Governor still mulling creation of new Indiana ‘heritage’ agency

Gov. Mitch Daniels is reconsidering his plan to create a state agency focused on history.

Daniels had planned
last month to sign an executive order making the long-discussed “heritage” department a reality, lawmakers close
to the plan said. IBJ reported online Oct. 16 that he planned to do so, but no order has materialized.

The Governor’s office won’t talk about what exactly is being considered, or what prompted Daniels to pull back.

“This has long been discussed. This continues to be discussed,” spokeswoman Jane Jankowski said.

The idea of merging the State Library, State Museum and several other history-related entities into one new agency is still
on the table, said Rep. Mike Murphy, R-Indianapolis, who filed a bill to that effect last session.

“I know
it’s going to happen. They just have more internal things to work out,” he said.

Advocates believe
the consolidation would save money and lead to better organization of the state’s vast historic resources, which now
are overseen by a hodgepodge of commissions and state offices.

Murphy said an aide to Daniels mentioned to him
on Oct. 16 that an executive order would be signed the following day. Though that didn’t happen, Murphy said he has
since spoken with David Pippen, Daniels’ senior policy director, and still believes the governor will create the department
by year-end.

Another longtime proponent of the reorganization, Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, said Pippen told
him the governor’s blueprint follows the bill Merritt filed in the 2009 session.

The bill, which died in
conference committee, would have merged seven offices: the State Museum and Historic Sites, the State Library, the Commission
on Public Records, the Division of Historic Preservation and Archeology, the Indiana Historical Bureau, the Wabash River Heritage
Corridor Commission, and the State House Tour office.

“They are considering how to marshal all these heritage
forces,” Merritt said.

About 300 full- and part-time positions would be affected. Most of those jobs are
within the Department of Natural Resources, which includes the museum, 12 historic sites and the preservation office.

The State Library has 79 employees, while the Commission on Public Records, which includes the state archive, has
48.

The Historical Bureau, which oversees historic-marker signs, employs eight people.

Though Murphy
and Merritt believe the merger would save money, there’s no evidence of that. The Legislative Services Agency’s
fiscal-impact statement on Merritt’s bill was inconclusive.

“Cost savings, if any, will depend on the
efficiencies gained by the consolidation of duties in the [Department of Indiana Heritage],” the analyst stated. “Also,
costs will increase to establish a new department, a new commissioner, and for administration of new fees.”

Merritt’s bill would have allowed the state historic sites to charge admission, potentially offsetting some costs
in the new department.

The lawmakers are concerned about public access. While working on a master’s degree
in history, Murphy said, he was disappointed to find the state archives closed on weekends, and old newspaper collections
split between the state and the private, not-for-profit Indiana Historical Society.

“Indiana’s resources
were deep and broad, but I didn’t think very well-organized.”

Murphy noted that the State Library resides
in a relatively new building on the Central Canal, while the archive, which holds the 1816 constitution, is on East 30th Street.

“You could knock the whole building down with your car,” Murphy said. The archives might have a better
shot at increased funding if it were part of a history agency, he argued.

The state’s various historic agencies
are sometimes confused with private, not-for-profit organizations. The Historical Society collects non-governmental papers
and photographs, while the State Museum collects three-dimensional artifacts.

Marsh Davis, president of the Historic
Landmarks Foundation, said he’s always backed the idea of a state history department.

The foundation works
closely with the Division of Historic Preservation and Archeology.

“One of their primary roles is to ensure
tax dollars aren’t used to destroy historic properties,” Davis said. Though the office is obscure, he added, “Their
work is essential to what we do.”

It’s unclear how much input the Governor’s Office has sought
from affected agencies.

Murphy said Daniels’ staff has studied the merger since 2008.

That year,
he said, state archivist Jim Corridan, who is also director of the Public Records Commission and deputy state librarian, led
the study group.

“They worked extensively with us and the Governor’s Office on what would be included
and what wouldn’t,” Murphy said.

Corridan, however, said he’s never analyzed a potential merger.
“We would support the administration’s efforts, whatever they are.”•

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