Following the infamous government shutdown in Minnesota last summer (which the State is still feeling the effects of), Republican members of both the House and Senate began gathering a variety of proposals for the current legislative session. The list of proposals, commonly called “Reform 2.0” covers a variety of areas, including economic development, education, health care, and government reform.
As State Rep Keith Downey noted, “[o]ne of the biggest challenges we face in state government is we’re about 20 years behind in improving state operations.” To that end, the “Reform 2.0” includes a number of government reform provisions that would: make government pay and benefits competitive with the private sector, reduce the number of departments in the Executive Branch, require local governments to present budget and spending information in an easier to understand format for the general public, work with local governments on mandate relief, require the state budget to include federal insolvency contingency planning, and fix the problems which were encountered during the government shutdown.
Not surprisingly, State Democrats remain skeptical of the Reform 2.0 proposals. House Minority Leader Paul Thissen was reportedly disappointed by the GOP plan, echoing the claim of other Democrats who believe that many of the ideas are recycled from previous, unsuccessful proposals. To counter, Democrats have announced their own reform package which would emphasize reforms in the Legislature. Highlights of the Democratic package include: a plan to prevent future state shutdowns, requiring politicians to disclose any outside income, preventing private meetings whenever the State Capitol is closed, prohibiting public meetings between 12 a.m. and 7 a.m., prohibiting officials of political parties from holding public jobs, and a provision on “unallotment.”
Indiana has recently made efforts to reform local governments through proposed legislation. The initiative was started by Lt. Governor Skillman who proposed a legislative agenda concerning local government reform that has been getting attention from the press and state lawmakers. The recommendations came after Lt. Gov. Skillman toured Indiana’s various local governments and spoke with local officials. It was clear from her tour that local government officials are worried about the availability of revenue to support local government services. Therefore Lt. Gov. Skillman is proposing fiscal flexibility within local governments, while at the same time advocating for a property tax cap to ease the burden on property owners.
The fiscal flexibility measures suggested include allowing transfers of surplus revenue to maintain roads and streets, changing the 911 funding, broadening options for legal advertising, and creating a referendum process for local units of government allowing them to acquire more operating money, which is similar to the school district structure.
Furthermore, the suggestions include allowing townships to streamline their government by eliminating township advisory boards and transferring the fiscal responsibility to the county, as well as, align townships with the three existing county commissioner districts. In addition, encourage local governments to adopt centralized purchasing within their government unit and joint purchasing with other municipalities. The Lieutenant Governor also proposed reforming local government infrastructure planning by suggesting that the state should develop model plans for local infrastructure projects to save money on consulting and planning fees.
One reform proposal getting a lot of traction in the state legislature is a bill that will reduce the conflict of interests problems that are often seen at the local government level. The proposed Indiana legislation would prevent public workers from hiring their relatives for jobs that they supervise. The bill would also preclude those who work for municipal governments (firefighters, police, park workers, etc.) from sitting on county commissions or agencies because it is not in the public’s interest to have the same people working for the municipality and setting the wages and benefits for that same position. With this conflict of interest eliminated municipalities can focus efficiency and can stop worrying about local officials implementing self-serving policies.
The proposals can be found on Lt. Gov. Skillman’s webpage available here.
Article describing the success of the local government conflict of interest bill is available here.