the third millennium of the Common Era.

On this day of beginnings, let’s first thank four outstanding public servants concluding chapters of their service today on Bloomington City Council. With a total of 48 years of service among them, please give a big Bloomington thank you to Allison Chopra, Dorothy Granger, Andy Ruff, and Chris Sturbaum.

Gathered together in these official chambers, we also are humbled to look back and remember that native people -- Miami, Potawatomi, Delaware, and Shawnee, among others -- long lived in these southern Indiana hills, before being largely dispossessed of their homelands by the early nineteenth century. This acknowledgment is important in this space and at this time. 

Since our administration began four years ago today, we have focused on a number of basics: increasing good jobs and affordable housing accessible to all, supporting public safety and public education, investing in our public assets and infrastructure, and enhancing the quality of life for people from all walks of life, in an inclusive, sustainable community. As well as making government more transparent, innovative, and accountable.

Together we’ve made good progress. Please join the State of the City event on February 20th for more details -- but as a partial reminder: we protected the quality of our drinking water and transformed our sanitation system. We opened Switchyard Park and turned a century-old building at The Mill into Indiana’s fastest growing co-work space. We celebrated our Bicentennial with thousands of new trees and miles of new trails and we passed a school funding referendum. 

We made government more transparent, more innovative, and more accountable than ever. We infused our budget with values like 15 dollar-an-hour minimum wages for all city employees, tripling employee training budgets, and doubling basic infrastructure investments. We’ve also together directly addressed some daunting challenges: new approaches to homelessness, substance use disorder, violent crime, joblessness, our Farmers’ Market, and more.

Mayor Hamilton Speaking to Crowd

These and many other efforts will continue and expand in 2020 and beyond. With a full table of work in front of us, I’m so very pleased to have taken the oath of office with nine dedicated colleagues and friends on the City Council, including the four new members, and with Nicole Bolden our re-elected City Clerk. I want to thank the council members and the clerk, and their staffs, for what we have done and will do together. I want to thank the incredibly engaged and generous public who step in so often. And I want to thank all the city employees, for all they do, day in and day out, people who lead departments, people who fix water lines and clean wastewater, people who respond to crimes or accidents or fires or falls to keep us safe, people who pick up trash and recycling, who sweep streets, fill potholes, plow snow, who drive busses, provide decent housing, rescue animals, install sidewalk ramps, guard swimming pools, schedule concerts, lead summer camps, support entrepreneurs and artists, and on and on. Please join me in letting all these employees know how much we appreciate what they do every day.

A little context for today. Four years ago, as we met in this chamber, we were at the start of Barack Obama’s eighth and final year of service as President. Much had been achieved nationally and more was in progress: The Affordable Care Act. The Paris Climate Accord, CAFE standards and the Clean Power Plan. Recovery from the Great Recession. Protection for Dreamers. Marriage equality. Historic changes in our national self-image. It seemed a national spirit and climate fostered big dreams for continued progressive change across our country.

Then three years ago, Donald Trump won the presidency, without a popular majority and after unprecedented direct foreign interference in our democracy. Since then we’ve seen rising nationalism. Divisiveness fueled and exploited. Anti-immigration vitriol. Brexit. Gun violence continuing. Record income and wealth inequality. Environmental protection rollbacks. And climate change news getting more and more alarming.

Bloomington ourselves didn’t change on that 2016 election day. As a community we still embrace the same values and believe in the same things. But the world around us did change, in ways that frustrate us, and demand more of us.

It helps to remember in these turbulent times that democracy, the power of the people, took root in cities, communities just like ours, in ancient times, and in our own country’s own history. That cities across America today are leading, and we among them, to help chart the path forward, to rebuild trust, to achieve big goals. We, here, need to be the builders and the sustainers of civic institutions and civil foundations. We need to embody the precious characteristics we pursue: justice, inclusion, equity, trust, liberty. To pursue the beloved community, the more perfect union.

In these turbulent times, we also need to keep our eye on the horizon -- not let the headlines or the criticisms of today distract us from doing what’s right for the long term of our community. We need to think today about what the Bloomington residents 30 or 50 years from now will need and want.

Taking that long view, today I’ll propose two important points on that horizon, two overarching challenges, that I believe should guide our approach. And I’ll remind us that we are a BOTH/AND city -- we can and we must meet multiple challenges at once. In that spirit: first, we must work together to save our planet – to be sure that we all have a place to live in the future, that we address climate change and its existential threat to our physical environment. And second, we must work together to make sure that, as we save the planet, every one of us has a place of dignity and respect in that future, a role to play – to be sure that everyone belongs in the sustainable economy and society that we build.

This combination is difficult, but essential, it seems to me. The dual challenges of responding to global climate change while simultaneously protecting individual human dignity and opportunity, I believe, are two guiding principles to steer us right, right here at home.

The stakes are high, as we all well know. We are in a climate emergency on this planet and that means for all of us. We have no Planet B. The ignorance and the arrogance of the Trump administration have been disastrous for climate, at a time when we have no time to spare. Less than two weeks ago, two renowned rainforest scientists said the Amazon is “teetering on the edge of functional destruction, and with it, so are we.” Combined with recent news about the thawing Arctic permafrost and the accelerating melting of Greenland’s ice sheet, the scientists urged that “the tipping point is here, it is now.”  At the state level, perhaps you saw the news that our essential Indiana Department of Environmental Management has suffered drastic cuts in personnel and budget over the past decade.

We also know many of our fellow residents, brothers and sisters here in Bloomington and around the country and planet, face enormous challenges in making ends meet, in finding housing, in building a brighter future for their children, in navigating the new economy, in facing bias or exclusion. Tens of millions of jobs are at risk. Wealth disparities worsen and threaten our democracy and society. Life expectancies are dropping, and younger generations and some of our neighbors wonder whether they really have a place in the mix. We cannot leave people behind.

As a community we have been working very hard together to address both dimensions right here at home: confronting the existential challenge of climate change as well as protecting individual dignity and opportunity for all.

Our community is deeply committed to working toward sustainability, on the environmental front, as a Tree City, a Gold Bicycle Community, with the state’s highest per capita bus system, with 10 million dollars of Bicentennial bonds focused on trees and trails, with a LEED Gold City Hall and more rooftop solar per capita than any community in the state, with new green stormwater financing and water conservation measures, with our first sustainability plan and greenhouse gas inventory and our Waste to Energy task force to name just a few examples. On the social equity and opportunity front, we’ve seen pre-K funding and the new crisis diversion center, our jobs program with Centerstone, new financing and tools for hundreds of units of long-term affordable housing, our living wage ordinance and our Jack Hopkins grant program, as well as the Bridges Initiative report issued Monday on racial inclusion.

But we must do more. The times and our future demand it.

Of course, a great deal of our collective efforts must be aimed at state, national, and global political levels. That is particularly true in this national election year. It demands from each of us intense political activity to elect a president, Congress, and state and local leaders to address these issues head on. And to support advocacy organizations that work for policy change, such as Citizens Climate Lobby, Climate Strike, and more.  2020 is a critical year for this mobilization.

2020 is a critical year for local direct action as well. Today, I’m sharing two major announcements, to respond to dual challenges: the saving of our planet, and the supporting of each individual in dignity and opportunity.

First, I believe our community needs a Climate Change working group. A Green Ribbon Panel. Government is a leader but it cannot be THE ONLY leader in responding to our climate emergency. We must lock arms with our private sector, our nonprofit sector, our education community, and all of us, to address climate challenges. I am calling today for the creation of a collaborative body -- empowered, resourced, and engaged -- to identify and support local efforts to address climate change, to mitigate and adapt. 

This should be beyond city government -- we need partners like our largest employers and our civic institutions, our experts and our activists, and with a multi-generational approach. This should be beyond city boundaries -- we need to work with county and regional partners. And this should be prompt -- I’m urging that this group be created within 100 days of today, to undertake the hard, cooperative work to address the climate emergency.

Second, and this is a big one: we have to recognize that major new efforts require new resources. It is neither sufficient nor prudent to address the challenges of climate change and economic inclusion by cannibalizing vital existing resources and efforts. Today, I am calling on our Local Income Tax Council to enact a new annual funding source for a Sustainability Fund, focused on supporting mitigation and adaptation in the face of climate change, as well as climate justice and inclusion for all. I am calling for a half percentage point increase in the Economic Development Local Option Income Tax, to be enacted in the next six months to make manifest our commitment to a better future for our community and our world. 

Many details lie ahead, of course, including most directly how new revenue should be allocated: from public transportation, mobility and demand management, to public and private buildings and infrastructure, to clean energy and affordable housing, to climate justice and green jobs, to the innovation economy and how to include all of us in the future. Our Greenhouse Gas inventory helps identify main sources of emissions: buildings, transportation, power, and trash. Our Sustainability Plan outlines many potential steps. And again, collaboration among city and county and region and beyond, will be essential.

Let me be clear that I do not propose a revenue increase lightly. But I believe that the times and our future demand it, and that as a community we are in a position to afford it. Among the 20 largest cities of Indiana, Bloomington continues to enjoy among the lowest combined local income and property tax rates. Our local income tax rate is the lowest of our seven contiguous counties. We are in position to take the bold action needed. Raising our local income tax half a percentage point, from 1.25% to 1.75%, will generate approximately 8 million dollars of new annual revenue for critical investments. And a similar amount at the county level. Our combined tax rate would still be low among other cities, and our income tax rate third lowest out of our seven county neighbors, and well below the current state 2.5% cap.

These two steps – a new Green Ribbon Panel, and a new Sustainability Fund – I believe are needed to support bold, effective local action, keeping our eyes on that horizon and our 50-year responsibilities, to our planet and to our people. All around us, younger people -- those with many decades of life in front of them -- are demanding that we confront these challenges head on. I agree.

We have a wonderful community, with real challenges. We have real momentum on progressive changes, with an urgency to accelerate. We need to listen to the voices of the future.

Two Nobel Peace Prize winners, the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu together wrote:  “No dark fate determines the future - we do. Each day and each moment, we are able to create and recreate our lives and the very quality of human life on our planet.” 

I am an optimistic person, and I believe Bloomington is an optimistic community. We won’t be paralyzed by fear or gloom. In tumultuous times, in an emergency, we pull together. We act together. For our planet and for our people. And we must live in hope, dare I say even joy. I love the words of our nearby sage, Wendell Berry, who said in his poem Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, “Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts.” Yes, indeed. We must consider all the facts. Live in them, with them, own them. And still, together in this wonderful and wonderfully blessed community, still embrace joy and hope. And action.

I sincerely look forward to working diligently with all of you in the coming term, and thank you all for being here. When the ceremony here concludes, please head upstairs to dedicate a room to a visionary leader, former Mayor Tomi Allison. Thank you.

 

Mayor Hamilton
 

Speeches