Legislature and State Budget and Opinion

Legislature should focus on government efficiency in 2009

January 5, 2009
I hope you had a good holiday season. Now that it's behind us, what do we have to look forward to in central Indiana in 2009?

The key word is: challenge.

Clearly the economy will provide us significant challenges—and opportunities. As business people, we will need to be at our best to survive and maybe even prosper in times that will surely test our mettle.

Most economists are predicting no improvement until the third quarter. Some are saying it may even be the fourth quarter before things start to improve.

I'm saying it could be even longer, so be prepared.

Now, more than ever, we need to be creative and industrious in finding ways to generate revenue, as well as be smart and strategic about employing our resources intelligently.

We will all have our work cut out for us.

On that subject, let's imagine the 2009 Indiana General Assembly, which will convene in two days for what could be one of the most challenging sessions in recent history.

With a projected revenue shortfall of nearly $1 billion looming, legislators will be forced to use very sharp pencils in putting together the next two-year budget. Erasers might come in handy, too.

Legislative leadership last month issued a joint statement acknowledging the difficulty of what's ahead and offering this gem regarding bipartisanship: "As the state's legislative leaders, we are resolved to transcend party lines as we attempt to do our part in guiding the state through this economic storm."

Let's hope so.

Early last week the governor—who has already asked agencies to cut spending for the remainder of the fiscal year and employees to forego pay raises—threw in his two cents.

Referring to the upcoming legislative session, he said, "There are going to be things precious to me that have to be postponed, but I'm going to be in good company because that is going to be true for everybody."

Well, I'm glad to see we're all on the same page. Let's hope it actually works out that way.

The governor would like to see a budget that is balanced without bookkeeping tricks and without tapping into the state's $1.4 billion reserve fund. That would be ideal.

While one chamber is working on the budget, the other will have to spend its time on other issues. Most pressing in my mind are education, the state's unemployment insurance trust fund and government efficiency.

Education leaders are expecting a flat-line budget, which would be better than major budget cuts in an area that is so crucial to the state's future. The unemployment trust fund, which is broke, needs to be shored up somehow.

But my pet issue is government efficiency.

My hope is that the legislature seriously looks at and enacts some or all of the recommendations of the Kernan-Shepard Commission, which was convened to make local governments more efficient, consistent and accountable.

While legislators wrestle with how to save money in state government, the commission's report gives them a blueprint on how to accomplish that goal at the local level. Efficient government benefits everyone. Whether state or local, the money that governments spend come out of the same pockets: ours.

But with 2009 shaping up to be a year of major challenge in business and in the Legislature, let's not forget what should be our top priority: Nothing's more important than personal well-being, peace of mind and good health.

We need to remember that as we move into a year that has the potential of generating new highs on our personal stress-o-meters, we need to take care of ourselves.

Everyone at IBJ wishes you and yours a successful, happy and healthy 2009.
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Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.
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