MORRIS: DST? You Can Thank Mitch Daniels

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Leo Morris

Up in the mornin’,

Out on the job

Work like the devil for my pay

But that lucky old sun

Got nothin’ to do

But roll around heaven all day.

— Beasley Smith, Haven Gillespie, 1949

If there is any justice in this world, the kind that makes public officials have to live by the rules they set for others, Purdue President and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels will have stumbled to work this morning unshaven, bleary eyed and not quite sure where he was or what he was supposed to do.

That’s the way I felt on Sunday (March 13) morning when I lost an hour of sleep due to the annual “spring forward” idiocy of Daylight Saving Time. Of course, I didn’t actually lose it. It went as it came in the fall, with a diktat from clock-watching functionaries. What the government giveth …

It was Daniels who, back in 2006, used up most of his political capital and a great deal of Hoosier good will to narrowly push DST through the General Assembly after the most contentious session since the great fistfight of 1887 over who would be seated as Senate president.

There is the suspicion that the governor merely wanted Indiana to cease being an outlier on at least this one issue and that making us the 48th state to go daylight crazy would give him some national standing – so, go pound sand, Arizona and Hawaii. But he did advance a couple of justifications:

By taking away an hour of daylight before the work day started and adding it to the end of the work day, it would save on energy by keeping people outside and the lights off longer.

It would improve commerce by keeping our businesses in sync with those in big DST-observing metropolises.

Yeah, about that.

A University of California study of the Indiana economy found that switching to DST actually cost Hoosier households an extra $8.6 million a year in electricity bills. It found that the reduced cost of lighting in the afternoons was more than offset by higher air-conditioning costs on hot afternoons and increased heating costs on cool mornings.

And a study from Rose-Hulman found that, although DST did not create an economic bonanza in Indiana, it did result in a “small but statistically significant” increase in monthly employment levels. I don’t know what constitutes “small but significant” levels, but I suspect they have become smaller and less significant in the intervening years of e-commerce expansion.

And, oh, by the way, Daylight Saving Time can screw up your health. Doctors say the hourly back and forth and the resulting body clock confusion can be linked to a number of health risks, including heart attacks, obesity, cancer and even car accidents.

So, bad for energy use and therefore the environment. Bad for your health. So-so for commerce. Turning ordinarily placid people into seething psychopaths for a few days twice a year. With all that going against Daylight Saving Time, naturally it is a federal government edict.

The only way out for states is to petition to go to year-round standard time, which requires petitions, studies and a mammoth compliance procedure, or to hope Washington comes to its senses. Going to DST year-round is not an option, but so far at least 30 states have passed legislation or resolutions supporting the idea or are considering it, just in case there is a rare burst of intelligence in Washington.

Indiana, alas, is not one of them. Don’t want to mess with Mitch’s legacy, I guess. There is also the added problem here that “standard” time is either Eastern or Central depending on which part of the state one lives in.

On the, um, bright side, a congressional committee is now debating whether to end the twice-yearly clock shifting, which polls show 63% of Americans would approve, with 21% unsure and only 16% opposed. It is being said that lawmakers and experts generally agree a change is needed but aren’t quite sure how it should proceed.

Could there be hope from Washington after all? What is that brightness I see? Is it the light at the end of the tunnel? Go into the light!

Oh, wait, it’s just the sun.

Still there, after all this time.

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