As public finance director for the state of Indiana since 2009, Kendra Wilds York has been spending a lot of time getting people from one place to another.
Her challenges have included keeping the Interstate 69 extension project going and helping fund the Ohio River Bridges Project, a $2.3 billion effort that will add two bridges connecting Kentucky and Indiana.
The Center Grove High School graduate started law school in Indiana but finished at University of the Pacific in California. She then went on to earn her MBA from California State University.
York said she and her husband never intended to stay out there long.
“We wanted to get back to our roots,” she said.
After returning, York served of counsel with Ice Miller, focusing on tax-exempt financing for the state and health care institutions. The transition to the public sector came when she was offered the position of general counsel for the Indiana Finance Authority.
Later appointed by Gov. Mitch Daniels as public finance director, York was reappointed under Gov. Mike Pence. She said she values the experience of working for “two very good, very smart leaders who have big hearts and care so much about Hoosiers.”
She’s aware that most people don’t know much about her position—or that it exists at all.
“Some know us as the debt-issuing arm of the state,” she said, “but we have an organization with the expertise and firepower to handle those far-more-sophisticated transactions.” That means negotiating and managing complex projects that cross not only municipal boundaries but also state lines.
Particularly complex has been the Ohio River Bridges Project, which has earned York’s office a stack of awards, with titles such as the National Deal of the Year and Best Road Project, from industry organizations.
“That project has been on the drawing board since 1967—four years before I was even born,” observed York. “Plenty of folks thought it was the right project to do but said, ‘It’s never going to happen.’ Now it’s the most successful bi-state bridge project in the U.S. and [given the difference in approach between Kentucky and Indiana financing] it’s going to be a great incubator for people to look back and study.”
York said that “every single thing I do in my job I do with the goal of saving Hoosier taxpayers money.” Of course, consultants invariably have differing views on how to achieve that.
“I don’t ever try to hold myself out as an expert in everything,” she said. “Yes, I have a broad base of knowledge given my legal and financial background, but what I have been able to do is build a team of experts in different areas. Looking back, that’s one of the main reasons for that success.”
York doesn’t mind people questioning how the state spends its money.
“Hoosiers should be very concerned and ask questions when the state is going to make investments of that magnitude. Does it make sense? Why here? Why now? Can it wait? The questions are absolutely appropriate in a democratic society. We owe it to future generations. We can’t afford to waste a penny on projects that aren’t going to pay off in the end.”
At home, yes, she’s the one saying, “Turn those lights off. Why are we spending money on that?” Says York: “It’s an occupational hazard.”•
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