Leadership and Legislature and Opinion and Economy

Tough times require determined leader

May 11, 2009
Someone once told me it's easy to run an organization when times are good. It's when times are tough that things get difficult.

Well, we're definitely there.

Nowhere is it more evident than at the Indiana Statehouse, where the 2009 General Assembly spent four months hammering away at a laundry list of issues and couldn't even come up with a budget.

On top of that, the Capital Improvement Board's $50 million financial puzzle remains unsolved and threatens the vitality of our sports and tourism industries.

It's a classic bad-times scenario, and I don't see any leadership.

In good times—when revenue is coming in and budgets are being met—people are happy and generally agreeable. They more readily overlook their differences and work together.

It's easy to lead then.

But in bad times—when revenue isn't coming in and budgets are being missed—the walls go up. Things get dicey; people protect their turf and make sure somebody else doesn't get something at their expense.

When people dig in, it's compromise that gets buried. And that becomes the challenge for leaders, who need to rise above the fray and lead the lieutenants to victory.

At the Capitol, Democrats and Republicans are battling for what they want. The speaker of the House and the governor are calling each other names to get what they want.

Lobbyists and special-interest groups, who have way too much influence this year, create a din that drowns out everything else. They seem to be calling the shots.

As the Legislature stumbles, the Indianapolis Colts/Indiana Pacers/CIB conundrum also has been the stage for a lot of unfortunate posturing and very little constructive conversation—at least in public—both inside and outside the Statehouse.

The Blame Game is the new game in town. Everybody's pointing fingers, and nobody is pointing one at themselves. The vitriol has reached epoch proportions. Meanwhile, taxpayers suffer under the lack of resolution to problems that will only get worse if they aren't resolved soon.

These issues affect all of us, and the people whom we have put our faith in—and voted for—have let us down. The state's revenue forecasts, which were way off target to begin with, proved to be optimistic when compared to updates in April. The governor says the Legislature needs to find another $1 billion to cut to come up with an acceptable budget.

The situation cries out for strong leadership, and while most people are looking back and trying to lay blame, I'm looking forward and asking for our leaders to step up, lead the sacrifice parade, and bring resolution.

Gov. Mitch Daniels, Mayor Greg Ballard, House Speaker Pat Bauer—the whole gang—need to step up. Leaders in the Colts and Pacers camps also need to cooperate to resolve the issues we face in these unprecedented times.

There is more at stake than just our government and immediate livelihoods.

In recent decades, Indianapolis has been a community known for its ability to make things happen. We've built a reputation for public/private partnership and cooperation that has gained national and international attention. We are admired.

Indiana has gained considerable notoriety as a progressive leader in the economic development world since Daniels became governor five years ago. We've gotten a lot of attention, and that kind of attention is good.

What are outsiders seeing in Indiana and its capital city now? Partisan bickering as we slip into the quagmire.

It's not good, and it's time for our leaders to lead this situation to a productive conclusion, one in which everyone feels a little pain but as a whole we get beyond the impasse and on the road to recovery.

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Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.
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