Mother, May I?

Every so often, residents of Indiana’s cities and towns are forcibly reminded that we don’t have the right to govern ourselves—that we are not, to use the legal terminology, a “home rule” state. Instead, Indiana municipalities are creatures of state law, and absolutely subject to the whims, ideologies, policy preferences and egos of state lawmakers. We may vote for a mayor and City-County Council, but those holding such offices must go hat in hand to the state for permission to do anything not specifically authorized by state statute.

Repeated efforts over the years to make Indiana a home-rule state have failed, and thanks to the recent vote putting tax caps into the constitution, the situation will only get worse. Those who control the purse-strings control policy.

The most recent evidence of our local impotence is the legislative response to Indianapolis’ request to hold a referendum on mass transit. After years of studies and debate, a broad, bipartisan coalition of Indianapolis’ business, political and civic leaders has rolled out a plan to upgrade our inadequate transit system. That plan requires revenue not available from current taxes, and the local committee proposed to put the question to those of us who live within the area to be served; we would vote on whether to tax ourselves to provide better service.

The immediate legislative reaction was insufferably paternalistic: “we don’t think the time is right to allow you to decide this for yourselves.”

There are two issues here. First, improving transportation is critical to the economic health of central Indiana. Over the years, Indianapolis and central Indiana have generated more jobs, and attracted more residents, than other sections of the state. That good performance has been largely due to an attractive quality of life. Our transportation deficit threatens that quality of life, and the inability of workers to get to their places of employment conveniently and inexpensively threatens our ability to attract new employers and our continued economic health. This is hardly news; city leaders have spent years debating what sort of system we need. It is past time to fish or cut bait.

The second issue is our right to decide matters of local importance for ourselves.

It is ironic that the same state legislators and officeholders who complain bitterly when Indiana has to comply with regulations, programs and unfunded mandates from Washington see nothing wrong with telling local governments what they can and cannot do.

When a measure is proposed that concerns Indianapolis and central Indiana, that measure should be decided by the residents of Indianapolis and central Indiana. There is an argument to be made that an improved transit system, by generating economic growth, would also improve state tax revenues, but the benefits of the proposed system would basically be limited to those who live in central Indiana.  We are also the ones who would bear the costs.

We may make a good decision or a poor one, but it is a decision that should be ours to make.

1 Comment

  1. Dear MS Kennedy,
    First, I commend you for the many articles you have written that I have read and enjoyed. Prior to reading any article I look to see who the writer is and whose bell they are likely to be ringing. I do not object to others strong opinions, I have strong opinions, it is just prudent to balance what is read against what I believe is the opinion of the author. That said, when I see you as the author of an article, I have enjoyed not having to lean hard in any direction to provide balance as I read.
    Now, I beg your indulgence as I take something you wrote out of context. I do so to address what I believe is a misconception that those in the government believe the people are trying to say to them by asking for tax caps. In the Indianapolis Star on Monday, November 15th, I read your article “Let’s grow up and pay up”. In one paragraph you wrote, “(Mayors) have fewer resources with which to meet the demands of citizens who want their public services improved, but who don’t want to pay for them”. Again I apologize for taking something out of context but I am doing so to make a point. I believe that the people, most I think, do understand that they must pay for improvements and are willing to do so. I also believe that the message that the people are trying to send with the cap on taxes is this. Prior attempts to force the government to spend wisely has failed and we (the people) do this to see what the government can do with what they have available and not so much with what they can reach out to us for more funding.
    Let me give you an example of waste. As anyone familiar with government funding is aware of, and I am sure you are, there is a method for determining what resources are allocated to an entity based on the use of that entities resources in the prior year. Example- The road crews were given a certain amount of salt last year to keep the roads clear of ice- prior to determination of how much salt they get the next year is determined based on if all that they received the prior year was used. It is common knowledge that in this example as in many we do not know about, entities tend to make sure all resource are exhausted to be sure they get the same resources the next year.
    Can you honestly say that the people have had any success in addressing this way of doing business in the past? I think by voting for the tax caps, the people are simply trying to take away the cookie jar for a time, in hopes that someone starts looking at the leftovers that are often thrown away.
    On the National level I have this example. Having done a lot of reading, I read that at the end of World War II it was decided that even a one-time shipping of all the military equipment that was sent to support the war back to the US was too expensive.
    Instead the equipment was destroyed, parceled out to allies, sold, pretty much anything rather than shipping it home. For the entire year of 2004, I was Maintenance Officer at the Port of Beaumont, TX (Chief Warrant CW2). I have documents as to the exact number of vehicles shipped to Iraq and back (thousands from this one port in one year)
    and only a complete fool could say that it was done to SUPPORT THE TROOPS. I say this because as a 28 year maintenance officer the equipment I saw returning from Iraq was in almost the same condition as the equipment being sent over to Iraq (aprox. same hours of use, manufacture date). The difference between one piece of military equipment and another is the bumper number. There were at any one time fifty plus army mechanics at the port and I could get statements from them to back up my contentions.
    Take this situation- you have contracted to do a heavy equipment job in Europe. You will need to keep x amount of bulldozers, dump trucks, etc… working for an entire year. You also know that there is a contractor about to leave Europe with about the same equipment that you would need to ship over there. Would you not simply meet with this contractor and switch your equipment for his on paper and save both of you shipping costs? Our government could have sent one-time, three times the amount of equipment that they intended to use at any one time to Iraq and established one of the finest maintenance facilities in the world and stocked it with parts and mechanics.
    Therefore I submit to you that the ONLY reason equipment was continually shipped back and forth was so that someone could profit by it. All during the war the news was that the troops needed better equipment, better Armour on the vehicles. So why was the same equipment continually sent over there. Why was the equipment left there and the Armour plating and mechanics not sent there and the best armored equipment left there for the next deploying troops?
    As for a simple maintenance facility, I myself have established one in the near past. I was on Active Duty for Hurricane Katrina Relief efforts. I established a maintenance facility with Army Maintenance tents that we could drive 2 1/2 ton trucks into and do any type of service to them. Establishing this maintenance facility took approximately two days and we were then using this facility.
    I did not intend to write such a lengthy letter to you. I do hope that you are able to take the time to read it and give me your thoughts on what I have written. I am indeed proud of my military service, I just believe that common sense could have used the military resources to much better service to the troops.
    Yours, Sincerely, Edward A. Wooldridge (CW2 Retired, Indiana National Guard)
    PH: 765-891-1173
    e-mail: edward.wolfe@
    2310 Roselawn Drive, Apt. 4, Lebanon, IN 46052

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