The voice vote was unanimous.
The Interim Committee on Government, chaired by Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, instructed its staff last Wednesday to draft a report that supports the continued publication of annual financial report information by cities and towns in local subscription based newspapers.
The summer committee will formally vote on the Legislative Services Agency report at its Oct. 3 meeting.
“It’s good to see the committee recognize that newspapers, not government websites, remains the best way to inform the public of what their local government officials are doing or contemplating,” said Steve Key, Hoosier State Press Association executive director and general counsel.
Accelerate Indiana Municipalities (AIM) was the only entity to testify Wednesday. Rhonda Cook, deputy director; chief federal & state policy officer, for the association of cities and towns, limited her recommendation to the elimination of the annual financial report, not all public notices in newspapers.
She called the published part of the annual report “not relevant,” but AIM’s solution was elimination, not improvement of the public notice. She noted that the entire annual financial report was on the state’s Gateway portal.
This is the same portal that HSPA testified last month only saw 7,000 unique visitors to the posted proposed budgets of local government units throughout 2017, compared to the 2.9 million Hoosiers who read at least one newspaper a week.
Rep. Bruce Borders, R-Jasonville, noted the lack of unique visitors to the Gateway Portal and said print remains the best option for keeping government units accountable to the taxpayer, whom Borders called “the underserved individual” when it comes to lobbying efforts.
Committee reaction to AIM testimony generally fell within two areas– opposition to the elimination of published public notices and calls to change the required financial report information to data more helpful to the public in the published public notice.
“You’re cutting the people off from information they want to learn,” said Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange.
Sen. Victoria Spartz, R-Noblesville, said the public should be able to see how the money is spent and suggested the legislature should look at a better way to present relevant government spending information.
Spartz asked Cook about how to make the financial report better. Cook suggested pie charts as a possible solution to make information more understandable to the public.
Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, said elimination the publication of the annual report would only serve to increase the public’s general disenchantment and distrust with government institutions. She also suggested an effort to improve what’s required of cities and towns in the publication.
Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis, said the cost for cities and towns to publish the annual financial notice “is a low price for transparency.”
When Rep. Mahan and Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, referred to public notice advertising as an “unfunded mandate” on local government by the legislature, they received a quick reply from Sen. Glick.
“It’s the cost of doing business, not an unfunded mandate. It’s the cost of democracy,” she said.
Many of the committee members agreed with the assessment of Rep. Dennis Zent, R-Angola, who after pointing out the lack of reliable Internet service in his district said there may be a time to move from print, but “we’re not there yet.”
When Mahan asked for the committee’s instructions to LSA concerning the possible elimination of publishing the cities and towns’ financial report, Rep. Austin said, “To quote Nancy Reagan, just say no.”
Rep. Borders quickly echoed that sentiment.
Following the voice vote, Committee Chairman Kevin Mahan called it a “reluctantly unanimous” vote.
The voice vote was unanimous.