Driving around Lafayette, one can discern a lot about Indiana’s state government philosophy toward its cities. Drive down bumpy Teal Road and see potholes, crumbling curbs and nonexistent sidewalks of the one of the last state-owned highways left in town. When the new US 231/US 52 bypass opened in September a slew of former state-owned highways became municipal responsibilities. Some of these roads were repaved beforehand; most were not. Regardless, the message is clear: These are your problem now.
This scene has been repeated several times across Indiana in the last 10 years in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, South Bend and other cities. The official line is that cities would manage these assets better than the state would. That is true: Cities can transform these former state highways in ways to enhance the quality. However, our state legislature simultaneously works to prohibit cities from raising any money to pay for improvements for roads or anything else.
Right now Gov. Pence is pushing for eliminating the tax on business equipment, a move that would result in funding decreases to schools and local governments. Most Indiana municipalities would be forced to raise taxes just to continue funding existing services, Combined with property tax caps, many cities and towns will struggle to ever fund a budget, forget finding improvements.
You can see the hostility toward cities in many other ways: A school funding system that penalizes fast-growing school districts; the mayors of Indianapolis and Carmel groveling in front to legislators just to get permission to hold a referendum to raise taxes to pay for mass transit; and (my favorite) Sen. Greg Walker proposing a bill that would ban using eminent domain to build trails and greenways. If only HJR 6 had gotten the same scrutiny!
Meanwhile, the state is spending billions building new interstate highways and bridges that aren’t needed, all in the vague hope of “creating jobs.” Nearly all of these jobs will be located nowhere a major city and will pay far less than the high-paying union jobs that Indiana has been hemorrhaging. Our state grows poorer and poorer compared to the rest of the US as our policies of cutting our way to the bottom have become overzealous.
It’s clear that state government is working against the interests of cities and towns in Indiana. It’s time that we told our representatives that our cities and schools do not need to be micromanaged from Indianapolis. Indiana cities need to have the power to govern themselves returned.