INDIANAPOLIS -- One issue dominated our work in the Indiana House this past week: Reorganization of local government as recommended by a task force created by Gov. Mitch Daniels that was led by Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard and former Gov. Joe Kernan.
The focal point for this debate was Senate Bill 452, which was considered by the House Government and Regulatory Reform Committee.
At first, SB 452 only dealt with election reforms. It included language that would move municipal elections to even-numbered years, place school board elections at the same time as general elections (rather than primaries) and give all counties the option of establishing vote centers.
In the committee, members decided to amend the bill to include all provisions of the Kernan-Shepard Report. In all, language from four separate bills were added.
SB 348 would allow most counties to reorganize library services.
SB 506 would eliminate county commissioners, replacing them with several options, including such possibilities as an elected county executive, a board of supervisors or an expanded county council.
SB 512 would eliminate the office of township trustee and township advisory boards, transferring those duties to county government.
Finally, SB 521 would require smaller school districts to consider consolidation.
After four hours of testimony and discussion, the entire package was defeated on a bipartisan vote.
In some form, the proposals are still alive through the rest of the 2009 session and I am sure that advocates for these changes have not given up the fight. I know the governor considers it one of his top priorities.
Do the ideas behind government reform deserve to be debated in sessions to come? Reforms that truly lead to improved services at reduced cost should always be discussed.
Making government more efficient and wise in its use of taxpayer dollars should be a goal for elected officials at all levels, starting at the top. The Indiana House has already approved measures to eliminate duplicate services offered by the state Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and combined the offices of state auditor and treasurer into a single state controller.
In my opinion, the forces that support government reorganization must do a better job educating our citizens to help them better understand the need and type of reform necessary to ensure effective and efficient government. At this moment, I believe the public is more concerned about jobs, fair taxes and getting our economy back on track.
The latest figures show Indiana's unemployment rate is 9.2 percent. Putnam, Parke, Clay and Vigo counties have all reached unprecedented high levels of unemployment. We must be willing to recognize that essential services at the local level are needed more than ever.
The results of my recent survey suggest that job creation and retention should be our first priority, followed by expanded tax relief, education, health care, funding for local roads and streets, high education, and services that help families and children.
Those will be my priorities as well through the rest of this session.
If you need to reach me during the 2009 session, you can call the toll-free Statehouse telephone number of 1-800-382-9842, write to me in care of the Indiana House of Representatives, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, Ind., 46204, or submit your comments to my website at www.in.gov/H44.
While visiting my website, you may also sign up to receive regular e-mail updates from the legislature.