Legislature and Associations and State Budget and State Government and Government & Economic Development and Government and Government services and Government Reform

Committee explores ways to reduce government

January 25, 2011

Charging not-for-profits for government services, eliminating certain paper records and trimming how much counties pay to mental-health institutions are among the ways local officials say the cost of government could be reduced.

A new legislative committee tasked with streamlining government heard those suggestions during its first meeting at the Statehouse on Tuesday.

Representatives from the State Board of Accounts, the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, and the Indiana Association of Counties discussed about 100 ideas for leveraging ever-scarce tax dollars. Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma formed the committee late last year.

Some of the ideas discussed Tuesday are likely to be controversial. But Rep. Chet Dobis, a Democrat from Merrillville who leads the committee, said the group’s focus this session will be smaller changes that seem like “no-brainers.”

“If there are some things that make a lot of sense and are not controversial, it makes sense to get them behind us,” Dobis said.

 Those could include some of the ideas discussed by Bruce Hartman, a state examiner with the State Board of Accounts, or SBA.

Hartman said, for instance, that county clerks are required to file monthly bank-balance statements with the SBA, and public entities are required to file lengthy reports (dubbed 100Rs) listing employees and their salaries, even though those documents also are filed with other local agencies.

Hartman said there’s little public demand for viewing those documents at the State Board of Accounts, and the department does not use them.

“When Bob Knight was the coach at [Indiana University], a lot of people would come to our office to look at IU’s 100R,” Hartman said while holding up the university's 100R, a thick green book. “Now, they just serve no purpose. We don’t use them for anything from an audit perspective.”

Some state lawmakers, however, said it’s important that the information remains easily accessible to the public in case there is interest in seeing it.

“One-stop research is very efficient,” said Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis.

Other proposals are likely to draw more ire. The Indiana Association of Cities and Towns has suggested making it non-elective for municipalities to charge not-for-profits and other non-tax-paying entities for the cost of basic government services, such as police and fire protection.

Michael W. Griffin, clerk-treasurer for the Northern Indiana city of Highland, who presented the association's recommendations, said he has anecdotally gauged a willingness among religious community leaders to help cover part of the cost of the services they receive. But, he acknowledged, this might be a difficult time to implement such a charge.

“There’s real service that’s provided to those people,” Griffin said. “(But) they’re in a period of contraction, as well.”

One way for counties to save money would be to reduce payments made to some community mental health centers. That would make payments proportional to the lower amount of property-tax revenue that some counties receive under tax caps, said David Bottorff, executive director for the Association of Indiana Counties.

That raised concerns among some lawmakers about the impact of reduced revenue on mental-health services.

“If you give them less money, that means there’s less help in the community for people who are mentally ill,” said Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis.

Proposals that the committee doesn’t try to pass this session could be discussed over the summer in preparation for the 2012 session, Dobis said.

Next week, the committee will convene again to hear suggestions from Gov. Mitch Daniels’ office about streamlining the state’s boards and commissions.

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