The past few weeks have given Mayor Bart Peterson either a late Christmas present or an early Valentine. Either way, the Mayor’s long-embattled Indianapolis Works proposal received two major boosts within a few days of each other. What was nearly a dead issue six weeks ago has instead gained enough momentum to push it to the forefront of the political scene.
Indianapolis Works has undergone a remarkable transition in the last month, from virtually a dead issue to a front-runner for establishing Peterson’s legacy.
Indianapolis was one of 2005’s biggest political punching bags until the public safety merger made it through in the final days of the year. From the very beginning the police/sheriff merger was considered the most difficult aspect of Indy Works, and with it out of the way, fire and township consolidation would seem to be a slam dunk. Fire consolidation, in particular, is a centerpiece of the plan, where most of the financial savings are expected.
The most public boost came with Governor Mitch Daniels’ State of the State speech, in which he called for home rule across Indiana, allowing local governments to consolidate without legislative approval. He even specifically called for the ability to eliminate township property assessors in favor of the county, all as part of the “extreme local government makeover” Daniels has recently been pressing. Bart Peterson couldn’t have asked for a stronger endorsement of Indy Works, especially from a Republican governor.
Less flashy but perhaps even more important is the City/County Council shakeup, in which Monroe Gray, Jr., replaced Steve Talley as council president. It’s not exactly a seismic shift; Talley was a vocal and passionate supporter of police consolidation to begin with. But as a 32-year veteran of the Indianapolis Fire Department, and with the firefighter’s union already having voted strongly in favor of consolidation, Gray’s added credibility may provide the final boost to get Indy Works across the finish line when and if it comes before the council.
Which is not to say Indy Works is inevitable. City-county consolidation is always a tough sell no matter where you’re at or who’s behind you. Even when then-Mayor Richard Lugar implemented Unigov in 1970, he couldn’t get police and fire consolidation, even with a Republican majority in the legislature. And Peterson still has to contend with an opposing legislature and a frequently reluctant City/County Council. But it’s been a good week for the Indy Works proposal, and it needs all the help it can get.