IBJOpinion

MARCUS: Indiana says, 'If it's broken, throw it out'

Morton Marcus
January 29, 2011
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Morton Marcus

Indiana’s new policy is, “If it is broken, throw it out.” We applied that policy to township assessors and now we are applying it to township government. Soon we may do the same to urban school districts.

When something is not working as it should, what do you do? Kick it or bang it, thinking a good jarring will restore proper functioning? Examine it, diagnose the operation of its parts, seek to fix the faulty mechanism? Rid yourself of the offending thing and get a new one? Or, do without whatever the thing was intended to do?

Not long ago, similar homes in the same Indiana county were assigned very different values. Assessments seemed arbitrary and subjective. Township assessors’ offices were ripe with opportunities for nepotism, excessive spending and sweetheart assessments. The Legislature’s solution: Get rid of township assessors, except in a few instances.

County assessors assumed the responsibilities of township assessors. Most often, the township assessors were hired into the county assessors’ offices. Those township assessors who ran low-cost, efficient and equitable operations were bundled in with the inept and the crooks.

Rather than carefully auditing the activities in each township assessor’s office, Indiana chopped down the institution. We did not expose the crooks or offer up the inept for public scrutiny. Worse, when the scythe cuts through, the healthy plants fall with the diseased. 

Now township trustees and their advisory boards face their turn. Again there are charges of mismanagement and malfeasance. Instead of investigating, exposing and prosecuting, we will eradicate township government.

Yes, too many local governments infest Indiana. We do not, however, establish criteria for consolidating governments or coordinating governmental functions. In the case of townships, we are instructed to abandon their activities to the counties.

Likewise, large inner-city school corporations are under attack. The fact that such schools are the depositories for society’s poorest and most afflicted populations is well-understood, but not forgiven. Instead of seeking to improve these schools, we rush to put them out of business.

A proposal before the Legislature offers vouchers for use in private schools. For students from households with income of less than $42,000, the vouchers would be worth 90 percent of the per-pupil state aid formerly received by the school the student leaves. Statewide, such vouchers would average more than $6,000 per student per year. In Indianapolis Public Schools, the amount would be in excess of $7,800 per student for private tuition.

The amount of the voucher (and the commensurate decrease in state aid to the public school) goes down as the student’s household income rises. For a student from a household with income from $42,000 to $84,000, the voucher is 50 percent of per-student aid, falling to 25 percent when the student comes from a household with income between $84,000 and $105,000. This insidious idea presumes a school with poor students can give up a larger part of its state aid than can a school with a wealthy clientele.

This program destroys the public school economy. If 10 students leave an elementary school, how much less money is needed to run that school and its buses? Will the heating costs decline for the building? Will fewer teachers be required?

We don’t like the performance of urban schools, so we devise a program to destroy them. We don’t approve of the behavior of township officials, so we legislate them out of existence. We don’t feel comfortable with the assessment of our homes, so we dismiss township assessors.

If it doesn’t work, break it. If it is broken, throw it out. Never fix anything. Will that be the next motto on our license plates?•

__________

Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU’s Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mmarcus@ibj.com.

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  1. A couple of issues need some clarification especially since my name was on the list. I am not sure how this information was obtained and from where. For me, the amount was incorrect to begin with and the money does not come to me personally. I am guessing that the names listed are the Principal Investigators (individual responsible for the conduct of the trail) for the different pharmaceutical trials and not the entity which receives the checks. In my case, I participate in Phase II and Phase III trials which are required for new drug development. Your article should differentiate the amount of money received for consulting, for speaking fees, and for conduct of a clinical trial for new drug development. The lumping of all of these categories may give the reader a false impression of physicians just trying to get rich. The Sunshine Law may help to differentiate these categories in the future. The public should be aware that the Clinical Trial Industry could be a real economic driver for Indiana since these revenues supports jobs and new job creation. Nationally, this account for 10-20 billion which our State is missing out on to a large degree. Yes, new drug and technology development has gotten most of the attention (e.g. CTSI, BioCrossroads, etc.) However, serious money is being left on the table by not participating in the clinical trials to get those new drugs and medical devices on the market!!!! I guess that this is not sexy enough for academia.

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  3. Out of state management and ownership. If Kite controlled it, everything would be leased. Of course, due to the roundabout, there is limited access to the south side of 116th now also. Just have to go down to the light.

  4. Hey smudge, You're opposed to arresting people for minor crimes? Sounds great! We should only focus on murders and such, right? Let's stand around and wait until someone shoots someone before we act. Whatever we do, we should never question anyone, frisk anyone, or arrest anyone unless they are actively engaged in shooting or stabbing. Very sound!

  5. You guys are being really rude to gays in the comments. (Not all of you, I presume). You need to stop it. Gays have just as much of a right to marry as straight people do. It's not fair how you guys are denying them equal rights. They're acting more human than you'll ever be. We obviously haven't matured since the bible was last updated. Hate the sin, not the sinner. You've all committed a sin at least once in your life. You've lied, you've stolen, etc. (Those are just possibilities). We should have a planet for people that support gay rights and a planet for people that don't. Then, gay people could get married without you bigots interfering with their love life. How would you feel if straights couldn't get married? How would you feel if teenagers were afraid to come out to their parents as straight? If straight people got hate everywhere they went? If straight people were afraid to go out in public, because they feared being judged? It's never going to happen at the rate society is going. You haven't seen the side of me where I act obscene. You're glad my inner demon hasn't been released. I would, but oh no, my comment would be removed because of my very strong emotions about this subject. I love gays, and love how they show their affection for each other. I just ADORE how a state is going to give same-sex couples a marriage license, then changes their mind. (I was obviously being sarcastic there). I just LOVE how society thinks gays are an abomination to our society. You're caring about marriage between two men or two women. That's a small thing. Just grow up, and let them marry. Let them live their lives. You can't make them change their sexuality. You can't make them change their lifestyle. In my opinion, gays are more than welcome to marry. Please, grow up and realize that people should be allowed to marry, even if it's same-sex marriage. You guys are saying that "the bible said gay marriage is wrong." Well, guess what else is wrong? Read Matthew:7 and you'll find out. (I am in no way breaking that. I am saying a fact). I'm stating that gays have just as much of a right to marry as straights do. (:

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