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Des Moines, Iowa


Government Reform?

Geoff Wood

I know that most people tend to have issues with the government. Be it foreign policy, scandals, taxation, infighting or spending $400 on hammers - there always seems to be a particular issue that upsets everyone.

My grandfather is a WWII veteran and long-time civil engineer with the Federal Highway Administration (he designed sections of the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways that we tend to call I-80) out of Washington, DC. I remember him telling me when I was young that people everywhere complain about paying taxes but the minute the government stops providing services paid for with those taxes the exact same people will cry the loudest - in other words: you can't have it both ways.

I remembered that when I took my first job at 14 and have never really complained about taxes. I've not been real happy with them but I appreciate the services and infrastructure the government provides for me and understand the need for money to pay for those things.

Because of this understanding of the need for taxes I get particular upset when the government does silly things. I'm sure it's a problem at the Federal level, however, I ignore it since I'm swaddled safely here in the Midwest. I'm sure if I was in DC, the activities of the Feds we be more noticeable. Besides, I feel very safe here in suburban Indianapolis and understand that there's a big military machine (that I help fund) operating on other continents that allows me to feel that way.

My concerns are with local government(1), an entity that is much more in your face in this part of the country. I saw some silly things living and working in Iowa but many of those seem to pail in comparison to Indiana. The biggest one came to a head right before we left for Europe(2), known primarily as "The Property Tax Crisis". The state released the new property tax assessments for 2006 (pay 2007) with huge and inconsistent increases everywhere. This resulted in fear of reprisal at government offices, protests outside the governor's mansion, blame being tossed about from the Democrats to the Republicans (and vice versa) from the Counties to the Townships from the State to the Counties and all variations in between. That is not to mention the general frustration of the populace. For more specifics on the debacle, read here.

It may just be the novelty of the system but I think a lot of the issue has to lie with the township level of government. Governor Mitch Daniels seems to agree:

"Daniels has long advocated smaller government. Today, his office pointed out that Indiana currently has about 2,730 local units of government with the authority to levy property taxes. It also said only nine states have more government than Indiana. The Hoosier State has 1,009 townships while 31 states have no township offices at all, it said."

Hmm, 31 states get by without that level of government, Indiana's not one of the 31 and we're in a property tax crisis. Maybe it's time for local government reform?

What do you think, Governor Daniels?

"The governor also appointed State Supreme Court Justice Randall Shepherd and former Gov. Joe Kernan to head a blue-ribbon commission to find long-term solutions to the property tax crisis, including the possible elimination of township-county assessors and other government streamlining ideas."

Nice! A commission almost sounds like a precursor to action! Hopefully, it gets that far as "long term solution" and "government streamlining" are right up my alley. It's 2007 so, like everything else, government reform commissions get their own websites where you can follow the "action" (

Daniel's is a bit to elephanty for my taste but I applaud this move. Unfortunately, it screams reactionary since they've been talking about the upcoming property tax crisis for months ... you've got to start somewhere. If it's embarrassment and media attention that gets you to move so be it.

Also, I speak highly of Iowa (3) but the Tall Corn State has it's share of inaction, the State Judiciary proposed consolidating the County Clerks of Court down from 1 per county (99) to multi-county service centers (I think 12 or so total) and it the imitative was abandoned after they got a mere 200 complaints. Perhaps, that commission wasn't "blue-ribbon" enough to make things happen..

1. State government is no utopia, either, one need only look to Governor Daniel's campaign description of INDOT or the well publicized antics in last few years at the BMV. Hope has a story or two to tell from her days working at the University of Iowa that are, unfortunately, probably more the norm than the exception. 2. I briefly mentioned this here. 3. The State not the school