With the Indiana General Assembly in session, the division of funds among Indiana’s 92 counties is once again before us. In recent discussions with a former state legislator, he claimed Marion County always got more than it deserved.
He thinks funding should be distributed on a per capita basis. That means 14.13 percent of the money flowing from the state should go to Marion County because that figure is the county’s share of our state’s population.
Certainly, some legislators think all persons should be treated the same, pay the same taxes, and get the same funds back from the state. More thoughtful people recognize many factors that make this an impossible policy.
Not all counties have the same state facilities. For example, prisons are not distributed equally around the state. Prison funding depends on the nature of the facility and the number of persons housed there. State parks are not distributed equally around Indiana. Brown County, for instance, is not likely to send the same amount of funds to the state as a similar county with no major park land.
We also recognize not all children are the same; we provide more state funding for those who have learning disabilities than for those who excel at academic work. We don’t expect many roads in rural counties to require the same maintenance as streets in densely populated areas. However, some rural counties are known to host coal and grain trucks that tear up local roads; no simple funding rule can be established on the basis of population alone.
To my legislative friend, I suggest we consider jobs rather than population, if we demand a simple formula for judging how much money should be spent where.
Under the per capita rule or the job rule, Marion County gets the most money of any county, but it would get 20.48 percent of the funds distributed by the state if jobs rather than population were the deciding factor. That’s a big shift of 6.36 percent of the funds to Marion County from the rest of the state. Elkhart County’s share would rise by 1.08 percent — the second greatest shift of changing from population to jobs as the allocation criterion. Lake County would be the biggest loser if we made that switch.
In all, 21 Indiana counties would get more money and 71 counties would see less money if we shifted from population to jobs as the distribution formula. And a good argument can be made for this arrangement.
Jobs are tied to business activity, to the services provided to business, to the costs of roads used for commuting. Jobs reflect retail trade, to where people shop and go for recreation.
But I would not expect the Legislature to change from my friend’s point of view to let population (or at least the number of voters) rule.