HICKS: Time to take stock of Mitch Daniels' tenure

December 29, 2012

No matter your politics, you must admit that Mitch Daniels has been the most consequential Hoosier governor in more than a lifetime. Whether the consequences are good or bad is a matter of opinion. But the record of getting things done, and making other governors look inadequate in the process, warrants a brief review.

There were failures, successes and unfinished business.

Further automation of our system of social services is desperately needed, but Daniels’ efforts at Indiana’s Family & Social Services Administration simply didn’t work.

The effort was complicated by the fact that a large share of our fellow citizens who need this help simply cannot read. In the grand scheme of things, the difficulties at FSSA were a small stumble, but a stumble nonetheless.

Enshrining tax caps into our constitution was a mistake. Doing so unnecessarily tied the hands of future Hoosier policymakers. More important, constitutions in our nation are sacred documents that many of us have sworn to die defending. Restrictions on tax rates simply have no business being there.

In comparison, Daniels’ victories in public policy were enormous. The lease of the Indiana Toll Road is the single most publicly beneficial public/private partnership in America in recent decades. Comprehensive telecommunications reform in Indiana became the national standard for busting the cable TV monopolies. The result was lower cable TV and Internet prices for consumers and more than a quarter million more cable connections in our state.

Gov. Daniels also transformed the fiscal health of the state. The combination of tax reform, spending cuts, government-efficiency improvements, and the shifting of school operating expenses to the state moved Indiana a generation or two toward fiscal modernity. As a testament to this, the election debate in Indiana was over the size of potential tax cuts.

Education reform in Indiana became the culmination of all the moving parts that reform advocates (from both parties) were pushing for across the country. The real beneficiaries of this will be the poor and middle-class families stuck in failing schools.

Indiana’s passage of right to work also was significant, even if it alone does nothing immediate for the economy.

There is still much to do. Local government in Indiana remains locked in the mid-19th century. The method for assessing, collecting and distributing property taxes could hardly be less effective. And the state must provide higher-quality work-force development and post-secondary education.

Still, it’s a fact that the Great Recession left many states in crisis, yet Indiana avoided one. You may not agree with all this governor has done, but Indiana is in a lot better relative place now than it has been in a long, long time.•

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Hicks is director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at cber@bsu.edu.

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