Showing posts with label Kernan-Shepard Commission. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kernan-Shepard Commission. Show all posts

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Interesting Critique of Local Government Reform

The Crothersville Times has the best argument against local government reform that I have yet read. It's not based on "save our local bureaucrats" or "officials should be elected" or anything else of the sort, but more practical and concrete considerations.

While local government reform seems dead for the session, it's still a worthwhile read regardless of what side you come down on the issue. Opponents of local government reform would do well to read it and evolve their arguments. Proponents of local government reform would do well to answer its contentions.

Corruption in local government is not necessarily an indictment on the idea of local government, but perhaps (the author of the Times piece might well contend) a symptom of a problem that needs to be fixed with something short of outright amputation. Indiana government needs transparency and accountability. The two go hand in hand, and they are nowhere more needed than at the local level.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Imagine That Taping of Indiana Week in Review

If Ed DeLaney and his two Democratic cohorts in the House manage to bring some element of the Governor's government consolidation agenda back from the grave, imagine the contortions his wife Anne will go through on Indiana Week in Review when she simultaneously has to parrot the Democratic talking points and agree with her husband.

Tied in knots or turned into a human pretzel wouldn't begin to cover it.

Government Reform Dead for Session

So says the Courier-Journal:

There's a saying at the Statehouse that nothing is dead until lawmakers gavel out and go home.

There's some truth to that, but it would probably take extreme political mastery this year to revive legislation overhauling the local government system in Indiana. It's on its deathbed, and the buzzards are circling above.

I said earlier in the session that this was a tough mountain to climb, and that Mitch planting his flag on this issue could well be remembered as not all that different from Bush planting his flag in 2005 on Social Security reform.

Both issues went nowhere, and both issues seem likely to cost those that chose them all of the political capital they gained in their recent election victories. And, worse still, Mitch's signature issue died at the hands of members of his own party. Pat Bauer barely had to lift a finger (though the final blow was laid when The Hair did just that, nothing).

And the Governor can chide, belittle, scold, and threaten them with primary challenges all he wants. All of the bullying in the world won't bring his agenda back to life once it's dead. Mitch will never have more political capital than he had right now. If he can't get it done now, it will never get done at all.

After this session, it's all over but the runt temper tantrum at the end, save perhaps the collateral damage on the Republican Party at large from whatever revenge Mitch sees fit to attempt on the senators of his own party.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Indiana Lacking in Online Public Information

From the Indy Star comes reaffirmation of something that bloggers in this state have known all too well for all too long:

Hoosiers can easily learn about their state songs and state flowers with a quick search on the Internet, but most will have a harder time checking whether their children's school buses are safe or a local gas station is charging too much.

Indiana tied with Montana, Oregon and Wyoming for the second-worst ranking in a 50-state survey of government information accessible online, conducted as part of the annual Sunshine Week campaign. The state with the sparsest information online was Mississippi.

The survey found that although official records are increasingly available on the Internet, some important information is missing.

To conduct the survey, teams of journalists and journalism students scanned government Web sites in every state to look for 20 kinds of public records. The results were released Sunday at the start of Sunshine Week, a national initiative by journalism organizations to focus on open government and access to information.

Surveyors assessed such factors as whether the information was up-to-date and clearly linked, whether full reports or only summaries were available, and whether viewing and downloading were free.

"Digital technologies can be a great catalyst for democracy, but the state of access today is quite uneven," said Charles Davis, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, one of the groups overseeing the survey.

"The future of freedom of information is online access, and states have a long way to go to fulfill the promise of electronic self-governance," he said.

Also involved in the project were Sunshine Week, the American Society of Newspaper Editors' Freedom of Information Committee, and the Society of Professional Journalists' FOI Committee.

The surveyed categories included school test scores, financial disclosures, audit reports, transportation projects, fraudulent registration of business names, disciplinary actions against lawyers and physicians, and inspection reports for hospitals, nursing homes, child-care centers, bridges, school buildings and school buses.

The information least likely to be found online were death certificates, found on the Web sites of only five states, and gas pump overcharge records, available online in eight. Also infrequently posted online were school bus inspection reports, which 13 states posted. In Indiana, none of the above categories are accessible online.

Information found most often online were statewide school test scores, available in all states, and Department of Transportation projects, posted in 48 states, including Indiana.

The only state found to provide information online in all 20 categories was Texas. New Jersey was second with 18 categories, and North Carolina was third with 17.

Mississippi ranked worst. It posted only DOT projects, fictitious business registrations, school test scores and campaign finance data. Though it did post some information about hospitals and nursing homes, surveyors said these were perfunctory lists, not inspection reports.

Mississippi's low ranking is linked to tight budgets in many state agencies and to the state's relative lack of home computers. It ranks near the bottom in percentage of households with Internet access, providing some agencies with a rationale for not investing more funds in online initiatives.

The surveys were conducted by newspaper and broadcast journalists, journalism students, state press associations, and reporters and editors from The Associated Press.

"This is the first comprehensive survey of its kind," said ASNE FOI Committee co-chairman Andy Alexander. "It tells us that many states understand that digitizing public records is key to open government in the 21st century. But it also tells us that, with a few exceptions, states have a long way to go before they become truly transparent."

While acknowledging that states are under fiscal stress, Alexander said providing public records online is "the smart thing to do" and saves money because no civil servant is needed to process each information request.

I can't say that I'm surprised, and I can't say that I think it will change.

Imagine township government being forced to provide online records and accountability. The General Assembly probably wouldn't even pass that, let alone abolish township government entirely.

And who's to say that township government (since it obviously isn't going anywhere) wouldn't work a whole lot better with that sort of transparency and accountability?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fight the Future

Hoosiers for Democracy, advocating against the passage of the Kernan-Shepard reform legislation currently before the legislature.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The School (District) Consolidation Bogeyman

Few phrases in Indiana political discourse will inflame passions more than the hated bogeyman of school consolidation. Even the presence of an important intervening word in the phrase (in this case, district) will not dim the fires among voters.

And, even when it is present, the distinction is not clearly made, particularly in a recent poll by Indiana University. The Star had a (rather misleading) story about the poll, but I had to Google the poll to find the actual results over at the Indiana University website.

Nowhere in the poll is the distinction made between school consolidation and school district consolidation. Nowhere is it noted that the Governor's plan calls for a prohibition on school closings even with the consolidation of school districts. I can't help but think that the poll results would be different if those being asked had been enlightened with such crucial facts.

I hate the idea of school consolidation. My county has three school corporations and four high schools (plus various smaller elementary schools). And they all play each other at every sport imaginable. Panthers, Cougars, Rebels, and Eagles.

And I like that just fine. School rivalry is a glorious thing, as is fond parochialism in support for one's place of graduation.

But the three school corporations are led by superintendents, perhaps--rightly or wrongly--the three most hated individuals in Harrison County (well, they were, but two of them are now gone and only one remains). As one person locally put it to me, "Why not have one superintendent so we can all hate the same person" (and, I guess, get back to the sporting rivalry).

I'm not sold on school district consolidation (far from it, actually, since I'm quite partial to a school district in my county that would be eliminated under it), but it's misleading to poll district consolidation and not make clear in the poll the difference between district consolidation and school consolidation, and to note the elements of the proposed plan that make it different.

Senate Boss Favors "Optional" Reforms

From the Indy Star:

Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said today that the local government reforms being pushed by Gov. Mitch Daniels should be made options for counties to adopt if they choose.

Daniels is pushing for a package of 20 changes, all recommendations of a bipartisan commission led by former Gov. Joe Kernan and Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard. They include such things as eliminating county commissioners in favor of a single county executive and a county council, eliminating township governments and consolidating school districts with fewer than 1,000 students.

Long, in a Statehouse news conference, said that "one size does not fit all" and that what might be appropriate for a large urban county might now work for a smaller rural county.

And he suggested that other legislative leaders may agree with him, saying his thoughts have "resonated" with all four caucuses.

I'm skeptical about a lot of Kernan-Shepard, but I'm even more skeptical about this optional business. Who will decide? The existing officials that don't want to lose their jobs? Expensive referendum measures similar to those utilized in the matter of township assessors? Random focus groups or self-appointed committees?

Certain reform measures don't make sense for smaller counties (like a unitary executive; replace three part-time commissioners with one full-time county executive who will then inevitably start to hire full-time staff) and certain ones don't make sense for larger counties (like doing away with township government). And the idea of purely optional reform seems to put us on a course to every county having its own unique (and increasingly convoluted) political structure, completely different from even its adjacent neighboring counties.

Saturday, January 3, 2009


Two op-eds in the Corydon Democrat (here and here), including one by someone from the paper, opine on local government reform. There have been no op-eds against the plan (at least on their website; I'll have to get a copy of the paper edition to see if it's any different), though they note several changes by Daniels from the Kernan-Shepard report as improvements.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Few Minutes with Becky Skillman

After the Governor's presser, and the usual round of retirement speeches and wide arrays of legislative mutual congratulations, your humble correspondent had a chance to sit down with Chris Mann of Veritas Rex and Josh Gillespie of Hoosier Access to talk with Lieutenant Governor Becky Skillman.

Photos of the event are available here.

Josh and Chris did most of the questioning; I mostly took notes and tried to avoid twitching from the prolonged withdrawal from the Internet caused by the interview and my inability to politely use my computer during it (well, not really; they just covered all of the topics I was interested in, and my note-taking skills are not what they were when I was in college).

Nobody, Skillman noted, expected an early completion to the session.

This year's batch of legislative interns, she noted with a wry smile, were not disappointed in the amount of activity required of them; the short sessions are usually boring for the interns, at least relative to the longer sessions when the budget is being written.

Veritas Rex being present, questions quickly turned in a social conservative direction, in particular HR 1153 and the expansion of gambling.

Some regions, Skillman said, have focused on gambling as an engine of economic development, though she noted that she personally (a distinction she wished to emphasize) prefers other avenues toward economic development.

She then noted that she always preferred the Reagan position on gambling.

Color me surprised to see The Gipper come up at all in this interview, since the Lieutenant Governor is not (insofar as I know) running for President.

I later looked the exact quote up in my handy and well-worn copy of The Quotable Ronald Reagan so that I could accurately transcribe it here:

"I would hate to see legalized gambling in California, nor do I favor a lottery. We ought to finance the state by the strength of our people and not by their weaknesses."
- Ronald Reagan, Remarks at Boys' State, Sacramento, CA, June 21, 1973

It was an artful dodge, but still a dodge; I get the distinct impression that the Governor is going to sign HR 1153.

It will be awful if he does; it's bad public policy regardless of your views of gambling as a moral issue.

The LG was pleased with the property tax reform passed by the General Assembly (obviously), and noted that of particular importance were the greater restrictions on the growth of spending (the caps and the various referendum requirements in particular), and the increased levels of local control of spending (referendum requirements, again, and the subordination of the spending authority of non-elected boards to the County Councils).

Josh asked a question about a Congressional initiative to expand the availability of Internet broadband (an effort supported by a strange alliance of righty-blog Red State and Illinois lefty loon Dick Durbin).

Skillman seemed to prefer a more market-oriented approach to that, noting the state's efforts in creating a Broadband Authority within the State Finance Authority in 2005 and in passing telecommunications reform in 2006. All progress, she said, but conceded that much work remains to be done.

The conversation then steered back toward property taxes, in particular questioning what concession the Governor had to make that she found to be most disappointing.

In this, the Lieutenant Governor was circumspect; the Governor seems quite pleased with the outcome, particularly as it retains the four original core elements.

Skillman noted that the "four pillars" of Daniels' original plan, as laid out to the General Assembly in the State of the State address in January, are still intact.

(Those being immediate relief, permanent relief, a streamlined assessment process, and restrictions on increased spending but with an increase in local control.)

She said that she was disappointed to see the absence of a central point of authority for all spending in the county, something contained in the original plan and called for under Kernan-Shepard.

This being said, non-elected boards (as noted above) are subordinated to the elected County Council under the measure that was passed, so that is a significant improvement.

With the interview wrapping up, we again returned to social issues.

In response to a question about the perception that social conservatives "got nothing" out of the session, Skillman noted that Indiana remains a conservative state regardless of party affiliation, and many of the measures hoped for by social conservatives would have passed handily if they had just been "given a vote" (an oblique reference if I ever saw one to the Speaker's refusal to give the marriage amendment a vote).

With a bit more minor discussion, the interview wrapped up.

Once again, thanks to the Lieutenant Governor and her staff for hosting us, and for giving us a few minutes of her valuable time on such a busy day to talk with us.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Baron Hill & Joe Kernan, Together Again (Almost)

Hat tip to a Hoosierpundit reader for sending me these emails from Baron Hill's campaign.

You're Invited...
You are cordially invited to celebrate the holidays with Betty and myself and our honored guests, Governor Joe and Maggie Kernan. We hope you'll be able to join us!

Saturday, December 15th 2007
5:00 Cocktail Reception
6:00 Dinner

Holiday Inn Conference Center Hotel
2480 Jonathan Moore Pike
Columbus, IN

Cocktail Reception and Dinner | $250 per couple
Dinner | $75 per couple

And, as you might recall, last weekend saw some pretty nasty weather, so it was canceled:

Unfortunately tonight's event at the Holiday Inn, Columbus has been cancelled due to the weather. On behalf of Congressman Baron Hill and Governor Kernan, we appreciate your continued support and look forward to seeing you at a future event. As always, please contact us if there is anything that we can do for you.

Happy holidays! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all, and we are sorry that we cannot celebrate together this evening. We hope to see you around the district soon.

The cancellation is a real shame, and it's also a shame that there probably wouldn't have been any media at the party anyway (at least media willing to ask questions whose answers they would then report).

Since he's willing to have a fundraiser with former Governor Kernan, I'd be very interested to know what Baron thinks about Kernan's recent report.

You know, the one that said that we should do away with all sorts of county elected officials and get rid of township government entirely.

Down here in southern Indiana, most of those officials are Democrats.

They can't be happy about Joe Kernan wanting to take their jobs away from them.

There's something I'd like very much to see Baron give his opinion about.

And, by having an event with Governor Kernan (or nearly having one), he did open the door to those sorts of questions.

So what does Baron Hill think about the report by the Kernan-Shepard Commission?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"Strike While the Iron is Hot"

What if a commission made a report, and nobody listened?

From the Indy Star:

State government reform panel: downsize, consolidate

Sweeping new recommendations to slash the number of elected officials and government units in Indiana counties spurred both hope and fear Tuesday.

The Daniels administration and others said there was hope that the changes proposed by a state Commission on Local Government Reform would lead to long-lasting cost savings for property taxpayers and provide accountability when things go wrong.

But numerous county officials expressed fear that too much power was being centralized in one person under a key recommendation calling for a single chief executive in each county.

“They would be king,” said Hamilton County Council President Brad Beaver.

That even concerned the man who would be king in Marion County — incoming Mayor Greg Ballard.

“Having too much power vested in one office may be a bit much,” he said.

The recommendation for a single chief executive, replacing the current three-member boards of commissioners that govern most of Indiana’s 92 counties, was among 27 proposals made by the bipartisan commission.

Among others: eliminating township government and shifting those duties to the county; replacing most county elected officials, including sheriffs, with appointees; consolidating school districts so none has fewer than 2,000 students; merging libraries into one countywide district; and forcing more cooperation and communication among public safety units.

The political odds against all 27 steps becoming law are steep, however, and the co-chairmen — former Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan, a Democrat, and Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard — said there would be no shortage of special interests lining up to declare the plan dead on arrival.

But they and others noted that Indiana has more government than most states in the nation, and that counties in other states have found cost savings through consolidation, though they couldn’t put a number on what Indiana might save.

Tuesday, Kernan and Shepard said the recommendations, adopted unanimously by the seven members, would cut the number of elected officials by more than half, to 5,171 from the current 11,012.

And the number of local governmental units would be cut more than a third, to 1,931 from the current 3,086.

“If you want to get property taxes down and keep ’em down, this commission has given us a terrific road map for doing that,” Daniels said.

The legislative leaders who would have to follow that road map, though, were cautious in their reaction, praising the commission but acknowledging that there are plenty of political potholes that could knock the proposals off course.

House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said some proposals, such as eliminating township government, may be “politically impossible.”

Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said that he was taken aback by the proposals to appoint, rather than elect, county officeholders, including the sheriff.

“It’s going to ruffle some feathers,” he said. “It’s obviously intended to.”

Both he and Bauer said the issue is too big, and the proposals too complex, for the legislature to tackle in the upcoming session, where the focus is already on major property tax reform. Lawmakers have only from Jan. 8 to March 14 to come up with a plan that cuts property taxes.

Lawmakers, Long said, should take time to weigh these ideas and can address them in the 2009 session.

Kernan and Shepard noted that the state has been debating many of these ideas since 1935, when another commission looked at government reform.

But with the current focus on property tax reform, Shepard said, “there is a window of opportunity here.”

Whether that window will stay open if the legislature comes up with major property tax reform in 2008 is, Shepard said, “the $64 question. We should strike while the iron is hot.”

I am willing to bet that virtually none of what has been suggested will ever be approved by the General Assembly, that great Hoosier graveyard of good ideas.

And most of what the Kernan-Shepard Commission has suggested are good ideas, at least from what I have seen (I'm going to actually sit down and read the whole report sometime this week).

I have concerns about some, like the unitary executive who seems to be in charge of virtually everything, but by and large the reforms seem sensible and relatively intuitive.

Doesn't mean that they'll get approved though.

This is Indiana, after all.