EYE ON THE PIE: You didn't know him and now he is gone

January 22, 2007

A quiet gentleman died last week. It did not make the headlines. Ken Miller never did make headlines, but he was part of your life and the lives of all Hoosiers for many years. If you thought of him at all, it was as taking your money, yet all that time Ken was carefully saving you money and modernizing state government.

For 14 years, Ken was Indiana's commissioner of revenue. It was to his office that you sent your income-tax returns. It was to his office that businesses sent your sales-tax payments and their income taxes.

But as was the case with so many government offices, the Department of Revenue was a mess for a long time. Ken worked there 34 years; he knew the root of the problems: insufficient funding. Yes, the agency that collected the money did not get enough to collect it efficiently.

Your income-tax return might sit in a mailbag for weeks waiting to be processed. All those returns, with their uncashed checks, cost the state money. If you had money coming back, these unprocessed returns cost you money.

One of Ken's major achievements was to speed up the processing of tax returns. That is not as simple as it sounds. It involved purchasing modern equipment and developing new systems and procedures, as well as training personnel to use the equipment, systems and procedures. Ultimately, he had the department develop a separate off-site processing center.

Ken and the Indiana Department of Revenue became recognized nationwide as pioneers in the application of technology for revenue collection. Honors and responsibilities followed. He was appointed an adviser to the U.S. Commission of the Internal Revenue Service. He served as president of both the national and regional Federation of Tax Administrators. Three Indiana governors presented Ken with Sagamore of the Wabash Awards.

There was another side of Ken known best to his neighbors in Morgan County. He was a farmer and a dedicated citizen. His sense of service had been honed in India as a member of the Peace Corps for two years. He was on the board of Morgan County Hospital and a member of the Mooresville Nature Club.

Ken's passion was his farm, its forest and his White Parke cattle. Upon leaving the Department of Revenue in early 2005 with the change of administration, Ken turned his energy to producing organic beef products and serving on the board of Indiana Heartland Beef.

Ken bought an old sawmill, restored it and thinned the overgrown forest on his land. He was dedicated to a better environment and diet for his fellow citizens. And he had fun doing it.

That was Ken's key attribute. He enjoyed what he did. He recognized the limitations under which he worked and refused to be dejected about them. When the Daniels administration came into office and made it possible to do things he had wanted to do, he didn't pout or carp. He understood the dynamics of government and accepted them.

For years, the Department of Revenue was under pressure to improve its production of data for other government agencies as well as academic researchers. Ken worked toward that goal. Progress was slow. The current administration is accelerating the efforts he helped initiate.

Advances in government are slow. They depend on the continuing efforts of people who know what is feasible and are willing to press ahead, with good cheer, despite the obstacles. Ken Miller was such a man.

Marcus taught economics more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU's Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.
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