Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Times Argues State Constraints Limit Local Government Innovation

From the Northwest Indiana Times Editorial Advisory Board:

So much of the environment in which local governments operate are highly affected by the body of rules, reforms and constraints that the Indiana General Assembly has adopted over many years, and it may be arresting innovation in local governance.
Home rule generally describes the nature of local government authority. Its opposite, Dillon’s Rule, basically was the way all local governments in the United States were operated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In short, the rule was unless the legislature says you can, you can’t.
Home rule reverses Dillon’s Rule. Its basic tenet is unless the legislature says you can’t, then you can. Home rule in some form was adopted by 49 of 50 states over the course of the mid to late 20th century. It was adopted in Indiana in 1980.
However, since its adoption, Indiana’s home rule as a force for innovation has been eroding. The list of exceptions in the law grows. Local governments cannot regulate door-to-door solicitors. Local governments cannot compel compliance or code inspections on rental properties. In fact, most local ordinances that prohibit littering are technically in violation of Indiana home rule because there is already a state law that prohibits it and does not expressly confer local power to regulate it.
While it’s true to say Indiana is a home rule state; it seems increasingly Dillon’s Rule in practice.
Recent public finance reforms such as those that cap property taxes through the use of a circuit breaker, in effect fix the price of certain services in local government rather than cost.
While some of these reforms are welcome, the Indiana General Assembly has focused on modifying the inputs of government with the objective to improve governance. If I read Jim Collins correctly, too much focus on inputs and insufficient focus on outputs will not get us to great.
While these erosions in home rule and other limits on local government’s ability to innovate, invent and serve well are troubling, this explains the challenges rather than excuse we local elected officers face.
We should help our state Legislature understand the effects the undue emphasis on inputs has on local innovation and imaginative public service.