Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
I wrote a story last fall that centered on the question of whether state governments can force local governments to consolidate. We're starting to get the answer -- and it isn't surprising.
Many state officials view localities as woefully inefficient. Especially East of the Rockies, local government lines were drawn at a time before cars, when it made more sense to have a new city, town, township, county -- or perhaps all of the above -- every few miles. In many states, not much has changed over time, except perhaps some special districts were thrown into the mix.
Anyways, part of my story focused on Indiana:
Indiana approved property tax cuts and caps this year that Governor Mitch Daniels says are a way of forcing local governments to change the way they do business. The legislature also eliminated most of the state's elected township property assessors, shifting the irresponsibilities to counties.
That's just the start. With Daniels' support, a bipartisan commission proposed wholesale local government restructuring last December. Under the plan, school districts with fewer than 2,000students would be required to consolidate. The number of library districts would be cut to 92 in order to mirror county lines. Most dramatically, the township governments -- which currently provide fire and EMS services and assistance for the poor -- would be done away with entirely. "When you come up with a recommendation that says we should eliminate over 5,000 elected officials," says John Krauss, the executive director of the commission, "that's rather bold." While property taxes dominated the legislature's time this year, next year's debate is expected to turn to the consolidation issues.
What exactly the Indiana legislature will do, however, is anyone's guess.
Well, frankly, it shouldn't have been so hard for me to guess what would happen. The reason Indiana still has so many local governments is that small town pride is a big part of the culture of the state. You'd think I would have realized this, since Hoosiers is my favorite movie.
The Indianapolis Star reported on what happened yesterday:
Gov. Mitch Daniels' hopes of eliminating townships and otherwise restructuring local government suffered multiple blows Wednesday, as several bills he supported were gutted or defeated in Indiana Senate committees.
Advocates of the reforms blamed the setbacks on an entrenched political network in which lawmakers protect their friends in township government. Critics hailed the legislative defeats as a victory for maintaining decentralized government that is closest to the public.
It's noteworthy that the proposals died in the Indiana Senate because the Senate, unlike the House, is controlled by Daniels' fellow Republicans. Indiana lawmakers of both parties seem to still believe the more local government, the merrier.
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.