Column: Is a principled stand worth the cost?


By Pete Smith

I have attended enough public meeting in my life to run into a common occurrence – the point at which politicians must decide to stand by a principle or act in a matter that best protects the pocket books of their constituents.

There are two such conflicts going on right now on the local level and at the statehouse.

At the statehouse, the House passed HB 1351, of which Rep. Steve Braun is a co-author. Braun represents a portion of West Carmel.

This bill requires that any food stamp recipients be required to purchase food and drinks that pass certain nutritional standards approved by the state. It also requires anyone who participates in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to undergo drug testing.

Sound like good principles that you could get behind? The issue is that this approach has been tried before.

When a similar law was enacted and enforced for two years in Florida, the result was that less than 3 percent of recipients tested positive for drugs – mostly for marijuana. And according to the Miami Herald, in its first year the state ended up losing about $46,000 more than it saved in rooting out the fraudulent drug-abusers because it had to reimburse people who didn’t use drugs for the cost of the testing.

A U.S. judge struck down the law on Dec. 31 saying that it violated the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches.

Locally, the Carmel City Council is working to determine the best way to pay for a new stormwater utility.

At a committee meeting Feb. 6 they heard arguments that Carmel residents should all be charged a flat $4.95 fee to manage the city’s stormwater runoff.

The alternative would be assessing each residential property individually for impermeable services – and also planning to update those assessments on a regular basis – to try and spread the costs more equitably.

Commercial properties, schools and churches would be assessed manually in either instance.

But the costs of administering the most equitable solution system would subtract a significant amount of the new utility’s revenue to non-stormwater purposes. The “socialist” alternative would have almost no additional administrative costs.

So I guess the real question is how much are the principles worth?


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