Tag Archives: branches of government

What Legislatures are For

Given the antics of the Indiana General Assembly in the just (mercifully) ended session, you might think the role of the legislature is to ensure proper singing of the national anthem,  determine whether children need to learn cursive and require the BMV to honor the prejudices of people who hate gays. So it might come as something of a surprise to learn that this branch of government really does have a proper function.

Okay, for a lot of us, it apparently comes as a surprise to learn that we have three branches of government–and that there is a reason┬áthat the legislature is separate from the executive branch.

Which brings me to a story reported by the Courier Press a week or so ago.

The Governor has been supporting a coal gasification plant being developed in Rockport, Indiana. He has been so supportive, in fact, that he has had the Indiana Finance Authority negotiate a 30-year contract to purchase the gas and resell it to Hoosier ratepayers. And Daniels also favored an award of a 20-year, $120 million dollar tax credit to the plant operation–a tax credit that required legislative approval.

When the legislature proved reluctant to provide that approval, the administration suddenly decided that the credit could be enacted by the Indiana Department of Revenue. No legislative action needed, thanks very much.

Now, I don’t know whether the criticisms of the Rockport plant as a boondoggle, and the Governor’s support as “crony capitalism”are accurate. I do know that the questions raised by other utilities and some lawmakers are legitimate, and deserve answers. Maybe taxpayer support can be justified, maybe not.

But I do know that legislatures are supposed to make these kinds of decisions.

Let’s revisit the first lesson of high school government: the legislature decides what policies to enact, and the administrative branch–under the stewardship of the chief executive–administers those policies. In the real world, of course, it is never that neat–government workers in the executive branch necessarily “make policy” in some sense when dealing with the public. But it is not within the authority of the administration to decide whether taxpayers will go on the hook for $120 million-dollar coal gasification plant.

It’s called “checks and balances.”

As the head of the Citizens Action Coalition put it, “I thought we overthrew the monarchy in 1776.”

Let me spell this out: approving applications for specialty license plates is an administrative function. Deciding whether to teach cursive is an administrative function. Deciding to spend $120 million dollars of taxpayer money on a new technology is a legislative function.

Do we provide these people with job descriptions?