Tag Archives: home rule

Bagging Home Rule

The IBJ reports on a measure approved by the Indiana Senate that would prevent local government units from taxing or restricting the use of disposable plastic bags by retailers, including grocery stores.

Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, said businesses, industry groups and many consumers oppose regulation of bag use.

Many consumers are also citizens who believe the cities they live in should have the right to determine their own policies–on plastic bags, on public transportation, and on the myriad other issues pre-empted by state legislators who believe that they know better than local officials what rules Indiana residents should follow, and what programs and/or initiatives those residents should be allowed to implement.

Whatever your opinion about plastic bags or public transportation, the high-handedness of our statehouse overlords on those and other issues ought to infuriate you.

It is particularly offensive that decisions affecting residents of urban areas are routinely made by representatives of suburban and especially rural populations, whose grasp of the challenges and realities faced by elected officials in metropolitan areas is limited, at best, and whose hostility to the needs of Indianapolis and Central Indiana is a perennial statehouse reality.

This disinclination to allow Indianapolis to govern itself, to make decisions about its own affairs, is particularly galling because the city is the economic driver of the state.

Talk about your “makers” and “takers”!

Life in the City

INIndianapolis will be holding its elections for Mayor and City-County Council in November, and the candidates will be talking about the issues that face our city–and hopefully, how they plan to address those issues.

It will be interesting to see how many of the challenges they identify are the same ones that mayors of other cities cited most frequently at a recent conference on the state of the nation’s cities.

Our annual State of the Cities report examines what is happening now in cities. The top 10 issues discussed by mayors in their 2015 State of the City addresses are essential to operations, development, and livability.

The analysis reveals what issues mayors are focused on by measuring the percentage of speeches significantly covering an issue. We examined 100 State of the City speeches in cities large and small, with a regionally diverse sample from across the country. These are the top issues that matter to cities.

The issues identified were, in ascending order of frequency, healthcare (especially in states that have refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA); demographics (race relations, cultural diversity, sexual orientation, and immigration); environment and energy (a category that includes public transportation); data and technology; housing; education; budgets; public safety; infrastructure; and economic development.

All of these issues face us here in Indianapolis. Unlike cities in states with genuine home rule, however, the ability of our mayor and council–no matter whom we elect–will be severely constrained by the fact that, in Indiana, municipal governments can do very little beyond what the state legislature in its “wisdom,” allows. (You will recall we spent a good two years begging the General Assembly for the right to decide whether to tax ourselves in order to expand mass transit.)

So–as the candidates mount their campaigns, hold “meet-and-greet’ events and fundraisers and otherwise make themselves available to We the People, in addition to asking about their preferred policies, we also need to ask them how they intend to work with our “overlords” at the Indiana General Assembly.

A Pox on Thy House (and Senate)

I am in an utterly foul mood. I guess that’s what I get for following the news.

In the last few days, lawmakers from near and far have engaged in a contest to see who can offer the stupidest laws while ignoring constituents’ most pressing problems. A couple of days ago, I reported on some craziness from Tennessee and South Dakota, opining that those states’ legislatures were making a bid for the coveted “worst” title; several comments here and on Facebook attempted to reassure me that Indiana lawmakers would come through to win that accolade before the session was over. They were right–although North Carolina just made a gutsy play. Their legislature just voted to establish a religion and declare the state exempt from the Establishment Clause (and, presumably, the Supremacy Clause).

Indiana’s intrepid lawmakers have been working overtime to exasperate reasoning people. Is gun violence a worry? Let’s require an armed person in each public school. What could possibly go wrong there? (As Matt Tully noted, the NRA and the Indiana Legislature are a match made in hare-brained heaven.) Is a family planning clinic prescribing a (legal) pill to induce early abortions? Require the clinic to meet standards devised for surgical facilities. Pill, surgery–same thing, right?

What really has me gritting my teeth and contemplating a move out of state, however, is what our retrograde legislature is doing to Indianapolis.

In the last few days, the Indiana General Assembly has taken pains to remind us that home rule is a foreign concept. The Republican Super-Majority, in a display of really breathtaking arrogance, has reminded residents of Indianapolis and its collar counties that they don’t like cities and they really don’t like democracy.

Mike Young’s bill to create an “imperial Mayor” is sailing through (although we all know it will be repealed the day after Indianapolis elects a Democrat as Mayor); and lawmakers have once again derailed the measure that would allow us to decide for ourselves whether we want mass transit enough to pay for it.

The Indiana legislature has long been dominated by rural and small-town interests. Legislative hostility to Indianapolis is simply a fact of Indiana life. That doesn’t make it any less infuriating. At the Statehouse, there is an absolute lack of sympathy for–or understanding of–urban issues. It’s bad enough that most of our lawmakers really do not care about Indianapolis’ problems; what’s worse, not only do they refuse to address our issues, they won’t allow us to tackle them either.

The imperial mayor bill is an invitation to corruption. While most of the media attention has been on the proposal to eliminate the at-large council seats, the most dangerous parts of the bill give the mayor control of the Development Commission and remove council oversight of many–if not most–spending decisions. It effectively removes important checks and balances on administrative behavior at a time when local media oversight is virtually non-existent. Actions by the Development Commission can move big money; for one thing, the Commission can ensure successful financing for a project that would otherwise be unable to secure such backing. The current appointment structure was intended to prevent decisions based upon cozy relationships and political connections rather than sound principles of land use. The imperial mayor bill will facilitate cronyism.

The refusal to allow Indianapolis citizens to decide for ourselves whether we want mass transit is the most infuriating action taken in a legislative session that has produced plenty that is infuriating. The notion that a study committee is needed is laughable–Central Indiana transportation organizations have studied the matter for the last twenty years. Let’s call it what it is: a giant “fuck you, Indianapolis” from the General Assembly to the region that generates the bulk of the state’s tax receipts.

And let’s call the Indiana Legislature what it is: an embarrassment.

The World’s Worst Legislature

Harrison Ullmann used to call the Indiana General Assembly “The World’s Worst Legislature.”

At the start of each legislative session, my husband used to warn everyone to watch their pocketbooks and count their spoons–“Like the shark in Jaws, they’re baaack…”

Yesterday, I linked to the Star article detailing the cozy relationships, conflicts of interest, and general lack of sensitivity to ethics that characterize the Indiana legislature. Today’s lesson involves a law that has been sailing through the process with little or no conversation–a measure that illustrates perfectly the perils of being a city in a state with no home rule in a state governed by a herd of petty dictators.

Senate Bill 213 would invalidate Indianapolis’ hard-won ordinance that protects gays and lesbians against job discrimination. By its terms, the law–which has passed both houses and awaits Mike Pence’s signature–denies cities and towns the right to pass employment measures inconsistent with state or federal law. The sponsors insist that their goal was to address the hodgepodge of wage and hour laws around the state, not to invalidate the grant of civil rights, and profess surprise that the measure could be interpreted to do so.

Either the sponsors are being disingenuous, or they are unbelievably naive. By its terms, the bill invalidates any provision of an employment contract that gives employees benefits not granted by the state or required by the federal government. Nowhere does the language limit its effect to wages.

Municipalities in Indiana whose own residents have engaged in the democratic process and passed civil rights protections for GLBT employees include Bloomington, Lafayette and West Lafayette, Michigan City, South Bend, Fort Wayne, Evansville and New Albany. But then, what do the citizens of those cities know? Why should they be allowed to make their own decisions about the requirements of fair treatment?

Even if you believe that this is a case of unintended consequences, the essential lesson remains: our arrogant lawmakers believe they know better than local folks what we should be able to pay workers and how we should be able to treat them. That attitude is manifest in the discussions about mass transit–why should we allow central Indiana residents to decide for themselves whether they want transit enough to pay for it?

I remember the political activism that preceded Indianapolis’ passage of the current ordinance. A lot of people worked very hard to pass the measure–exactly the sort of civic activism that all politicians claim to respect, and that teachers try to encourage.

Yesterday, during a discussion of political activism, several of my undergraduate students justified their political apathy by expressing a belief that individuals really can’t do anything that would change or otherwise affect “the system.”

Indiana’s legislators are working hard to prove them right.

Mother, May I?

Every so often, residents of Indiana’s cities and towns are forcibly reminded that we don’t have the right to govern ourselves—that we are not, to use the legal terminology, a “home rule” state. Instead, Indiana municipalities are creatures of state law, and absolutely subject to the whims, ideologies, policy preferences and egos of state lawmakers. We may vote for a mayor and City-County Council, but those holding such offices must go hat in hand to the state for permission to do anything not specifically authorized by state statute.

Repeated efforts over the years to make Indiana a home-rule state have failed, and thanks to the recent vote putting tax caps into the constitution, the situation will only get worse. Those who control the purse-strings control policy.

The most recent evidence of our local impotence is the legislative response to Indianapolis’ request to hold a referendum on mass transit. After years of studies and debate, a broad, bipartisan coalition of Indianapolis’ business, political and civic leaders has rolled out a plan to upgrade our inadequate transit system. That plan requires revenue not available from current taxes, and the local committee proposed to put the question to those of us who live within the area to be served; we would vote on whether to tax ourselves to provide better service.

The immediate legislative reaction was insufferably paternalistic: “we don’t think the time is right to allow you to decide this for yourselves.”

There are two issues here. First, improving transportation is critical to the economic health of central Indiana. Over the years, Indianapolis and central Indiana have generated more jobs, and attracted more residents, than other sections of the state. That good performance has been largely due to an attractive quality of life. Our transportation deficit threatens that quality of life, and the inability of workers to get to their places of employment conveniently and inexpensively threatens our ability to attract new employers and our continued economic health. This is hardly news; city leaders have spent years debating what sort of system we need. It is past time to fish or cut bait.

The second issue is our right to decide matters of local importance for ourselves.

It is ironic that the same state legislators and officeholders who complain bitterly when Indiana has to comply with regulations, programs and unfunded mandates from Washington see nothing wrong with telling local governments what they can and cannot do.

When a measure is proposed that concerns Indianapolis and central Indiana, that measure should be decided by the residents of Indianapolis and central Indiana. There is an argument to be made that an improved transit system, by generating economic growth, would also improve state tax revenues, but the benefits of the proposed system would basically be limited to those who live in central Indiana.  We are also the ones who would bear the costs.

We may make a good decision or a poor one, but it is a decision that should be ours to make.