Morton J. Marcus is an economist formerly with the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. His column appears in Indiana newspapers.
So what’s your summary of the legislative session?” Myrtle, my muse asked.
“I don’t want to write one,” I replied.
“Why not?” she persisted. “Usually you’re all agitated about the Indiana General Assembly and spew some of your best invective on them.”
“I’m tired,” I confessed. “So many good individuals doing so much damage collectively to Indiana. It just gets old after all these years.”
“Well, they raised the gas taxes and imposed new fees that will help repair our roads,” Myrtle said.
“Yes,” I agreed. “That was good, but so long overdue. And they provided $10 million for improvement of rail crossings, too little and too late for the many injured or killed at those crossings.”
“They put more money into pre-K schooling,” she said with enthusiasm.
“OK,” I was energized. “Yes, they did some good things, as when they mandated that Lake County consolidate precincts with fewer than 600 voters. But they did it as they usually do things. It was Republicans, arguing for cutting government spending in an overwhelmingly Democrat area, without supporting their case with data on the effects of consolidation on voter participation in elections.”
“You’re saying the consolidation was a cynical effort at voter suppression?” Myrtle asked.
“Yes, and No,” I answered. “It was a legitimate step that should have been applied statewide with more respect for local conditions. It’s part of the long term effort of the legislature to deny our counties, cities and towns control over their own affairs, to destroy the little amount of home rule that exists in this state.”
Myrtle leaned close to say, “But that’s exactly the core of America’s dilemma being played out in Indiana. How do we run a country with the technology of the 21st century on the ideology of 18th century?”
“You’re right,” I agreed. “Whether we’re talking guns, public transportation, education, pollution, health care, or whatever, the beliefs of people 250 years ago, are not consistent with today’s realities. Yet, we are bound by our determination to adhere to those noble beliefs, those core values.”
“Exactly,” Myrtle said as she and I were now on the same page. “How can we talk about home rule and the sanctity of local government when Hoosiers travel from one place to another daily for work, for school, and for shopping? At minimum, transportation is a regional issue, not a local one. But we stick with local transit companies as if this were the 19th century.”
“We made some effort in the past with school consolidation for cost savings and better education,” I said, “but we’re terrified to give up that local football or basketball team, fearful we’ll lose identity.”
“Why doesn’t the legislature also say that towns of fewer than XYZ persons should be restored as villages or neighborhoods in a county structure?” Myrtle offered.
“That’s simple,” I said. “Most Hoosier legislators regret we don’t live in pre-WWI America.”