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Smoking ban, government reform on Daniels' 2012 agenda

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Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels says he will push for a statewide smoking ban and mild local government reforms in the 2012 legislative session.

Those are among the priorities Daniels, a Republican who will begin his last year in office in January, plans to outline in a noon speech Friday at the downtown Skyline Club for the Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis.

In an interview Thursday, he also hinted that he would support a proposal seeking legislative approval to let voters decide whether to increase local income taxes to expand mass transit in Marion County and surrounding counties.

“My attitude is the same one we’ve had generally—there ought to be local flexibility,” Daniels said.

When asked whether he would endorse Indianapolis-area leaders’ mass-transit plan, which includes raising taxes in Marion and Hamilton counties, the governor replied, “See me tomorrow.”

Daniels was more definitive Thursday in his support for the smoking ban, saying he hopes one “with minimal exceptions” can pass this year. Even if Indianapolis leaders pass a local ban in coming months, Daniels said, a statewide ban also is needed.

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma has said lawmakers may seek passage of such a ban before the Super Bowl in February. Last year, a statewide smoking ban that included several exemptions such as casinos and bars failed after clean-air advocates assailed it as too weak.  

Passing sweeping changes to local government—particularly eliminating township government—also has been tough in the past. But, this time, Daniels said he’s optimistic that a few reforms, including clamping down on government nepotism and conflicts of interest, and eliminating township boards—but not the whole system of government—will get traction.

“This is going to have to be continual progress,” he said. “I just hope we can make some this time.”

On Thursday, Daniels also endorsed right-to-work legislation that Republican lawmakers have made the centerpiece of their 2012 priority list.

He said after a year of considering the issue, he’s concluded that becoming a state where unions cannot negotiate contracts requiring non-members to pay dues will make Indiana more economically competitive. He cited feedback from site selectors that at least a quarter of companies won’t eye Indiana for relocation opportunities because of its non-right-to-work status.

Right-to-work opponents say there’s been no proven correlation between a state’s economic success and its right-to-work status. They point out some studies that find lower average wages in right-to-work states.

“Nobody says this is a cure-all. If it was, we’d have tried it at the front end,” Daniels said. “Every year, we try to take steps to make it more affordable [for companies] to hire Hoosiers.”

Last year, Daniels’ top priority was passing sweeping education reforms that included expanding charter-school authorizers; providing vouchers for low-income students to attend private schools and restricting teachers unions' collective bargaining agreements to wages and benefits.

His goal next year is to ensure those reforms get put to use by publicizing options such as charter schools and a program that allows students who complete high school a year early to receive college scholarships.

Daniels’ other past initiatives include putting the state on daylight-saving time, leasing the Indiana Toll Road and privatizing welfare services delivery.

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