THE ambition of any governor should be to turn over to their successor a state that is in far better shape than the one they inherited.
In that respect, Mitch Daniels can say “Mission accomplished” as he prepares to turn over the reins of power to Gov.-elect Mike Pence.
There is no question that Indiana’s fiscal condition is vastly improved over what it was eight years ago.
What is truly remarkable about that statement of fact is that the status was achieved despite a worldwide recession from which many states headed by Daniels’ peers are still trying to recover.
Daniels brought the portfolio of a businessman to the political office he inherited in 2005. He followed business practices in trying to bring the state’s accounting books back into order and establish precedents that would streamline the delivery of services to his constituents.
There were bumps along the road and some out-and-out failures that proved tremendously embarrassing at the time, but Daniels proved not only resilient but willing to adapt and change directions when needed.
His sometimes heavy-handed approach to streamlining the Bureau of Motor Vehicles early in his administration cost him temporary political capital. His aborted early efforts to close small license branches in communities such as Hope and a chain of glitches to a new computer system at the BMV proved to be temporary embarrassments.
Given time, the bureau and its customers did adjust to the modernization efforts, and service is now provided in a much more timely and efficient manner.
His goal of privatizing the state’s welfare system also got off to an awful start. But here, too, time and Daniels’ willingness to change worked in his favor. A change in vendors and systems has served to dim memories of the initial undertaking.
There can be no quibbling about the state’s fiscal condition. While many states have had to come to grips with mind-boggling deficits that were only exacerbated by the recession that started in 2008, Indiana has remained on sound financial footing. Daniels was able to work with the General Assembly in crafting budgets that were based on economic realities and the state has maintained a surplus and been able to fortify a rainy day fund. The process has been painful to a number of institutions. But because of Daniels’ adherence to sound financial principals, Indiana is far better positioned to deal with future downturns and capitalize on coming opportunities.
Some of the credit for that sound financial footing can be attributed to the governor’s controversial decision to lease the Indiana Toll Road, an action that bolstered the state’s treasury by billions of dollars.
A portion of that money has been invested, but much of it has gone into a long-neglected road building and maintenance program. Here in Columbus, money made available from that lease project made it possible for the National Road expansion project to be advanced in the construction pipeline.
It also cleared the way for the beginning of meaningful construction on the long-awaited Interstate 69 project.
These were only a sampling of Mitch Daniels’ successes over the past eight years. He did make mistakes and he certainly stepped on a number of toes, but he brought some much-needed change to a state where tough decisions were often passed from one governor to another.
After all, it was during his administration that Indiana joined most of the rest of the country in adhering to the daylight savings time schedule. He was the right man for Indiana at precisely the right time.