Government

ABDUL-HAKIM SHABAZZ Commentary: Can I have a bit more government, please?

September 5, 2005

Indiana has a lot of things. It has a lot of rich farmland, which provides the foundation to make it an economic powerhouse as we look for renewable sources of fuel. It also has a lot of good, decent people who make up the communities where you would want to raise a family. However, somewhere between the neighborhoods that house the great families and the farmlands that house our economic future is a lot of something else Indiana has-government.

I reached this realization while covering several events in August. The legislative committee hearings on the Bureau of Motor Vehicles closures and Marion County consolidation, Mayor Bart Peterson's unveiling of his budget for the city and county, the City-County Council's hearings on police consolidation, an interview with U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar, and an investigation into some questionable practices involving mixing government and political activity in the Lawrence Township Trustee's Office all made it crystal clear to me that Indiana has way too much government.

Try these facts on for size. There are more than 2,200 units of government in Indiana, according to the Indiana Department of Local Government and Finance. That includes taxing bodies like the Van Bibber Lake Conservancy District in Putnam County, or, a little closer to home, the Indianapolis Liquid Sanitation Taxing District, which is not to be confused with the Indianapolis Solid Sanitation Taxing District.

To put this in some kind of perspective, Indiana has 6.2 million people. That means there's a unit of local government for every 2,700 Hoosiers. Those units eat up more than $7.4 billion annually of your money.

For an exact amount, I counted 92 counties, 1,008 townships, 564 cities and towns, 293 school districts (quite a few with fewer than 1,000 students), 240 library districts, 172 special districts and 65 conservancies. No, I'm not quite sure what those are, either. What makes matters worse is that anytime someone talks about streamlining some of this, they are chased by peasants with torches and pitchforks.

Let me spell some of that out for you. BMV Commissioner Joel Silverman is being treated like Michael Jackson in a day care center because he wants to close a handful of branches in some towns so small you would have to widen the main roads to draw a white line down the middle of Main Street.

The same people who complain about having to drive an hour every few years to get a driver's license don't think twice about driving an hour each day, roundtrip, to work. Did I mention Indiana has more BMVs than almost all the states in the union, even though it's 14th in population?

Now, some of you reading this may think this is just a veiled dig at township government, since there are 1,000 of them and they make up about half the units of local government. But it isn't. This is a dig at government at all levels. This is criticism for the people down at the City-County building who, instead of putting the mayor's budget proposal on CD-ROM, decided to kill half the Amazon rain forest when they ran off copies. But if I recall correctly, it was two-sided.

The point is the enormous amount of government and bureaucracy makes it more difficult than necessary to do business. Tax rates are artificially high when school districts that have fewer than 1,000 students sit side by side.

My critics say I am an "outsider," and don't understand that government that is closest to the people serves it best. I'm also told small government can deliver personal service big government can't. Be that as it may, I draw this analogy: Government is like in-laws. One is annoying enough, but 2,260 just might be a bit much.



Shabazz is the morning show host on WXNT-AM 1430 and an attorney. His column appears monthly. He can be reached by e-mail at ashabazz@ibj.com.
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