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Opening Arguments

The shrinking battle

The Indianapolis Business Journal has a long and interesting piece about the not-quite-dead-yet movement to shrink local government in Indiana, noting that Mitch Daniels, chief cheerleader for the cause, is still weighing in on the subjext:

“This is one of those issues where bipartisanship and a great good-government rationale isn’t enough,” said Daniels, 64, now president of Purdue University in West Lafayette. “It’s easy enough if you’re passionate in defending the status quo to persuade enough people to stand pat and not take a chance on something new.”

The failed referendum and other thwarted efforts in Indiana show how difficult it is to shrink local government, even with political support at the highest levels and obvious taxpayer savings. Before leaving office in January, Daniels, a popular two-term governor in a state known for its common-sense fiscal policies, pushed streamlining government for five years.

[. . .]

Indiana had almost 11,000 elected officials with more than 3,000 independent local governments, the report said. A typical state resident paid taxes to at least five different units and often many more, according to the report.

The legislature took some action on the commission’s 27 recommendations, such as reducing the number of township property-tax assessors. Yet only seven proposals were adopted.

Indiana still has essentially the same amount of government, with its 1,008 townships and 293 school districts reduced only by three each since the report’s release, said Jamie Palmer, an analyst at Indiana University’s Public Policy Institute.

Personally, I think dismantling the monstrous federal apparatus is the more compelling need. And no offense to Daniels, but I've begun to wonder lately if reducing the number of governmental units and merging the ones remaining would really mae government smaller in a meaningful sense. Yes, there will be a reduction in the number of government employees, at least in the beginning. But the fewer units there are, the more power each one will have, and we all know the thing about power being abused. There's a reason the Founders looked for so many ways to diffuse it.

Certainly consolidations will make government more efficient. But efficiency has never been the main point of a democracy. The important things are transparency, inclusiveness and the other qualities that help citizens keep their necessary faith in government. Those qualities are better achieved with lots of smaller units of government than with a few big ones.