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Little Statehouse appetite exists for government reform

December 29, 2014

Indiana lawmakers set to reconvene next week aren't showing any signs they'll embrace some of the more sweeping changes to the structure of the state's local government proposed by a bipartisan commission.

Republican Sen. Ed Charbonneau, of Valparaiso, said he hasn't heard any discussion about pursuing more of the recommendations of a 2007 bipartisan commission that called for 27 local government reforms.

Charbonneau said the commission's report is full of good ideas, but that several recommendations would not be easy to pass, in part because many lawmakers got their starts in local posts that the report proposed be eliminated.

"From an implementation standpoint, they're really tough to move through the Legislature. They're not issues that people don't have feelings about — they're pretty emotional on both sides," he told The Times of Munster.

House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, from Michigan City, said he agrees with that assessment. He noted that former Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican who got most of what he wanted from the General Assembly during his eight years in office, repeatedly failed to win approval for local government reform.

"He got nowhere with it," Pelath said.

Most Indiana residents likely agree with the report's findings that there are an excessive number of local governments, often duplicating services at high cost to taxpayers, he said. But Pelath added that he believes voters would "like to be able to elect more people, rather than fewer."

Overall, five of the bipartisan commission's recommendations were fully implemented, nine partially implemented and 13 not at all implemented.

The measures approved to date included barring local government employees from serving as elected officials of units they work for, shifting school board elections to even years and encouraging joint purchases by libraries.

But the most significant proposed changes, such as eliminating township governments, making most county officials appointed instead of elected, getting rid of two out of three county commissioners and consolidating small school corporations, have found little support in the Statehouse.

The next legislative session begins Jan. 6.

Newly elected state Rep. Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron, said that while he won't be sponsoring any bills inspired by the commission's report, he'd approach seriously any such proposals.

"We as a state need to continually improve delivery of services" to taxpayers, he said.

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