Opinion and Editorials and Government Reform

EDITORIAL: Daniels on target on township reform

January 15, 2011

Most of the media coverage of Gov. Mitch Daniels’ State of the State address focused on his ambitious plans to overhaul and improve education in Indiana.

With his high school chemistry teacher, Bob Watson, watching from the gallery, the Republican governor made another compelling case that the status quo isn’t working. He noted that 99 percent of Indiana teachers are rated “effective,” yet only one of three of the state’s students can pass the national math or reading exams.

But we are pleased that the two-term governor doesn’t intend to expend his considerable political capital on just that one important issue. He also went into surprising detail about his plan to reform local government.

To be sure, it’s a dry topic, not one likely to enrapture many Hoosiers as the legislation wends its way through the General Assembly this spring. But it’s an important one, especially at a time tax caps have forced many units of local government to cut back on essential services.

The topic is far from new, of course. Year after year, many of the state’s more progressive politicians have pushed the General Assembly to enact the reforms proposed as part of the Kernan-Shepard report of 2007. A statistical model run by Mike Hicks, a Ball State economist, estimated $470 million in annual savings statewide from the reforms, about 90 percent of which would come from township consolidation.

Daniels’ speech devoted seven paragraphs to government reform—more than he devoted to any legislative priority other than education (23).

“Some of the changes are so obvious that our failure to make them is a daily embarrassment,” the governor said.

He added: “Today, over 4,000 politicians, few of them known to the voters they represent, run over a thousand township governments. They are sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars in reserves. Some have eight years of spending needs stashed in the bank, yet they keep collecting taxes.”

Daniels drew only polite applause when he called for the elimination of township government—a sharp reminder of the challenges he faces getting lawmakers, many of whom came up through township government, to do the right thing.

But this may be the governor’s last, best chance to get reforms approved. The financial pressures on local government likely will ease as the economy improves, sapping momentum from efforts to bolster efficiency.

And Daniels is operating from a position of strength. He’s popular, and is working with an Indiana General Assembly that has both chambers controlled by the GOP for the first time since 2006.

If the governor succeeds in reforming education, he’ll have one more achievement to tout should he decide to run for president. In contrast, his fight to reform local government isn’t a headline grabber. We’re glad he’s making it a priority, nonetheless.•

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