As if we needed more evidence that politics trump policy for most of our elected state representatives, we can look at the movement, or lack thereof, for local government reform.
With the 2015 General Assembly about to begin, none of the 150 House and Senate members elected to represent us has come forward to carry the flag on bringing sanity and efficiency to the structure of local government in our state.
Hoosiers are saddled with 1,008 township governments, many of which sit on piles of money collected from taxpayers. We have scores of elected officials at the county and township level who, even though they were elected, are unknown to most constituents. Who are the coroner and recorder in your county? Are their responsibilities more than administrative? If you don’t know who they are or what they do, how can you elect them and hold them accountable?
Our outdated and wasteful local government structure was called out in a 2007 study led by former Gov. Joe Kernan and then-Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard. Among its 27 recommendations, the Kernan-Shepard Commission on Local Government Reform called for getting rid of 5,833 elected officials and 1,155 governmental units. The bipartisan commission’s report, with support from then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, was delivered with high hopes that something would finally change.
But the Indiana General Assembly wouldn’t budge, causing Daniels to comment later that “some of the changes are so obvious that our failure to make them is a daily embarrassment.”
Not to members of the Legislature then, and certainly not now.
Eight years later, the fate of that report appears to be sealed. Legislators contacted for a recent Associated Press story mostly hid behind the idea that getting their peers in the General Assembly to go along with any of the major ideas from the report would be impossible.
The comment of newly elected state Rep. Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron, was typical. He told AP he wouldn’t sponsor any bills inspired by the commission’s report, but he paid lip service to the goals of the commission.
“We as a state need to continually improve delivery of services” to taxpayers, he said.
In the Kernan-Shepard report, legislators have a readable, 40-page narrative full of ways to do that. (Google “streamlining local government” and it comes up first.)
Not that a newly elected representative should be expected to lead the charge. Gov. Mike Pence would be a more influential proponent, but he’s shown little interest. Voters haven’t exactly demanded change, either, but pathetic voter turnout for local elections should be a call to action.
Surely at least some of our legislators see the danger in doing nothing. Perhaps they’re reluctant to tamper with the political infrastructure that propelled their political career. Or they don’t want to be a part of eliminating positions held by their friends back home. Fair enough. So adopt some of the report’s major recommendations, but delay implementation long enough that today’s players aren’t in the picture.
We know government typically moves slowly, especially on major issues. But on this issue, we’re faced with a government that won’t move at all.•
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