Legislative Fiddling

The one thing that Republicans, Democrats and Independents all seem to agree on these days is that the country is in a big mess, and business as usual isn’t going to fix it.


As bad as things are nationally, states are arguably swimming in even more treacherous waters, because most state constitutions—including Indiana’s—require balanced budgets, a requirement that gives state lawmakers very little maneuvering room in times of economic duress. So we might expect our state legislators to forgo the usual efforts to protect their fellow partisans and  ingratiate themselves with narrow constituencies, and instead work in a bipartisan manner to solve the very difficult fiscal problems we face.


We might expect that, but we would be wrong.


So far this session we have seen efforts to designate a state pie (harmless enough, but really! Choosing an official state pie couldn’t wait?); a bill to allow students at state universities to carry guns on campus (in addition to the mayhem this would promote, if you think we have grade inflation now—how many of us faculty types would give poor marks, no matter how richly deserved, to students “packing heat?”); and yet another effort to amend the state constitution by inserting a ban on same-sex marriages (never mind that such unions are already illegal in Indiana, and that the prospect of Adam and Steve filing joint tax returns isn’t exactly topping Hoosier worry lists these days).


And then there’s State Senator David Long. If you think solving the problem of gun violence by arming more adolescents is counter-intuitive, to put it mildly, what is there to say about Long’s effort to have government restructuring decided by local referenda? Leaving aside the obvious cowardice of this effort to avoid casting a vote that will make some people unhappy, this is a suggestion absolutely guaranteed to make an already bad situation even worse.


The problem with Indiana government right now is that we have too many overlapping and duplicative units of government, and far too many elected officials. These multiple layers of government are inefficient, they make it difficult for citizens to know who is responsible for what, and they are all being paid for with tax dollars desperately needed for service delivery. (In a very real sense, we are being asked to choose between paved roads and township trustees.) The Kernan-Shepard report identified a number of problems stemming directly from the crazy quilt that is Indiana government.


If each county held a referendum to vote whether or not to streamline government in that county, we would be addressing the problems that have been caused by one incoherent patchwork by creating an even bigger, even more incoherent patchwork. This is like treating a cold by taking bird flu virus.


Is it too much to ask our state legislators to stop fiddling while Indiana burns? To put aside the game playing, pandering and politics as usual, at least for the duration of the economic crisis? We citizens would sure appreciate it.