Every four years, candidates for offices high and low attribute the problems of government to a distressing lack of bipartisanship, and promise that—if elected—they will “reach across the aisle” to “solve real problems.” These promises are so predictable, and so empty, that most of us simply tune them out.
Wonder of wonders, however, a genuinely bipartisan effort is being mounted right now, right here in Indiana, to address what most impartial observers agree is the most significant governance problem we Hoosiers face.
MySmartgov.org has been formed to enact recommendations initially made by the Kernan-Shepard Commission, a bipartisan group of Indiana leaders who studied the structure of Indiana government and issued a report with numerous recommendations in December 2007. As its name suggests, the commission was led by former Governor Joe Kernan and Chief Justice Randall Shepard, who accepted the task at the request of Governor Mitch Daniels.
It is telling that the Commission’s recommendations closely mirrored those made by Gov. Paul McNutt—in 1936. Never let it be said that Hoosiers rush into anything.
MySmartgov.org proves the old adage that politics makes strange bedfellows. Its most prominent member-supporters, other than the original Commission participants, are the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the Central Indiana Corporate Community Council, the Indiana Realtors, and the Professional Firefighters Union. Its Executive Director is Marilyn Shultz, formerly the State Budget Director during the Kernan Administration. Even the organization’s blogging is being done by a team consisting of one Republican and one Democrat.
Why is this a big deal? Because Indiana’s inefficient and bloated governing structure is strangling us, driving up property taxes while starving service delivery.
Governing decisions enacted in 1816 and 1851 are still on the books, and as a result, Indiana citizens pay for, and are governed by, more than 10,300 local officials. The state “boasts” 3,086 separate governing bodies, hundreds of which have taxing authority. When we compare Indiana to 11 other states our size, we have more levels of government than all but two of them.
It is this bloated superstructure that makes it nearly impossible to follow through on the other perennial promise of political candidates—the promise to root out waste. Here in Indianapolis, for example, Mayor Ballard is belatedly realizing just how limited his options are. It’s easy to criticise incumbents and demand to know where our tax dollars are going; what too few of those critics understand is that most of the waste is in our governing structures, in overlapping and outmoded units of government. It’s certainly not in service delivery, which has been cut to the bone.
In Indiana, we don’t put tax revenues to work enhancing our quality of life. Instead, we use them to pay for 1008 Township Trustees and other officeholders we no longer need.
In some contexts, bipartisanship is code for retaining the status quo. In this case, however, it is the only way Indiana can progress. Liberal or conservative, Republican or Democratic, we all deserve efficient, accountable government. Smart government.