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March 22, 2014

FLASHPOINT: Indiana deserves better than what recent session provided

INDIANAPOLIS — The ageless wit Oscar Wilde once observed, “The salesman knows nothing of what he is selling save that he is charging a great deal too much for it.”

True to form, the powers of the 2014 Indiana General Assembly have wasted little time barking their wares from atop the sales pyramid.

Even before our work had wrapped up, our governor had issued a video complimenting the Legislature’s accomplishments. He was quickly echoed by the leaders of his super-majorities in the Indiana House and Senate.

Our leaders are selling soap we’ve bought before. Cutting corporate taxes … again. Cutting bank taxes … again. And the free toaster in the deal? Forcing Indiana counties to race each other to slash the business personal property tax.

These moves will be lauded by the shareholders and board room chieftains who hulk over Indiana politics. They’ll be happy to add new taxpayer donations to their balance sheets.

And most never even asked for them.

On the other hand, consumers, workers and individual taxpayers — who already bear most of Indiana’s tax burden — are not guaranteed much in return for hundreds of millions in lost revenue. In a state that already has a top 10 business tax climate, there is no evidence these changes will prompt anyone to add a single job or raise a single worker’s wage.

It is the very definition of a “jobless creation” plan.

So what did we overpay for all this? We gave away valuable resources that might help solve Indiana’s most pressing problems. How will we educate Hoosiers to reverse the 10-year decline in our household incomes? How will women get new job skills in a state where their wages lag behind men? How will we increase the number of Hoosiers with a college degree or vocational skills and keep them here?

Given these upside down priorities, perhaps we must laud it as a minor miracle that Indiana will now join 40 other states in starting a pre-K program … even if ours is only a pilot program. We are also going to unleash some dollars to repair state road and bridges, at least for a while. Those are good things. They demonstrate our capacity to look ahead and invest in the future. It also shows that we are capable of making better decisions than we often do.

Which makes us all wish we could forget the one issue that sucked the air out of this session from its start: The continued insistence on putting the people of this state through an ugly, divisive debate on who can marry whom in Indiana. How strange that we’re not hearing that one after, “But wait, there’s more …”

Throughout this session, I am proud to say that Indiana House Democrats tried to provide alternatives. And fortunately, they are the kind of ideas that sell themselves.

We tried to increase the minimum wage and reward work through Ronald Reagan’s earned income tax credit. We offered a package of initiatives that would have inspired business owners to hire people now: Restoring the state’s Small Business Innovation Program, establishing Manufacturing Reinvestment Accounts, and creating a tax credit for businesses that give a shot to those who’ve been out of work.

We asked for greater accountability from the state’s Inspector General, the State Board of Finance, the Indiana Attorney General, and the Indiana Economic Development Corp. We tried to eliminate expensive bureaucrats who were hired to do the job that the Department of Education already does.

There was little or no support for these initiatives from the House super-majority, but there were some successes — ones for which credit should be shared.

We finally will begin to study the reasons why Indiana has such appalling numbers of sexual assaults of teen girls. We will offer incentives to encourage our best and brightest in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to stay in Indiana after graduation and use their expertise to teach others.

These were encouraging signs, but they do not compare to the opportunities we missed to achieve lasting prosperity for our struggling middle class.

It is difficult to look at this session and not think about what we could have bought instead. Indiana is a great state, but we can do better, and we deserve better.

Rep. Scott Pelath is a Democrat from Michigan City.

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