Category Archives: Local Government

Just Give Me the Money!

We need to ask Governor Pence just what part of “accountability” he doesn’t understand.

The IBJ recently reported that the administration is refusing to give the federal government access to information about HIP 2.0–the system that he used to implement Medicaid while insisting that it WAS NOT MEDICAID, NO SIREE! Well, in all fairness, it did have differences; it covers fewer Hoosiers than a simple Medicaid expansion would have done, for one. Call it Medicaid-lite.

The plan was sufficiently in compliance with Medicaid regulations to allow the federal government to fund it–on condition that they evaluate the program after it had been in effect for a period of time. When the time came for the state to submit information needed for that evaluation, however, Pence refused to comply.

The most recent flare-up between the Pence and Obama administrations came when Indiana missed a June 17 deadline for submitting data to the federal government on who was enrolled and what kind of benefits they were receiving.

Now, maybe I’m missing something, but when the agency that is paying for a program asks for information needed to determine how you are using its money, it seems reasonable that you would comply.

But of course, the words “reasonable” and “Mike Pence” are rarely found in the same sentence. (That’s probably why Trump finds him congenial.)

Indiana officials, however, have balked for months at the federal review, saying they are conducting their own outside review.

“I am concerned that two evaluations being conducted at the same time has the potential to create contentious outcomes which can impede fair, impartial and empirical analysis of demonstration projects,” Pence wrote in December to the U.S. secretary of health and human services.

To some observers, the conflict seems to boil down to this: Pence doesn’t trust the federal government to do a fair evaluation.

Gee–if I were the federal government, I wouldn’t trust Pence to administer a fair system.

A former state official has a theory about why a simple element of accountability–a look at the books to determine whether federal funds are producing the agreed-upon results–has Mikey’s panties in a twist:

“From the beginning, when Pence established this Medicaid expansion by using HIP, he has struggled to make it look like it’s an Indiana plan, not a federal plan,” said Sally McCarty, former Indiana insurance commissioner under Democratic Gov. Frank O’Bannon, and a former senior research fellow at the Center of Health Insurance Reforms at the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute.

“He probably doesn’t want to relinquish ownership of any of it and give any control to the federal government,” McCarty said.

He just wants the money–no pesky “accountability strings” attached.

I don’t think it works that way.

Thankfully, a Lot of People Don’t Find Redistricting Boring….

The second meeting of Indiana’s Interim Study Committee on Redistricting, of which I am a lay member, was held yesterday. Despite the fact that it was a Thursday afternoon, and the meeting started at 1:00, there were well over 100 citizens present; they filled the House Chamber and from where I was sitting, it looked like they filled the balcony too.

The purpose of this meeting was to hear expert testimony. (Discussion leading to the committee’s recommendations will come at the next two meetings. I’ll blog the dates and times when I know them.)

There were two presentations; one from a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice, affiliated with New York University Law School, and the second from the Senior Legal Counsel to the Iowa LSA–the person responsible for directing Iowa’s redistricting process.

The Iowa presentation was a description of that state’s use of an independent commission to draw district lines–from all reports, a very successful effort to draw districts in a fair, transparent and nonpartisan way, and one that has earned the strong approval of most Iowa voters.

The first presentation, by Michael Li of the Brennan Center, focused upon the negative consequences of gerrymandering, and the current efforts of several states to reform their processes. He included a couple of interesting points that tend to get lost in discussions about gerrymandering’s more obvious effects.

Li pointed out that the redistricting “nitty-gritty”–the drawing of the lines–isn’t handled by local politicians; instead, the national parties send in teams of “experts” whose expertise is in manipulating data and computer programs, and who know little about the politics or culture of whatever state they are carving up. This dependence on national party operatives facilitates the contemporary shift of power and influence from state policymakers to national ones– further nationalizing America’s political parties.

Li also noted that although redistricting reform might not effect much change to the partisan composition of a state’s legislature, especially in very Red or Blue states, it does tend to change the nature of the partisans who hold those seats. (Social science research supports that observation; in states using independent commissions, Representatives of both parties tend to be less rigidly ideological and more willing to work across the aisle.)

This last observation is particularly important, because one of the arguments used by defenders of the current system (like Senator Hershman today) is to claim there are states where redistricting reform has changed a very minimal number of seats, and that shows the current system isn’t really a problem.

As Li quite properly responded, partisan shift is not the metric we should apply. In Republican states like Indiana, redistricting reform is unlikely to change control of the Senate, for example. If fewer elections are decided in the primaries, if fewer general elections are uncontested, if new people emerge to challenge incumbents, and –when those incumbents die or retire–if there is genuine competition for the open seat, then reform has worked.

When Senator Pat Miller challenged the notion of “nonpartisan” commission members–making the point that everyone has political opinions–Li agreed that most people have what we might call “political orientation,” although he noted that there is a difference between redistricting done by people who are deeply involved in the political process and that done by people who are not politically active. He compared the process to the composition and operation of juries; people serving on juries have prejudices and opinions, but most who serve take their responsibilities very seriously, evaluating the evidence and following the judges’ instructions.  ( I found the comparison compelling because when I was a practicing lawyer, I saw juries in operation, and saw the same seriousness of purpose.)

The one thing that seemed clear in the wake of the meeting was that Senators Hershman and Miller are not going to be voting for reform of any kind. But I have high hopes for the rest of us.

Oh, Canada!

Today, my husband and I return from a ten-day trip that took us out of the U.S. and—far more consequentially—much of the time, out of areas in which we had access to the internet. My blog platform allows me to schedule posts, but my ability to share those posts on Facebook was pretty hit or miss. So—apologies to readers for the lack of regularity.

It’s experiences like this that make me realize how utterly dependent I have become upon today’s technology, and how helpless I feel when I can’t immediately read and respond to emails, or consult Dr. Google to find information.

This particular trip was a long-planned cruise vacation with our younger two grandchildren, ages 12 and 14. No parents invited. We began in Boston, and ended with Quebec City and Montreal, Canada. (Along the way, I think we guaranteed the continued profitability of Gray Lines tours…)

In many ways, visiting Canada doesn’t seem different from visiting other parts of the U.S. Even in Quebec, where French is the “first” language, everyone speaks English, and the clothes and customs are familiar. Starbucks and McDonalds and Subway are ubiquitous.

But there are differences, and they reflect well on Canada. And not so well on us.

The news was full of stories about Canadians’ embrace of Syrian refugees, for example. Canadian families wanting to “adopt” a refugee family (in the sense of helping that family acclimate, find housing and employment, and willingness to function as a resource) significantly outnumber available “adoptees.” The articles provided an embarrassing contrast to so many Americans’ deeply suspicious and negative response to that same refugee population.

Then there was the contrast provided by Canada’s physical and social infrastructure.

Quebec’s sprawling historic districts were meticulously maintained. Streets everywhere we went were free of potholes, and public art was everywhere—including on the sides of buildings and on the supports for highways. In both cities, public parks, public squares and other public spaces were everywhere and filled with people. Montreal, we are told, was just named one of the globe’s “smart cities.” (We were duly grateful–we finally had  wifi!)

Canadians all seemed to approve of their Premier. Those with whom we spoke were uniformly grateful for and supportive of the country’s national health care system. Several taxi drivers bragged about the efficiency of their cities’ winter snow removal (given the amount of snow they get, it’s an obvious priority.)

And everyone with whom we interacted was so polite….albeit quite willing to share with Americans that they are appalled and repulsed by Donald Trump.

Travel is generally instructive, if only to make us look at our own cities with fresh eyes—to ask ourselves what our cities and neighborhoods would look like to someone from another country. What would we brag about? What would embarrass us?

A few days as a tourist allows only a very superficial assessment of any city or country. I have no idea what civic or governmental problems bedevil the residents of the charming places we visited, what urban challenges are unmet, what social problems remain unresolved.

Still—it’s hard not to get a bit wistful when you see all that well-maintained infrastructure…..

 

 

 

Not a Mentsch

In the wake of the horrific mass shooting in Orlando, Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick tweeted out–you guessed it–a biblical phrase:  “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” –Galatians 6-7

In the wake of a tragedy that took 50 lives, this poor excuse for a human being decided to blame the victims for not living in accordance with his warped version of Christianity.

Yesterday, I posted about just this sort of use of “Christianity” (note quotation marks) in the service of hate. It isn’t just Christianity, of course; any religion can be pressed into that service, and all of them have been and continue to be so used.

There is something so smarmy, so distasteful, about people like Dan Patrick. Their willingness to use tragedy as an occasion for moral posturing is small and mean and utterly despicable.

This sort of offensive faux piety from deeply flawed public officials drives me nuts. And Patrick is far from alone. Texas politicians are currently among the worst, but Indiana is hardly in a position to point fingers.

Hoosiers who read this blog have probably seen the bright blue and gold yard signs proclaiming “Pence Must Go.” They are the brainchild of Kevin Warren, a local realtor, and his husband Neil Bagadiong, who established pencemustgo.org  as a political action committee in reaction to the Indiana Governor’s RFRA debacle.

RFRA was an effort to legitimize the sort of attitude displayed by Dan Patrick–to create a culture in which LGBT persons would be legally “less.”  Given the number of “Pence Must Go” signs I see, it seems a lot of Hoosiers understand where the attitudes such measures foster can lead.

The original signs have been joined by a number of others: Women’s Health Matters, Separation of Church and State, and Indiana Needs Leadership, among others. (Hoosiers can also buy anti-Pence hats, mugs and bumper stickers on the political action organization’s website.)

One of the newer yard signs that particularly appeals to me is “Pence is Not a Mensch.”

Mensch is a yiddish word that literally translates into “a real human being.” In usage, it is intended to refer to upstanding, worthy, honorable people–people who exhibit compassion and loving-kindness, who are not judgmental or–to use the biblical phrase–“stiff-necked.”

When my children were very young, I used to tell them that I didn’t care what professions they chose, what interests they pursued, what beliefs they embraced or who they chose to love….but I did want them to grow up to be mentsches.

Self-satisfied public officials who use the power of the state to marginalize and stigmatize people who are different, who ignore the Constitutional separation of church and state in order to privilege their particular belief systems, who ignore the needs of those in need–those officials are not mentsches. Not even close.

When people in leadership positions signal that bigotry is acceptable, when they contribute to an environment that diminishes and marginalizes people who do not fit within the narrow categories they deem biblically appropriate, that sends a signal to unstable and troubled individuals.

The message is: these people are unworthy, sinful, expendable. Attacks on them are “God’s work.”

It’s a gross oversimplification, but at some level, the world is divided between two groups of humans: mensches and assholes.

Pence, Patrick and their ilk are definitely not mensches.

 

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish…Again

Here’s a great example of what happens when a fixation on keeping taxes low no matter what (yes, Governor Pence, I’m looking at you) ends up preventing authorities from engaging in oversight that would actually save taxpayers money.

The IBJ has reported that 

Local governments will see fewer audits due to a recent change in Indiana state law.

The State Board of Accounts used to audit cities and counties every year, and audit school corporations every two years. Now those audits will be conducted every four years unless there are red flags.

And why is the frequency of audits declining? Budget constraints.

But budget limitations and the sheer number of entities that require auditing means there’s too much work and not enough people to do it, Caldwell told The Muncie Star Press….

Local officials confirmed this week that Delaware County and the city of Muncie haven’t been audited for three years.

State audits are important because they can uncover costly financial mistakes, wrongdoing by officials and other issues that local governments can correct–ideally, before the error or wrongdoing has cost significant amounts of money.

In the not-so-distant past, audits by the State Board of Accounts have found problems with the Muncie Sanitary District’s finances and then-Delaware County Treasurer John Dorer, who resigned in February 2015 after pleading guilty to a charge over the mishandling of funds. It would seem prudent to continue supervision of Delaware County to insure that these problems are not continuing, rather than taking a three-year hiatus.

There’s an axiom from the criminal law literature that is relevant here; it is the certainty of punishment, rather than the severity, that deters criminal behavior. (In other words, if you are considering a burglary, and the punishment is 20 years, but the likelihood of getting caught is 5%, the deterrent effect is negligible. If, however, the punishment is 5 years, but the likelihood of getting caught is 95%, the deterrent effect is considerable.)

Most reasonable people would not reduce police patrols in a previously lawless neighborhood and expect crime to go down. Same principle.

The Pence Administration is “saving” us money by keeping taxes (and revenues) low. In the process, it is issuing an unintended invitation to embezzlement and mismanagement. I’d be willing to wager that taxpayers will end up losing much more money than the administration is saving by reducing the mechanics of oversight.

But then, as a former student of mine who was working for the administration until he quit in disgust puts it, this Governor’s office has zero interest in actually governing.

That’s becoming more obvious with every passing day.