Public policy research organization shuttered

September 27, 2007
The Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, Indiana's only statewide organization devoted to independent government research, is on the cusp of collapse. Steve Johnson, its CEO, told IBJ this morning he has stepped down due to lack of funding.

"I was just not able to sufficiently raise the dollars to keep the institute going," Johnson said. "Oftentimes, the corporate community is more interested in what can happen in the next legislative session than what will happen three to five years down the road."

Formed in 1987, the not-for-profit has three employees. It regularly provides detailed public-policy analysis reports on key questions before the General Assembly.

Its long-term research and subsequent papers on Indiana's economy, property taxes, the state budget, the financial condition of state pensions and government efficiency are regularly used and cited by policymakers and pundits.

But Johnson, 60, who took charge of the organization in 2003, said it no longer can survive using its antiquated business model, which is based on funding from corporate sponsors.

According to the institute's most recent IRS tax statements, the organization lost $96,398 for the year ended June 30, 2005, on revenue of $464,900. The year before, it lost $59,994 on revenue of $646,739.

Johnson quietly closed the doors in August.

IFPI was in the middle of a research project about how Indiana can create a sustainable long-term source of revenue to maintain and upgrade its transportation infrastructure. But when IFPI's money ran out, Johnson was forced to close it.

The decision will reverberate in the Statehouse, local media and business community. Property tax reform is expected to be the legislature's highest order of business next year. That's a subject the institute had researched regularly.

"Ironically, if the property tax thing had really sort of exploded 10 months earlier, we probably wouldn't be in the position we're in," Johnson said. "Now people have gotten very interested in the assessment process."

Johnson, who has not found another job, said IFPI's board of directors is considering whether to revive the organization or permanently dissolve it.
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