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Thoughts on the State of the State address

By Scott Tibbs, January 20, 2011

The State of the State address last week was a positive vision for change founded on conservative principles. Governor Daniels has pursued an aggressive reform agenda the last half-dozen years as governor, and it doesn't look like he is willing to rest on his laurels the final two years of his term. You can download the speech at WFHB's web site.

The proposal for criminal justice reform is a promising one, though few details were offered. Considering the cost of incarcerating people, we need to look at who we put behind bars and whether we can do it in a more cost-effective manner. Home detention can be expanded and other options can be used to reserve prison space - and the money needed for it - for truly dangerous violent criminals. It will be interesting to see exactly what is proposed.

One of Daniels' big agenda items is local government reform, including banning government employees from serving as elected officials. I addressed this a couple years ago and my opinion is the same as it was then. I do not believe that restricting democracy is a good idea. Let the people decide whether a government employee is qualified to serve as an elected official, and whether an elected position presents too much of a conflict of interest. I'm not as concerned about the ability of government employees to serve as much as I am concerned with limiting the choice of the voters in local elections. I think voters can make their own decisions.

Daniels is right to criticize nepotism in local government. The state legislature should move forward with legislation making it illegal for local government officials to hire their relatives to work in their offices, because of the inherent conflict of interest this creates. But does that go far enough?

In addition to nepotism, the legislature should tackle patronage as well. This is going to me a much thornier issue, and patronage is much more difficult to conclusively prove than nepotism. Furthermore, there are positions within state and local government that are genuinely political positions, and political considerations are obviously important in evaluating job qualifications for those positions. We need to be wise about this.

That said, it is plainly obvious that the "good old boy" network's tradition of hiring based on politics rather than on who is most qualified to do the people's business is a disservice to Hoosier taxpayers. Because this is such a mine field, the odds of getting this done this legislative session are very low. There's no reason the conversation cannot be started now, though. Sometimes needed reforms take many years to become law.

Daniels proposed that if a student graduates from high school early, the money that would have been spent on that student's senior year will go toward further education, such as college tuition. That is a good idea. Those who work hard enough and are talented enough to finish early should be given a financial incentive to do so.

The only area where I fervently disagree with the governor is the proposal for vouchers. (Daniels did not explicitly mention vouchers, but he did say parents should be allowed to use public funds to send their children to private schools.) I graduated from a private Christian high school, and vouchers would have been a financial benefit for my family. However, the implications for religious freedom are serious.

When you accept government money, you accept government strings. Once private schools start taking government money, how long until government starts demanding that those schools implement policies approved by the government? Will Christian schools be forced to hire openly homosexual employees? Will Christian schools be forbidden from having Bible classes or chapel services as long as they take government money? These are very real risks and Christians are foolish to entangle themselves with government.

Vouchers aside, the governor's speech presented a positive vision for the state's future, representing change we can believe in. The legislature should begin moving forward on these proposals.