Daniels: State on right track

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

After chugging down a glass of orange juice and a sip of coffee, Gov. Mitch Daniels appeared ready to tackle a day of fielding questions from reporters.

Although the day began a little earlier than normal for Daniels on Tuesday.

Prior to making an appearance in Terre Haute to promote the State Road 641 project -- a proposed bypass around the city -- Daniels made a pit stop at The Brazil Times for a round table discussion with staff members from three Rust Communication newspapers, including the BannerGraphic.

Although the Daniels administration has tackled many issues since being sworn in as the state's 49th governor on Jan. 10, 2005, Tuesday's discussion centralized on some of the regular topics Daniels has defended during the past year, including Daylight Saving Time and the Major Moves program.

Still, he said he believed his administration has the state moving in the right direction.

"More has happened in Indiana in the last 18 months than has in the years before," he said.

Daniels said he believed all along that switching to Daylight Saving Time was the right move.

"It's one of those things that everybody has an opinion about," he said.

Daniels said making the switch would help business thrive in the state and it would be less confusing for out-of-state businesses.

However, he said it's still too early to see if state businesses have started to see the dividends of the switch.

"I don't think you can prove anything at least yet," he said. "But there are plenty of examples. We believe we removed an obstacle from their path."

Daniels pointed to several businesses that have planted roots in the state in recent months.

"It really was about trying to get our sales in alignment with the rest of the economy," Daniels said. "There are many arguments for it."

Although he realized the switch would be difficult at first, he believes it will pay off in the long run.

"Step one was to get in sync with the rest of the country," he said. "Most of the state clearly wants Eastern time. We're never going to get 100 percent. But right now, we're at about 81 percent and that's the highest it's ever been."

Some counties did not want to make the switch. However, since it was implemented, some have recanted, asking to make the switch to DST, and Daniels said that would be welcomed.

"Some counties have now asked to go back to Eastern," he said. "I do feel some folks in some counties got jerked around."

Daniels also was prepared to defend the Major Moves program, which has been the subject of ridicule and has some state residents concerned.

He said the money the state received from a deal cut with an international firm is "in the bank," and added that interest on the money is accruing nearly $500,000 daily.

"The state immediately began collecting," he said.

Daniels said nearly 400 statewide highway projects will benefit from this, including several roads in Putnam County.

He said Putnam County will receive $1.2 million and local authorities will have the opportunity to decide what to do with that money. He added the state will spend nearly $18 million on road projects in the county, including improvements to U.S. 231, SR 240 and Interstate-70.

"We have big local needs," Daniels said. "We feel that this is a terrific, terrific situation for the state of Indiana."

Daniels also offered his view on the troubles at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

The BMV recently switched its computer systems, but glitches in the system forced BMV officials to temporary shut down services online and citizens faced longer waits in BMV offices.

"I'm very frustrated," he said. "This thing has been in the works for six years."

Daniels said the upgraded system was essential to combat fraud, among other items.

"I knew there would be disruptions, but there's no excuse for it."

After tightening the purse straps last year, the Daniels administration recently announced the state had a $410 million surplus of cash. Of that money, he ordered $160 million be made to schools statewide.

"This isn't new money," he said Tuesday. "This is money they should have had. Schools and towns had to borrow (money).

"Spending had grown. We had the tightest budget in 55 years. That's what families do, and businesses do when they get in a fix."

Daniels said he wants to play "catch up" with schools and local governments.

"Education will be our top priority," he said, referring to the possibility of full-day kindergarten statewide in the future. "But you've got to bail the boat. You've got to pay debts. A tight budget was only the starting point."

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