Results Available; New Poll Seeks ‘Loser’

We’ve been asking you poll questions related to this year’s legislative session, but not reporting back on the final results. What’s up with that? I could offer a variety of excuses, but none would really suffice.

Below are the outcomes of your votes. We’ll do better in the future. And check out the current poll, which asks you to select the "loser" as the result of the recently concluded House Democrat walkout.

  • Do you support an Arizona-style immigration law for Indiana? 53% yes; 47% no
  • Should the responsibilities of Indiana townships be transferred to the county level? 68% yes; 32% no
  • Did you support House Democrats leaving the state in an attempt to kill legislation they opposed? 75% no; 25% yes
  • Do you believe that K-12 education dollars should follow the child — allowing parents to send their children to the school of their choice? 64% yes; 36% no
  • And last week we asked: How do you think this legislative session will end? Gov. Daniels calls special session(s), 47%; Democrats return at end to vote on budget, 29%; key bills revised and House Democrats return, 12%; and Other, 12%

That special session could — but hopefully not — still come into play. As we’ve said multiple times, it’s time for legislators to complete the job they were elected to do.

Township Reform: Let’s Hear It For Policy Over Politics

A 90-minute Wednesday session titled Policy Over Politics: A Forum on Township Reform contained a seemingly never-ending supply of valuable information. Enough so that more than a few of the several hundred attendees could be heard at the end muttering something along the lines of (I paraphrase), "Why is this even an issue? Just do away with the townships and let’s move on."

Gov. Mitch Daniels opened the educational program, saying that it most definitely is time to reverse the "politics over policy" reality that has dominated the past few years. Below is a highlight or two from each of the presenters:

  • IUPUI political scientist Bill Blomquist noted there have only been about a dozen studies on local government reform over the past century and describes the historical aspect as a tension between 200-year-old Jacksonian democracy (elect everyone to short terms and make them accountable) and the later Progressive Era reform and its concept of government not being too complicated for the voters
  • The Indianapolis Star opinion editor Tim Swarens says he served on a panel on this topic eight or nine years ago, but that sometimes you just have to teach over and over. He quickly dispatched the various counter arguments township officials try to use to justify their existence
  • Louis Mahern, former state senator and member of the 2007 Kernan-Shepard Commission on Local Government Reform, also spoke. We could — and have in the past — done entire stories on his knowledge and passion in this area. For today, he points out that it comes down to the "money going for inefficient township government or libraries, or parks, or public safety, or pools …"
  • Martha Lamkin, longtime education and philanthropy leader: "It’s well past the time for elevating our poor relief to 21st century standards of accountability and transparency." She emphasizes the ridiculous nature of whether someone qualifies for poor relief being determined 1,000 different ways — township by township
  • Steve Campbell, former Indianapolis deputy mayor, advises to avoid the rhetoric. Efforts to modernize Marion County government while Bart Peterson was mayor were not a power grab, didn’t result in people dying (after fire department mergers began) and didn’t cost any state legislators their jobs
  • Mark Miles, Central Indiana Corporate Partnership president, closed with "every layer of government is being forced to do more with less, yet townships manage to do less with more" and this classic that he said he was told earlier in the day: Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time the quo has lost its status

Bottom line: get involved; contact your legislators; learn more at

State Newspapers to Townships: Why are You Still Here?

Fifteen Indiana newspapers are asking that question and providing the evidence that the time for reform is now. For more, visit :

Bloomington Herald-Times: How is your township doing: interactive databases allows you to see how your trustees are doing in filing their state-required paperwork, how much money they’re spending to provide poor relief assistance and how often they are hiring people with the same last name

Former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Ted Boehm says: “Figures on poor relief and fire protection demonstrate that we are operating a system that no one starting with a clean sheet of paper would design.”

The Indianapolis Star: “During a span of two years, the (township) government bankroll grew by $87 million, and 91,983 fewer needy Hoosiers received aid.”

These newspapers are part of the township reform campaign: Anderson Herald Bulletin, Batesville Herald Tribune, Bedford Times-Mail, Bloomington Herald-Times, Evansville Courier & Press, Greensburg Daily News, The Indianapolis Star, Kokomo Tribune, Lafayette Journal & Courier, Martinsville Reporter-Times, Muncie Star Press, Northwest Indiana Times Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana Richmond Palladium-Item, Rushville Republican

Report: Township Surpluses Keep Growing

The Evansville Courier & Press continues to nail the true reason for township reform — unnecessary (and costly) duplication of government services. Here’s an excerpt from today’s editorial with a link to the full opinion piece and Sunday’s original article detailing the latest questionable tactics:

But the issue for today is current township government, which is not without its questionable practices. Eric Bradner of the Courier & Press Capitol Bureau exposed such an issue in November when he reported that township governments statewide were sitting in late 2008 on $215 million in surpluses, much of it intended for emergency poor relief.

That’s money that township trustees are to use to help people who need short-term help, say for filling prescriptions or keeping the electricity turned on. At the time, a number of trustees said they were spending much more on emergency relief in 2009 because of the impact of the recession on constituents.

But on Sunday, Bradner reported that financial records indicate otherwise. He said that now, the most recent audits show the statewide township surplus has grown to $263 million among the state’s 1,006 townships.

For example, in Barton Township in Gibson County, in 2009, the township collected $60,000 in taxes, spent $35,000, with the surplus growing to $256,000.

And in German Township in Vanderburgh County, some $291,000 in taxes was collected, $271,000 was spent, increasing the surplus by $20,000 to $164,000. But none was spent directly on poor relief. There, the trustee, Fred Happe, reported referring 20 constituents to other sources of help.

… the pressure would still be on Indiana lawmakers to address the issue of township government, mainly its need, but also the outdated system which allows for the accumulation of millions of taxpayers dollars, especially when state and local governments are challenged to meet basic needs.

It is an election year. Ask the candidates, especially those for state legislature, what they think about township government and whether there might be a better way to administer emergency relief paid for with your tax dollars.

3 Weeks, 3 Big Issues at Statehouse

A popular phrase about Washington politics is that the the republic — or at least your tax dollars — are safer when Congress is not in session. If that is the case, one can rest easy for a fortnight (always liked that British term). Snow shut down the nation’s capital last week and a President’s Day recess takes lawmakers back home or elsewhere in the coming days.

What about in the Hoosier state? Legislators seem determined to exit Indianapolis quickly. Whether any harm is done before that time remains to be seen. The General Assembly session must end by March 14, but the committee deadline is being pushed ahead by a week and all involved are trying to wrap up business by March 5. Is that good or bad for you?

  • Good if the increase in unemployment insurance taxes is delayed. It seems straighforward. Leave last year’s increase intact and companies will pay near $350 million more in taxes, the trust fund will remain woefully out of balance and employees will lose their jobs because battered businesses have no other place to cut. Legislators, particularly those in the House, need to hear from you. Check out the details and make a difference
  • Bad if they proceed with passing legislation that prohibits employers from having a policy that disallows guns in the workplace. This appears headed to the governor, however, so a veto is likely the best hope for common sense to prevail. Here are the details
  • Good if someone in power stands up for taxpayers and the poor and strives to bring about meaningful township reform. Our money is not being used wisely and the poor are not getting all they deserve with administrative costs that exceed actual relief. Meaningful is not a township-by-township referendum, but — for a start — getting rid of advisory boards and letting county councils have binding budget overview. Read more

Sure, there are a few other issues out there. But get these three right and the good will exceed the harm.

Chamber Working for You: Big Wins Over 10 Years

OK, we realize it’s February and the end of December/beginning of January were the times for the "top 10" lists for the past year or decade. But in looking at Indiana Chamber advocacy efforts, we couldn’t resist putting together some of the top issues in which we’ve been fighting the good fight for the business community. We didn’t rank them; that would be a really tough job.

I, and quite a few others on the Chamber team, have been here throughout (not the 1922 official start of the organization) — dating back to the 2002 tax restructuring and including key victories in economic development, education, tax, local government and more. The one-pager can be found here; but first a few observations.

  • 2005 was simply a big year. Daylight Savings Time became a reality after only more than a few decades of trying, a series of important education policies were enacted and a variety of tax credits were expanded
  • The most underrated item on the list, in my view, has a 2005 connection as well. The creation of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation took place in 2003 with a scheduled implementation in July 2005. Gov. Mitch Daniels, however, made the transition priority one upon taking office that January and the IEDC was off and running on a record-setting period of private sector investment and job creation
  • A 2008 entry, removal of township assessors, MUST be complemented by additional local government reform measures. Whether it’s this year, in 2011 or through other measures, it’s time has more than come for taxpayers, local residents and all involved

Advocacy, of course, is just one way the Chamber works for its nearly 5,000 members and 800,000 employees of those Hoosier companies. But it’s a big one, making a difference each and every day.

Township Bill Boosted, Passed by Senate

In a real victory for reforming Indiana’s township government, the Indiana Chamber and allies worked vigorously to improve SB 512 and successfully passed that revised version. As introduced, SB 512 eliminated townships (which is preferred), but to get the bill passed from the Senate Local Government Committee it was greatly watered down.

The day before the final vote before the full Senate, two favorable amendments were added and one bad amendment was defeated. As the amended bill was up for the final vote, the prospects for victory were not good. During the past few weeks, many township officials and their lobbyists (paid for with taxpayers’ dollars) were at the Statehouse in force to apply pressure on their legislators to oppose the bill. With the Daniels’ administration’s team and members of the Chamber-led coalition, we successfully swayed at least five votes to get to the final tally of 28-22 to pass the bill. 

The Chamber wishes to thank Sen. Lawson for her hard work and leadership on getting this bill passed. Senator David Long (R-Fort Wayne) provided leadership of the Republican caucus, where all of the supporting votes came from. We know there are several Democrat senators who would have supported this bill, but were unfortunately not permitted to vote that way.

Indiana Chamber board members and other citizens who contacted legislators to help swing several crucial votes played a critical role in the outcome. Senate Bill 512 is one of the keystone local government efficiency bills from the Kernan-Shepard Commission recommendations. We will work diligently to keep it moving in the House and bring it to a successful conclusion at the end of the session.