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Mayors list prorities for legislative session

A distressing trend has taken shape in the General Assembly over recent years. State lawmakers are passing laws with insufficient consultation with local government leaders and scant thought to how those laws will ultimately affect cities, towns and neighborhoods.

But an initiative by the Indiana Conference of Mayors seeks to encourage state lawmakers to be more responsive to local interests and more focused on the priorities of local government.

The nonpartisan Conference of Mayors started its “Trust Local” campaign in November to get the attention of state legislators by raising awareness of the need for the legislature to pay more attention to local government concerns.

The needs of cities and towns too often don’t get the airing that they should within the Indiana legislature. The property tax caps, now enshrined in the state constitution, are one of the most egregious examples of legislation state lawmakers passed without thought to local government needs. Municipal leaders were left with few good options for replacing the lost revenue that pays for crucial government services.

On Monday, the mayors group announced three key issues local government leaders want state lawmakers to concentrate on in the 2013 legislative session. Those priorities are infrastructure funding, methamphetamine prevention and the cleaning up of foreclosed properties.

“We think a lot of the decisions made in Indianapolis over the last couple of years really belong home with us,” said Whiting Mayor Joe Stahura, president of the Conference of Mayors. “There is a line in the sand between local responsibilities and state responsibilities, and lately that line has been drifting toward the state.” Many decisions that have historically been local responsibility, such as zoning issues, are now being made by state legislators.

There is widespread agreement that both state and local government need more revenue for road repairs. The Conference of Mayors has reasonably proposed making sure gas-tax revenue is used for its intended purpose: Paying for road repairs and street improvements. Over the years state lawmakers have rerouted money from the Motor Vehicle Highway fund, which was intended to go back to cities to pay for road repair projects, to pay for operating the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

Local leaders are also right about needing better tools to deal with the methamphetamine epidemic. The conference has suggested a law requiring a doctor’s prescription to buy any drug containing pseudoephedrine.

Although state lawmakers should consider the proposal, they should keep in mind that requiring a prescription for the drugs used to alleviate allergy and cold symptoms would put an extra burden and cost on lower income Hoosiers who have less access to medical care. For many people, the insurance co-pay required to visit a doctor and the added cost of a prescription medicine might make taking care of a runny nose cost-prohibitive.

The mayors’ group also asked state lawmakers to give local governments the authority, including more enforcement power, to require banks to maintain foreclosed properties. Foreclosure is a pervasive problem, but in too many cases local leaders’ hands are tied when it comes to cleaning up declining properties in foreclosure.

With local government, the adage about there being no Republican or Democratic way of filling a pothole prevails. State lawmakers have allowed partisanship and political wrangling to get in the way of solving problems.

“Sometimes state legislators bring their personal battles to Indianapolis, and when that happens, you end up making statewide legislation that detrimentally impacts people at the local level,” Stahura said.