Gov. Mitch Daniels sat down with WANE-TV last month and said it should be up to the people of Fort Wayne whether to pursue expanded gambling here. Then he was asked if he would sign off on a referendum for such gambling if it came to his desk during a legislative session, and he said:
Well, it probably wouldn't work that way. It would probably be a matter for the gaming commission. But we believe in home rule here. We would give great deference to the outcome of a referendum.
OK, he believes in home rule, and the state should defer to the results of a referendum. But is it home rule when the state orders a referendum that local people don't want to have? They don't think so in northwest Indiana, the counties of which have been ordered to hold a vote on whether to create a regional transportation district, which would, by the way, have the authority to establish a local income tax to pay for projects in Lake, Porter, LaPorte and St. Joseph counties. But Lake County is having none of it:
The Lake County Council has decided it doesn't have the money to pay for a state-ordered special election, setting up a showdown with a state panel and local elections officials.
[. . .]
Holding a stand-alone referendum during an off-election year would cost Lake County taxpayers $414,000.
Amanda Stanley, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, which oversees the county's compliance with tax and budgetary issues, said officials familiar with the legislation believe the council had no right to deny funding.
The state is at best ambivalent about home rule and talks a better game than it walks. Until cities and counties have full financial control of their destinies, local autonomy doesn't really mean that much.
As an aside, isn't it interesting that Lake County cites financial hardship in declining an off-year referendum, and Fort Wayne begged the General Assembly for the ability to have one? If officials are eager to let people have the ability to throw away their money, guess it makes sense that those officials wouldn't worry too much about throwing the people's money away themselves. At least if the legislature approves a referendum for us next session, it would be held during the regular election year of 2010 and not cost extra.