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Column: Daniels reshaped Indiana economically, educationally

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No matter your politics, you must admit that Mitch Daniels has been the most consequential Hoosier governor in more than a lifetime.

Whether the consequences are good or bad is a matter of opinion, but the record of getting things done and making other governors look inadequate in the process warrants a brief review. There were failures, successes and unfinished business.

Further automation of our system of social services is desperately needed, and it simply didn’t work at FSSA. The effort is complicated by the fact that a large share of our fellow residents who need this help simply cannot read. In the grand scheme of things, the difficulties at FSSA was a small stumble, but a stumble nonetheless.

Enshrining tax rates into our constitution was a mistake. Locking these rates into the constitution unnecessarily tied the hands of future Hoosier policy-makers. More importantly, constitutions in our nation are sacred documents that many of us have sworn to die defending; and therefore, tax caps don’t belong there.

In comparison, the true victories in public policy were enormous. The lease of the Indiana Toll Road is the single most publicly beneficial public/private partnership in America in recent decades. Comprehensive telecommunications reform in Indiana has become the national standard for busting the cable TV monopolies. The result was lower cable TV and Internet prices for consumers and more than a quarter-million more cable connections in our state.

Critically, the fiscal health of the state was transformed under this governor. The combination of tax reform, spending cuts, government efficiency improvements and the shift of school operating expenses moved the state forward a generation or two toward fiscal modernity. As a testament to this, the election debate in Indiana was about the size of potential tax cuts.

Daniels sure cut down on jokes about us — “Did you hear about the Hoosier farmer who wasn’t for daylight saving time because his corn needed the extra morning sun?”

Education reform in Indiana has been the culmination of all the moving parts that reform advocates (from both parties) are pushing for across the country. The real beneficiaries of this have been the poor and middle-class families stuck in failing schools. This success alone would mark for greatness the governor of a state with educational outcomes ranking in the bottom fifth nationwide.

Indiana’s passage of right to work was significant, even if the law alone does nothing immediate for the economy.

There is still much to do. Local government in Indiana is locked in the mid-19th century. The method for assessing, collecting and distributing property taxes couldn’t really be designed less effectively, and we have much to do on delivering higher quality education through our workforce development and post-secondary sources.

The simple fact is that through this recession, many other states are in crisis, yet we are not. You might not agree with all this governor has done, but Indiana is in a lot better relative place now than it has been in a long, long time.

Michael J. Hicks is the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and an associate professor of economics in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University.

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