In 2007, an extraordinary thing happened. A group of non-partisan, people from every walk of life and every profession sat down and formed a Blue Ribbon Panel. The goal was to bring Indiana into the 21st century, to modernize the 150 year old model of government, and to save the citizens money.
Many of our elected officials have torn apart the Kernan-Shepard report to the point it is unrecognizable to those who so diligently and thoughtfully put it together, to those who saw a new and vibrant Indiana, one that is inviting to industries and families. Hoosiers watched the downward spiral of ineffective government escalate to the point of no return. At least it appears to be so.
Of course, I do not like every idea presented, but definitely, there is enough meat on the bone to feed a hungry State.
Michael Hicks and Dagney Faulk from Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research released a study in January on the effect Kernan-Shepard Report would have on Indiana’s financial future. It was estimated at least three quarters of Indiana residents live in communities with budget shortfalls.
Hicks and Faulk write, “Our estimates suggest realizable savings that could range from $400 million to $622 million per year.” That includes $74 million in consolidation of fire protection services and $52 million in administration. Hicks told the Senate Local Government Committee earlier this month.“We think the savings could be two or three times larger. That translates to about $150 per family per year just by consolidating practices.” 1
Something so simple as to move elections to an even year, could realize Indiana a 22 million dollar savings in 4 years.
Many of us have read the recent articles in the opinion page of the Muncie newspaper. Those same sentiments are echoing throughout all of Indiana. It certainly appears the elected officials are not listening. To bad it is not an election year! They have open ears when they need our vote.
Let’s take a brief look at what other Hoosiers are saying:
But my pet issue is government efficiency.
My hope is that the legislature seriously looks at and enacts some or all of the recommendations of the Kernan-Shepard Commission, which was convened to make local governments more efficient, consistent and accountable. 1
While legislators wrestle with how to save money in state government, the commission’s report gives them a blueprint on how to accomplish that goal at the local level. Efficient government benefits everyone. Whether state or local, the money that governments spend come out of the same pockets: ours. 2
The commission’s report highlighted the obvious deficiencies in Indiana’s governing apparatus-the abundance of local units of government with taxing authority and the citizenry’s inability to identify whom to hold accountable among the 10,746 local elected officials in charge. As the commission’s report notes, from 1984 to 2005, the average tax-rate increase by the 2,730 local government taxing authorities totaled more than 6 percent-twice the rate of inflation and twice the rate of growth in the tax base. 3
“We have very, very few options,” said a disappointed Sen. Connie Lawson, the Danville Republican who had shepherded most of the reforms through passage in the Senate. “Honestly, I don’t know if there’s any.”
“I don’t know what was happening here, and I don’t like it, all right? It’s that simple. I don’t like it,” Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, snarled bluntly after watching the committee vote 7-1 against the measures.
Marilyn Schultz, a former Democratic state representative who now is executive director of Mysmartgov.org, the group lobbying for the reforms, said the Democrat-controlled committee had intended to kill the reforms and did so under the guise of giving them a hearing.
“There were members of both caucuses who were getting a lot of heat from their constituents because they really want to see reform. So this was a kind of storefront hearing so they can say they gave it consideration and nobody was in favor,” she said. 4
I believe that what Hoosiers expect our government to do is the very same thing businesses and families are currently doing: reduce costs while maintaining a reasonable lifestyle. To ignore the cost savings available through Kernan-Shepard is to ignore constituent expectations. 5
The legislation could be revived late in the session, but House Speaker Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, has said all along that he did not consider major restructuring of local government to be a high priority this session. 6
So it’s no surprise that the Republican governor and the Democratic speaker are once again sparring over some weighty issues before the General Assembly issues on which they have vastly different views.
Take two of Daniels’ top legislative priorities streamlining local government and taking the next step toward amending caps on property tax bills into the state constitution.
Daniels says both should be considered musts this session. He says local government is antiquated, overlapping and too confusing and costly, and the caps should be in the constitution so judges can’t overrule them and lawmakers couldn’t easily repeal them.
Bauer has been cool to the local government changes, saying they’re not pressing matters this session. And he says lawmakers should wait until next year to consider a resolution that would put the question of constitutional property tax caps before voters so they can better gauge how the caps impact taxpayers and local governments.
Daniels recently touched on Bauer’s stands on those issues in sharp words.
“We all know nothing happens in the House of Representatives that Speaker Bauer doesn’t permit,” Daniels said. “He’s never challenged. His authority is total.
“So with regard to questions like this (on local government) or property tax caps, it is a matter of him deciding either because it’s good government, or if that doesn’t matter, because it’s good politics for him to let some of these things move forward, and I hope for both reasons that he’ll decide to do that.” 7
1 Howey, Brian Howey: Are Indiana townships ‘functioning extremely well’? February 27, 2009 www.howeypolitics.com
2 Commentary – Rise to the challenge in 2009 Focus of legislative session should be government efficiency
Indianapolis Business Journal (IN) – Monday, January 5, 2009 Author/Byline: CHRIS KATTERJOHN
3 Commentary – State offices could use some fixing, too
Indianapolis Business Journal (IN) – Monday, March 9, 2009 Author/Byline: BRIAN WILLIAMS
4 Legislation to reform government hits a wall Indianapolis Star, The (IN) – Wednesday, March 11, 2009 Author/Byline: Mary Beth Schneider
5 South Bend Tribune 2-12-09 (Letter to editor)
6 Associated Press 3-10-09
7 Associated Press 3-09-09