We can’t let old ideas trump modern urban needs

Today, for the first time, I drove down a repaved section of my street. It’s only about 30 yards, but it had been a mess for several years.

It felt good. I felt good about my city government and myself. Persistently bad streets send a message that you are not worth better treatment.

It was what I witnessed in Gary after Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson repaved many treacherous streets. She chose well which streets to repair, and there was a definite increase in morale in that much abused city.

Gov. Mike Pence could learn from this. Instead of spending $2 million on an advertising campaign to restore Indiana’s tarnished reputation, turn that money over to the cities and towns for street repairs. Instead of spending $10 million or $42 million or $84 million on a nebulous regional program, let our cities and towns boost Hoosier self-esteem by giving us smooth driving.

Our image starts with our feelings about ourselves. If our ordinary travels are a misery, we will project that condition in our interactions with others. As we teach our children: How can others respect us, if we do not respect ourselves?

The governor and his buddies at the Indiana Economic Development Corp. have gone back 50 years to pluck the regional cities concept from the ever-present dust heap of ideas that stagnate around the capitol.

In the mid-to-late ’60s, the IU School of Business prepared a map organizing Indiana’s 92 counties into 14 economic regions. One influential legislator did not like it, and Indiana got 15 regions. For several years this map was used as the State Planning Regions. Then Gov. Otis Bowen declared that any two consenting, contiguous counties could form a region. (Does that have some vague contemporary ring?)

The idea of laissez-faire regionalism coexisted with separate state regions for libraries, hospitals, criminal justice and a host of governmental functions. Today, workforce development boards operate in regions, and who knows how many different regional configurations serve environmental and anti-terrorism purposes.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. has proposed a competition for regions to design themselves (the laissez-faire model once again) and propose programs to establish their identities, strengthen ties among their counties, raise their incomes and make themselves more visible to the outside world. The best of these proposals would then get some money from the development group to carry though their programs.

This is paternalistic, state-sponsored bullying. You do the work of preparing an exhaustive, detailed proposal, and if you are good (whatever that means to a highly politicized entity), the Santa-state will fund your activities … for a while.

The Special Staff for Silly Stuff in the governor’s office even gave 25 selected legislators gift bags that were to encourage them to vote for the program.

In a state that talks the talk of conservative politics, this regional cities program is more than a joke, it is counterproductive. Give the money to the cities and towns, let them repair some of their long-neglected infrastructure, and let the people of Indiana go about their business of making our state more prosperous.

Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.