Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Senate Amends Township Bill; Advocates for Reform Need to Take A Chill Pill

Yesterday, the Indiana Senate acted to strengthen Senate Bill 512 by amending the bill to eliminate township boards and require county councils to decide whether taxpayers should get a break if townships's cash reserves balloon. The latter change was in response to news reports that numerous townships were hoarding cash, while at the same time being very stingy about poor relief. The bill still excludes Marion County.

Over on other blogs, I'm reading about how the Indiana General Assembly is the worst legislature in the country and how the world will end if the entire township reform proposal contained in the Kernan-Shepherd report is not enacted into law. Sorry, but I'm not buying either one of these claims. First, Indiana's legislature operates no differently than most other state legislatures in the country, and is certainly more efficient than Congress. What you are seeing going on in Indiana's legislature is exactly the same thing that goes on in all 50 state legislatures. So I'm not buying this whole nonsense that Indiana is the "worst legislature." That's not to say there isn't a need for reform in how the legislature operates, including the need to enact things like a revolving door law that delays a legislator from going directly from the General Assembly to a lobbyist's payroll. But even those problems are faced by other legislatures.

Now to the issue of township government reforms. This township system went into effect with the ratification of Indiana's present constitution in 1850. That was 159 years ago. Now in 2009, there are legislative proposals to completely do away with township government. It looks like advocates of elimination are going to fall short of getting everything they want this year. My response to that would be "so what?" There are legitimate differences of opinion about township government. It takes time to move public opinion and legislators to the point of complete elimination. Why is it such a terrible thing if you only get half a loaf on this first serious attempt at elimination?

Again, that is simply the way the General Assembly, and, in fact, all legislatures operate. Legislative bodies rarely make huge sweeping changes, especially on the first attempt. It takes time for public opinion and legislative support to reach a consensus on reform. The legislative process is designed to be slow and cumbersome, which often frustrates those who want immediate sweeping changes. That's not always a bad thing. Take a look at what has happened in Washington, D.C., where our elected officials, without much debate or deliberation, enacted huge corporate bailouts and stimulus packages costing hundreds of billions of dollars that will be paid for by printing more money. Is that the swift, decisive action, taken without much thought or consideration, really what we want from the Indiana General Assembly? I think not.

Take a chill pill. Change is coming in township government. It just probably won't all happen this year.


varangianguard said...

You've made a good point, Paul.

It's part of a person's egocentric self-view. If something affects them, then that something must be very important. So, either it's the best or the worst, etc. (a overly simplistic Boolean value judgement system, btw).

For example, some people wonder why the Feds aren't more interested in tracking down (perceived or alleged) local corruption, because locally it appears to be so widespread and pernicious. But for the Feds, it is relatively benign, and they are much busier tracking down the more important corruption cases (in their view).

Frankly, stuff that happens around here is generally small potatoes compared to what goes on elsewhere. I used to work for a smallish firm that ended up doing exactly what Enron got caught doing. But, the legal pursuit of the wrongdoers was slow and fairly easy on the accused. Why? Because Enron was hundreds (perhaps thousands) of times worse. That didn't help the poor stockholders who were left holding the proverbial bag. But, there it is. That hurts, eh? We are just a two-bit backwater when it comes to bad behavior.

Is it still "bad"? Sure it is. Is it illegal? Well sure, if it is really going on. But, on a comparative basis it is "Mickey Mouse" stuff (sorry Walt).

The same applies in politics. The current Indiana legislature is likely no better or worse than their predecessors, no matter what they do. They act in what they perceive to be their best personal, political interest. That means that they will likely support their own local political base (not constituency) until they are dragged out of office, or find it in their best political interest to change their behavior.

That's what reform-minded citizens need to discover. The key to making it politically viable for legislators to support reform over their fellow home club members.

Patriot Paul said...

I think what you're suggesting is 'haste makes waste'. An earlier Star editorial blamed reform delays on 'personalities' instead of what's good (or bad) for Hoosiers. All the posturing, twists & turns are irrelevant until the final week of this session.