[r54] Overregulated and Underfunded (2/20/2009)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Start Date: 2/20/2009 All Day
End Date: 2/20/2009
Sometimes, I have to vote against bills that offer very worthwhile programs or services.  After years of service as the state representative for House District 54, it never gets any easier to vote 'no' for a popular bill. 

In many cases, I vote 'no' for these bills because they are unfunded mandates that force local governments to foot the bill for the state's legislation. In my view, if the state wants to provide a worthwhile service, I'm all for it. But the state had better find a way to fund it, instead of passing the responsibility.

I have voted against and will continue to vote against many bills - good and bad - because they don't account for funding.

Services don't just appear out of thin air. Somebody pays for them, and quite often, it's our own cash-strapped local governments and you, the taxpayer.

In general, I suspect most people aren't aware how many state laws we already have on the books. Even I was surprised when I did some investigating.

The Indiana Code consists of 19 volumes covering 33 different areas of Indiana law. Plus four supplemental volumes.

  • Stacked on top of each other, the volumes reach about 2½ feet high.
  • Together, the volumes weigh almost 70 pounds. Thank goodness they are paperback and not hardback.
  • In its entirety, the Indiana Code has 17,201 pages of tiny, tiny legalese.

All those laws for one state. The ancient Babylonian Code of Hammurabi included 282 laws on a single, 7-foot-4-inch basalt stone slab. And that served an entire empire. Times have changed.

I'm not saying these laws are unnecessary or wasteful. Many of these laws pertain to the safety of all Hoosiers, our educational system, our environment. Yet, if we worked as hard to get rid of needless laws as we do to pass more, I'm sure we could eliminate a few thousand pages.

The bottom line for me, and the point of this column, is to make clear the difficulty of voting in honorable ways, especially when it may not be the popular thing to do.

I analyze every piece of legislation that comes before me according to certain principles:

1. Is this the role of government?

2. Who is paying for this?

3. What are the effects to District 54?

If I take issue with a bill on any of these questions, I generally vote "No" because I believe it's the right thing to do. There are times when it's very difficult to cast that vote, when I agree with the intent of the bill, but not the way it is supported or funded.

Even in lean times such as these, hundreds of bills are still in play this session. Many have nothing to do with the biggest issues you'll find in the papers or on the news.

Many will fail, and this is for the best.  Now more than ever, we must focus on the most imperative issues for legislation.  We must draft a balanced budget, sustain basic services, grow the Indiana economy and create jobs.

The lawmaking process is long and messy, as it should be. It shouldn't be easy to make a law. Still, it's amazing how many actually make it all the way to the governor's desk.

Who knows? Maybe the Indiana Code will reach three feet high by 2010.