Morton J. Marcus is an economist formerly with the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. His column appears in Indiana newspapers. His column appears in Indiana newspapers.
“Pssttt.” The sound came from behind the statue with my name on it, right there on the steps of the Statehouse.
I peered and saw a grubby, shabby-looking man, presumably a lobbyist for a small organization, not the well-heeled spokesperson of a major corporation, university, or foundation.
“What?” I asked, fearful he would need bus fare.
“You got a need for a few folks?” he said.
“What do you mean?” I was flustered. Was he offering me illegals, some members of a minority group, like Democrats in Hamilton County, to perform gardening or other domestic labor?
“House Bill 1005,” he said in a conspiratorial manner. “It’s the bill to force consolidation of small townships. If a township didn’t have 1,200 people in the 2010 Census, then it must find a township that is willing to merge. There’s now a drive on to get people to stay or move to those condemned townships before the next Census in 2020.”
“I know about this,” I confessed. “It’s part of the vision advanced by big-city, big-business, politicians who are committed to eradicating rural institutions.”
“Do you have any idea how many townships this puts on the block to disappear by 2023?” He asked and then answered his question. “It’s 309 townships that fall under the legislative knife of 1,200 persons. That’s about one-third of all townships.”
“Where did the 1,200 number come from?” I ask.
“Who knows?” he answered. “Where do the lawmakers pull out the numbers they use to mandate conformity to their will? How did you like that short Noon to 8 pm window for Sunday booze sales? That was crafted so folks in the Eastern Time zone could stop in on the way home from church and get a six pack before the NFL games start.”
“Surely, there must have been some research behind that number,” I said.
He laughed, one of those uncontrollable laughs, a high pitched ululation unexpected from Hoosier vocal cords. “Research,” he stumbled over the word and began laughing again.
“I remember the Kernan-Shepard report of ten or so years ago. That kick-started local government consolidation,” I said. “That report, which came from two respected state leaders and was the product of a fine university staff, must have had research to support its conclusions.”
“Listen,” he said, recovering from his attack of hilarity. “If you can find copies of the research behind that report, let me know. We’re now talking about taking away a form of government that serves people in sparsely populated areas; 235,000 of them in 76 of our 92 counties,”
“Well,” I said, “it would save tax money.”
“How much have your local taxes declined since we eliminated many township assessors? Where are the savings from merging fire departments?”
And so saying, he darted behind Gov. Morton’s statue and was gone.