Mitch Daniels and Legislature and Editorials and Government

System meltdown at the Statehouse

May 4, 2009
Lawmakers sometimes do their best work right after an election, when they have a fresh victory in hand and can think beyond their political self-interest. Same goes for the chief executive. Gov. Mitch Daniels won big last year in what was presumably his last political campaign.

All of which adds to our disappointment at the close of this disastrous legislative session.

The casualties are everywhere. Local government reform: dead. Smoke-free workplaces: dead. Transit funding: dead. A fix for the state's unemployment insurance trust fund: botched. We could go on. The point is state government's legislative and executive branches underperformed in a year when they might have demonstrated at least some ability to rise above the partisan bickering—noise that will only grow louder as the next election approaches.

We could chalk up the lack of progress to the withering recession and the challenge it presented in coming up with a new state budget, but our lawmakers couldn't even achieve that. And our governor couldn't coax them into a deal—not without a special session.

Perhaps future budget sessions would be easier if lawmakers would heed the governor's push to restructure local government. Adopting reforms that would strip away multiple layers of government, thereby saving money, is precisely what is needed when funds are scarce.

But there's little to suggest lawmakers will ever do that. When a popular governor holding a roadmap for reform crafted by members of both parties is a nonstarter in the Legislature, it's the deliberative body itself that needs reform.

Our elected representatives did eke out a cure for the state's bankrupt unemployment insurance trust fund, but they got it wrong, abandoning a plan we've lauded in this space that would have spread the pain between employers and those who receive the benefits. They chose instead to leave benefits untouched, placing the entire burden on employers.

Even issues where there was consensus bit the dust.

Legislation that would have required that utilities supply at least 15 percent of their electricity from renewable power by 2025 had bi-partisan support in the House and Senate. But it failed in the session's final hours, leaving Indiana as the only state in the Midwest without a renewable energy standard.

There was also broad agreement that the Indianapolis Capital Improvement Board's financial emergency is an Indianapolis problem. We would prefer a regional approach, but were resigned to the likelihood Marion County taxpayers would be stuck bailing out the CIB, whose sports and convention facilities are so vital to the regional economy. For that to happen, the Legislature had to grant its permission, but the bill didn't even come up for a vote.

At IBJ deadline, the CIB crisis appeared hopeless. That's the same word we'd use to describe the Legislature. Perhaps in the special session our lawmakers will take collective responsibility for their failure, find common ground and give Hoosiers reason to hope.

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