Tuesday, June 16, 2009

In Search of Good Legislation 3/4/09

The goings-on at the Statehouse this session are a bit frustrating.
Governor Daniel’s plan to streamline Indiana’s governmental structure to save money is thankfully hitting resistance.
I didn’t vote for Daniels first time around, mostly because as Budget Director for President Bush, he helped turn the largest budget surplus in U. S. history, handed to Bush by outgoing president Clinton, into a staggering budge deficit in just 4 years. Yet, at times I’ve been pleasantly surprised by “Our Man Mitch.” While I haven’t always liked his proposals, at least he’s trying to drag Indiana (kicking and screaming at times) into the 21st century. His government reform plan is part of that mission. But he’s got the process backwards and in some cases, just wrong.
Wrong: Trying to get more schools to consolidate. As a former teacher (16+ years) I’m not convinced that bigger schools are better.
And his hope to eliminate Township Trustees seems excessive as well. While Trustees might benefit from rules forbidding nepotism and for mandating more acceptable ratios between dollars spent on aid to the poor and administration costs, his hope to totally eliminate them strikes me as having the cart before the horse.
Like residents in heavily Democratic Lake County, we here in Hamilton County live with a one party system. Many leaders maintain power in part by conducting expensive political campaigns funded by contractors who do business with their cities and county governments. As long as this, “pay to play” system is legal, I don’t want to see any political offices consolidated.
Daniels also seeks to move from 3 county commissioners to 1 commissioner. That one “Lord Commissioner” could appoint his own treasurer, recorder, and assessor, positions that would no longer be elected. That’s an invitation to corruption. Do that, and there’s absolutely nobody left in county’s like Hamilton and Lake to look over the “Lord Commissioner’s” shoulder and question how they raise money and hand out contracts. That strikes me as a very good way to create 92 fiefdoms led by 92 Rob Blagojeviches.
Once we reform campaign financing, lobbying, rules for issuing contracts, and make pay to play illegal, I’ll be ready to talk about consolidation of elected offices, but not until then.
I don’t care how much money it would save. Much of what we do in a democracy is not done because it’s cheap; it’s done because it’s right. Dictatorships are cheap and efficient. In comparison, democracies are expensive and cumbersome.
But ethics reform isn’t getting much traction in the Statehouse this session.
S.B. 15 would prohibit General Assembly members from working as lobbyists until a year after they leave the legislature. An identical bill died last year.
S.B 198 would put the power of redistricting into independent, bi-partisan hands, instead of the highly partisan process we have now that results in gerrymandering: a system that guarantees safe Republican and Democrat seats by drawing freakish boundaries. Among the many downsides of gerrymandering is its byproduct - gridlock. Take our national scene as an example. Safe Democrat and Republican districts encourage hardliners. We have lots of hardcore folks on the right and on the left and ever fewer in the middle. Safe districts do not nurture compromise candidates.
Will either measure pass? Don’t hold your breath.
My pick for dumbest legislation proposed so far: Senator Johnny Nugent (R-Lawrenceburg) proposed S.B.12, which would allow students to carry guns on Indiana college campuses. He argues it will keep students safe from criminals. Folks who propose such gun legislation ignore crime statistics that point out most handgun deaths are not caused by criminals. They’re caused by accidents or crimes of passion (otherwise level-headed folks doing something stupid with a gun when drunk or in a fit of rage). And considering that college officials nation wide are battling a binge drinking epidemic, I’m not sure having more guns laying around dorm rooms will make anybody safer.
Lastly, mass transit issues continue to struggle. Noblesville’s own state Senator, Luke Kenley co-sponsored a bill to put in place the governing bodies and funding mechanisms required to make light rail between Noblesville and Indy a reality. The bill cleared the house but had two of its funding sources removed. Kenley told The Indianapolis Star last week that he wondered if the timing was right. “It’s a long shot for passing this year,” he told them.
Commuter rail service is vital to making Indianapolis a world-class community. In a NUVO Newsweekly story I wrote several years ago, Senator Kenley said of traffic congestion, “We can’t simply pave our way out of this problem.”
It’s true, the democratic process seldom gives us exactly what we want, but as Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried.”

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