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LEIGHTY: The Daniels era was truly impressive

January 5, 2013

Hilary LeightyMitch Daniels has been the best thing to happen to the Hoosier state since Bobby Knight. Indiana has not only flourished, but has also gained national attention as a fiscal and education reform leader under Daniels’ direction. The entire country suffered when he decided not to run for president.

When Daniels took office in 2004, Indiana was in dire financial shape following a string of Democratic governors. Overspending was the custom and the budget was harshly out of balance, effectively bankrupting the state. Indiana needed not only a fiscal conservative, but also an inspired leader with the experience and abilities to creatively solve some very complicated problems. As we now know, Daniels delivered.

Daniels balanced the budget in his first term and maintained a surplus during the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression through innovative spending cuts. Among them, Daniels decreased state employees 16 percent.

As a result of the efficiency, customer satisfaction with government services increased. Daniels also used competitive bids to lower costs. For example, the state saved $1.6 million by privatizing mail and document delivery systems.

Because of all of Daniels’ creative cost-cutting and tough decision-making, Indiana is one of nine states with an AAA credit rating. Indiana has a rainy day fund of over $1 billion. In addition, Indiana was rated the fifth-best state for business by Chief Executive Magazine.

Daniels put education back on the side of Hoosier students and parents by ushering in the most comprehensive education reform package in the nation late in his second term. The legislation eliminated provisions in teachers’ contracts that forced school leaders to lay off teachers with the least seniority first, regardless of teaching ability. Additionally, for the first time, teacher pay increases were based on classroom effectiveness instead of only seniority and/or degrees earned.

The legislation also provided the option to attend another school for children whose needs are not met in a traditional public school setting. The state even supplies need-based vouchers to qualifying families who wish to send their children to non-public schools. Because Daniels had the courage to direct such bold education reform, Indiana families will benefit for many years to come.

My favorite of Daniels’ accomplishments is a 10-year transportation plan, Major Moves. Major Moves began in 2005 with the goal of significantly improving and expanding Indiana’s highway infrastructure. By the end of 2011, 50 roadway projects were complete and open to traffic.

Leasing the Indiana Toll Road funded Major Moves initiatives. No additional debt was incurred or taxes increased for the project. I am from a small town in southern Indiana directly affected by a recently competed Major Moves project. The increased safety, convenience and jobs Interstate 69 is bringing my community are boundless.

A balanced budget, education reform and Major Moves are only scratching the surface of Daniels’ accomplishments. Gov.-elect Mike Pence has big shoes to fill. He must maintain our budget surplus, uphold education reform and continue to push through Major Moves projects, all while leaving his own legacy.

Some states had governors like Mark Sanford, Rod Blagojevich and Elliott Spitzer. How did we get so lucky? I can’t wait to see what Pence will accomplish as governor for this great state, but I sure will miss my man Mitch.

Although I wish Daniels would travel to Bloomington in a few weeks instead of West Lafayette, I wish him only the best and will be watching eagerly to see what this impressive man accomplishes next.•

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Leighty, an Indiana University sophomore double majoring in marketing and management, is president of the Indiana University College Republicans. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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