Video: Midterm Evaluation of the Indiana General Assembly

Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar provides a midterm evaluation of the 2018 Indiana General Assembly. Among the key bills that did not survive the first half of the session: raising the smoking age from 18 to 21 (a common-sense step for dealing with health care costs and lost productivity that causes more than $6 billion in annual impact). In addition, an effort to modernize the state’s local government system by consolidating the smallest townships was not brought for a vote.

Areas that are still a work in progress include reforming the state’s workforce development programs, incorporating computer science requirements into schools, clarifying tax treatment for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and continuing to move forward on long-term water resource management.

Evansville Courier & Press: Township Reform is Needed

Mentioning the Indiana Chamber’s support of the movement, this Evansville Courier & Press editorial argues that townships simply aren’t very convincing when it comes to demonstrating their usefulness for Indiana:

Although the case for downsizing or eliminating township government remains a hard sell to the Indiana Legislature, the case for local government reform remains ever more compelling.

Yes, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce came out this past week in support of either the elimination of township government or of at least the elimination of advisory boards in each of Indiana’s townships. But that is no surprise. The organization that lobbies for issues favorable to businesses has long supported the downsizing of local government, particularly of township government, as a way of reducing local government costs.

Of more interest, we found news reports this past week of two more issues involving specific townships elsewhere, as reported in other news media. They stand as further evidence that townships have too much time and tax money on their hands.

Also, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, whose legislative agenda includes local government reform, will come to the January session armed with what we would call compelling information in support of ending township government in Indiana.

Of course, locally we had the case of former Knight Township Trustee Linda Durham, who allegedly misappropriated $70,000 in township funds. She awaits trial, and if the charges prove true, it will be one more indication that township government is woefully lacking in oversight.

Also, Eric Bradner of the Courier & Press Capital Bureau reported about a year ago that township governments statewide were sitting on $215 million in surpluses, much of it intended for emergency poor relief.

More recently, according to the Associated Press, via the Indianapolis Star newspaper, the Wayne Township trustee in Marion County earlier this month was found planning to give $200,000 in poor relief funds to the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library to allow for longer hours at four library branches.

The trustee, David Baird, said his plan fit in with the township’s mission for poor relief in that the poor use the libraries’ computers and other resources to look for jobs.

This is not the intended purpose of poor relief. It should be utilized to address urgent needs, such as preventing electricity from being turned off, or for filling urgently needed prescriptions. But township trustees seem to take tremendous latitude in deciding how to spend tax-financed poor relief.

The Indianapolis Star reports on a State Board of Accounts audit of Jefferson Township in Sullivan County, which resulted in the trustee and his wife, working as the office clerk, having to give back $42,366 to the township for payments they should not have received.

A New Player in the Wasteful Spending Spotlight

The beat goes on … and on … and on. Unfortunately, the beat in this case is your taxpayer money being wasted by township government.

The latest details are not entirely new. There has been a long-time arrogance and "we’ll do what we want because you can’t do anything about it" coming from Wayne Township on the west side of Indianapolis. But kudos to 6News for a three-month investigation into questionable, at best, township expenditures and a state audit that reveals the depth of the mismanagement.

The sad part is that a brother and a girlfriend on the payroll are not unique to Wayne Township. Read what you want into trustee David Baird saying he "got lucky" when asked why he hired his girlfriend. And see what a former township board member says about the waste taking place.

Check out the full story at the theindychannel.com, with 6News promising a second report tonight on the controls (or lack thereof) on township government.

State legislators, are you paying attention?

Brinegar: Townships Still Wasting Your Money

Chamber President Kevin Brinegar explains legislators "failed to deliver meaningful local government reform" this spring, and taxpayers are feeling the brunt of it. He points to many late 2009 filings and an egregious abuse of township monies in Evansville as examples of why we need to hold legislators accountable.

Township Trustee Spends $20,000 to Defend $758 Decision… Sounds About Right

Since disbelief is already in the air due to the wonder that is the NCAA hoops tourney (Go Dawgs!), here’s a shocker to add to the list from the world of township governance. The Central Indiana Corporate Partnership (CICP) blog sums it up aptly, but hold onto your beverage while reading (and hopefully that beverage is just coffee since it’s only 8 a.m.):

(Thursday’s) Indianapolis Star includes an interesting article on the latest antics from the world of township government – the Washington Township (Marion County) trustee racking up $20,000 in legal bills in a dispute over $758 in poor relief aid sought by a township resident for help with her rent and water bills.

Of the many troubling issues this story raises, two stand out.  First, the idea that these sorts of fiscally imprudent decisions are being made with little or no oversight by 1,008 separately-elected township officials is disheartening given the dire financial straits of state and local governments. 

Across Indiana, local officials are debating cuts in education, infrastructure, public safety and more.  Counties and municipalities are making tough choices.  Our legislature has made these choices even tougher by not stepping to the plate and making its own difficult political decision to reform local government, at least by demanding more oversight and streamlining of township offices.  And so we continue to be burdened by another layer of government bureaucracy that consumes and squanders tax dollars.

As to the circumstances of the Washington Township case itself, it’s difficult to argue the merits of either side on the basis of any statewide or even countywide guidelines.  That’s the second issue – there are no common rules for the provision of poor relief in Indiana.  Each township sets its own, leading to a patchwork approach that’s unfair and inefficient.  More than half the state’s townships provide relief to 20 households or less, and spend three dollars in overhead for every one that actually reaches a disadvantaged family.   It’s no surprise that disputes such as the one in Washington Township arise.

While the General Assembly again failed to take action on local government reform this session, more and more communities are exploring consolidation themselves out of financial necessity.  As these efforts multiply across the state and the fiscal climate continues to worsen, let’s hope that common sense reform – starting with township government – begins to gain more converts among lawmakers.

Indy Star: Statehouse Needs Push Toward Government Efficiency

Current economic realities make it even more compelling to overcome the political resistance against making needed changes regarding how communities deliver local government services in the most efficient way. Today’s Indianapolis Star editorial discusses some encouraging leadership around Indiana countered by, in the Statehouse, the reality of partisan politics. Please take a moment to call, write or e-mail your legislators and let them know that you want them to support meaningful efficiency and change with township government during this session.

Find your elected officials here.

Township Budgets and Expenditures Receive Local Scrutiny

When things get lean, it is even more important to use limited resources as wisely as possible. And so it goes with local government.

This is the first year that each of the 92 county councils in Indiana are doing a non-binding review of the 2010 budgets of all civil units of government (including townships) within that county. The goal is to get a better handle on other budgets within the county by a single fiscal body and how the tax caps will affect these budgets. This kind of review is important, especially with the impact of property tax caps on local budgets. However, with the review being non-binding, the county councils can only make recommendations, not decisions. 

To add context about township government expenditures and activities to those budget discussions, analysis was done from the 2008 financial reports that township trustees are legally required to file with the Indiana State Board of Accounts. That analysis was done for townships in 29 Indiana counties and summarized for each county.

The information from these reports shows incredible variances in standards and expenditures. For example, average poor relief per person ranges from $56 to $826 from one township to another in the same county. In another county, administrative costs to deliver $1 in direct services (both poor relief and public safety) ranged from 30 cents in one township to $12.20 in another.

It was hoped that as the county councils and the public saw the great differentials among expenditures, taxes and services by township, there will be a realization that more consistency is needed. We need discussions about how to provide more consistent services to the poor – not just among townships, though that is very important, but also in cooperation with all other human services agencies in the county.  We need like discussions in regard to fire and emergency services. 

Many county councils expressed frustration that the only power they had was to make a non-binding recommendation and thought it was a waste of time. Other county councils didn’t spend much time on it and simply rubber-stamped the township budgets. Because of property tax caps, local governments will have more than $400 million less to spend this year.  While the county budget officials do not have the authority to prioritize among taxing units, we hope their recent deliberations will inform the public and legislators of the need to simplify local government.

Consolidation, Buckeye Style

As the township/local government consolidation debate continues in Indiana, the Dayton Business Journal recently featured a similar issue in Ohio. It seems officials in the Dayton area are considering implementing a regional government to help streamline functions and avoid a litany of competing tax structures:

Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley and Dayton City Commissioner Joey Williams both endorsed the idea of having a regional form of government Tuesday morning at the Montgomery County Regional Development Forum.

The officials, panelists at the Dayton Business Journal event, were joined by J.P. Nauseef, a business owner and former economic development leader; Michael Greitzer, a commercial development executive; and Jeff Hoagland, Vandalia city manager.

All five panel members agreed the region needs to move towards a regional economic development approach, with strong central governance. Proponents of regional government say the model would make the Dayton region more attractive to outside investment as well as retaining businesses…

A member of the audience likened the discussions to going on a diet to try and lose weight, in that people always say they will start a diet next week, but never follow through.

“I think the first step is we have issues and to accept that,” Williams said. “We need to accept that we need to lose some weight.”

Township Blues: Post-Trib Takes a Look Back

The Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana took a trip down memory lane this week, looking at the alleged corruption of former Calumet Township Trustee Dozier Allen Jr. Allen drew ire for having many family members and friends on the township payroll, and enjoyed suspicious salary add-ons during his tenure. Throughout the Indiana Chamber’s ongoing stance in favor of township reform, our spokesmen have referenced all too many instances of corruption and nepotism in township government in Indiana. This case is a prime example of that. The Post-Tribune remembers:

The Indiana Township Association reported Calumet Township, made up of Gary, Griffith and the Lake Ridge area, has 134,519 people, while neighboring North Township, including Hammond and East Chicago, serves 157,942 people.

North Township Trustee Greg Cvitkovich doesn’t have as many demands for help as the Calumet Township Trustee, but records show Cvitkovich operates with 53 employees and a $4.5 million budget.

Allen spends almost that much in salaries on his way to a total budget around $14 million.

Records show the Calumet Township Trustee’s office, which provides poor relief to the indigent and homeless, has a payroll bulging with Allen’s friends and family members, as well as heavyweight politicians and their family members.

Allen’s sons, daughter-in-law, cousin and wife have been on his payroll in the last two years.

That’s something Allen readily acknowledges and defends.

"Nepotism may be bothersome to some, but I think relatives have a right to survive like anyone else," he said. "If they’re willing to work a day’s work for a day’s pay, then I don’t see any reason they shouldn’t be treated like any other employees."

UPDATE: Dozier T. Allen and two of his top deputies were found guilty of two counts each of fraud Wednesday for pocketing a combined $140,000 in state grant money during the final years of Allen’s 32-year tenure as Calumet Township Trustee. 

Ouch: Indy Star Takes Bauer, Dems to Task for Squandered Opportunities

And you thought Jon Stewart was giving Jim Cramer a hard time this week.

In an editorial today, the Indy Star Editorial Board takes House Speaker Pat Bauer and opponents of township and education reform to task for letting cronyism trump the needs of the citizenry. It’s straight, to the point, and if you’re looking to close out your week with kittens and rainbows, you might want to look elsewhere. The Star asserts:

This is the time in the long discussion over local government reform in Indiana that we could, justifiably, write an opinion so blistering that young children and other gentle souls would risk life-long consequences if left too long in its presence.

Today, however, we will spare you that stew of scorn and outrage.

It’s not that members of the Indiana House Government and Regulatory Reform Committee don’t deserve strong censure for once again shielding their cronies in township government from public accountability. They most certainly do.

Disapproval, however, should be reserved for those for whom there’s still hope, who have yet to dive willingly into a dark pit, filled to the brim with disdain for the public’s best interests. Observers then would have a responsibility to try to rescue them from their fate.

However, it’s too late for Democrats in the Indiana House, under the authority of Speaker Pat Bauer (we withhold the word leadership). They already have plunged willingly and deeply into that pit. They have, in fact, sunk so low that they now pretend that the muck they have stirred up can be sold to the gullible as a form of preserving "local control.”

Most Hoosiers, however, have smelled both rose petals and cess pools. And they know the difference — no matter what cynical politicians might tell them.

The first two months of the current legislative session have brought a string of decisions so embarrassing that almost any elected leader outside the Indiana House would by force of conscience stand on the corner of Market and Capitol and apologize profusely to every citizen who passed. Thus far, representatives have raided reserves to cobble together a one-year budget (instead of the standard two-year plan), but later handed casinos millions in tax breaks. A moratorium on charter schools was passed when education reform is more necessary than ever. And now local government reform appears dead for another year, even after the commonplace inequities and inefficiencies of townships have been widely exposed.

The long-suffering residents of this good state can find comfort in the fact that Bauer and his troops must depart, by order of state statute, from the Statehouse in another 48 days. The damage they already have done is great, and may be worse still before the end mercifully arrives. But the closing gavel now carries the best hopes for those who value good government and thoughtful leadership.