To put in perspective the flurry of activity that has been the eight years of the Daniels administration, one must think back to the state he inherited following a succession of solid, but caretaker, governors.
Worries about the economy were rising. So-called New Economy jobs weren’t getting traction, and manufacturing shop-floor positions were falling to technology and cheaper climes in other countries, so much so that a sense of the state’s losing altitude had become palpable.
Couple the angst with something approximating the 16-year itch for a different political party and the environment was ripe for change.
Daniels took the cue at face value and gave Hoosiers two urgent terms remarkable for their unlikely twin characteristics of activism and limited government.
The activism came fast and furious. Daylight saving time. The Indiana Toll Road and its sweeping transportation projects. Property tax caps. Conservation set-asides. Education reform.
Alongside those changes was an emphasis on efficient government, which turned out to be a godsend when the recession arrived with a roar three years into his first term.
Daniels always was grounded in the understanding that government exists to serve its citizens, not the other way around. In that spirit, he almost immediately, in effect, busted the employees’ union and implemented a pay-for-performance system.
With workers now able to be rewarded for hard, smart toil—and the state having greater ability to close out unneeded positions—Daniels’ lieutenants proceeded to wrestle even the unruly Bureau of Motor Vehicles to the ground and rebuild a model agency.
As is the case any time a reformer attacks a big set of problems, some ideas didn’t work, and chief among those warts was the Division of Child and Family Services and its problematic contract with IBM. Real people were hurt.
Daniels early on told Hoosiers they should measure his overall performance by watching to see if wages and personal income growth picked up steam.
That hasn’t panned out the way he hoped. Indeed, the state now ranks lower than it did when he took office. So some of the angst that permeated the state nearly a decade ago remains.
But it would be unfair to lay too much blame for this at Daniels’ feet. Governors play a role in economic growth by making their states attractive to business and helping compete for jobs that companies shop among states these days.
In the end, though, government doesn’t create jobs. As businesspeople are fond of reminding us, businesses do. And while Daniels did a stellar job of making the state an easier place for businesses to operate, startups and existing companies haven’t responded with enough well-paying jobs to stop the slide. That isn’t Daniels’ fault.
So, Daniels, as a government official, has done what he could to make Indiana a place where enterprise can thrive.
Now it’s up to the private sector to step up.•
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