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Committee explores ways to reduce government

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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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  • It is time for an upgrade
    The township system is inefficient and duplicates the administration of the same services. It makes no sense. Get rid of an antiquated system and consolidate into a uniform efficient system based on the technology of today. We are doing advanced calculous with an abacus right now. Lets upgrade to excel.
  • Gov reduction should start at top
    A lot of talk about eliminating Townships because they are from the past. As history reads we have 50 Senators because our ancestors wanted a Senator within a days ride on horseback for citzens. Why do we still need 50 Senators? Texas has 10 times the land mass and four time the population and operates with 31 Senators. California has about 4 times the land mass and 10 times the population and operates with 38 Senators (two vacant spots) You want to talk about money savings! Take a Senator, their staff, per diems, and office budgets!
  • Eliminate duplicative gov't services
    Before we look at taxing nonprofits, let's elimiate Indiana's archaic & duplicative township government, a level of government "service" that is not necessary for most Indiana communities. Let's also remember that many nonprofits provide services that the for-profit sector and government can't or won't provide. These low-cost or reduced cost services are provided in part because the non-profit sector does not have the same tax burden as the for-profit sector. This third sector is a critical leg of the 3-legged stool (non-profit, for-profit, and government) that had been central to our country's social contract for hundreds of years.
  • Non-Profits
    I've advocated some cost sharing for the "non-profits" for a number of years, and I'm a former hospital board member. "Non-profit" is really a misnomer for some healthcare entities, who are "non-taxpayers" but operated at a profit, which is necessary for capital investment. Some "non-profit" health facilities pay for fire and police protection, but probably not all of them. It's time to phase in partial property taxes for ALL "non-profits" to cover those the essential services, including my church, the United Way, et al. Shouldn't they pay at least 25% or 50% of what we pay in the private sector? Additionally, no one likes higher income taxes, but at least that taps into the "non-profit" sector. Afterall, that's the 2nd largest employee class in IN, following government employees, of course. Not everything can be balanced on the back of the private sector. We have to remain competitive locally and globally in the private sector. Property taxes might create a few less, or more efficient, "non-profits".
  • Smaller Government
    If you want smaller government you can start by eliminating all the silly things governments track. For too long legislators have been writing and passing laws that are unnecessary, which require the hiring of more and more government employees to carry out. Stop it already.
  • reduce government
    How much are these people cutting their own pay and perks? Also, they could reduce their medical and retirement plans in direct proportion that they would reduce others'. I bet they don't.
  • interesting....
    oddly left out, political kickbacks and incentives used to pay for trips, travel, mail and campaigns.
  • Mentally Ill deserve our help
    If we cut funds to help the mentally ill, that is terrible disgrace to human beings. These people cannot help the disorder or obstacles causing their mental illness. It makes me ashamed of our representatives to even consider this!

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