News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 10, 2013

EDITORIAL: State should stay smart about its tax resources

Investments needed in schools, roadways

The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — If Gov. Mike Pence gets his wish, incoming motorists will see “Welcome to Indiana” highway signs also bearing the phrase “the lowest taxed state in the Midwest.”

Let’s hope those visitors don’t hit a pothole as they momentarily divert their gaze.

We also hope the traffic inbound to the Hoosier state includes the Koch brothers — billionaires from Kansas and New York. It would be enlightening for both to physically drive a few dozen miles on the backroads and highways across our state, Indiana. Many of those byways are bumpier than any time in recent memory. Some are crumbling. Those problems matter here.

The Koch twins’ national right-wing political action group, Americans for Prosperity, is using its Indiana chapter to pressure Republican state legislators into submitting to the governor’s push for a 10-percent cut in the personal income tax. Those same GOP lawmakers, who control both chambers of the Legislature, crafted a two-year budget that commits $200 million more for education and $500 million more for roads than Pence’s plan. They left out the governor’s tax cut to reinvest in schools and highways, two areas hard-hit by recession-era cutbacks.

The state reps and senators live here, drive the neglected roads, and understand firsthand the impact of $300 million in cuts to elementaries, middle schools and high schools during the Great Recession.

In response, AFP plans a six-figure media blitz to scorn the defiant Republicans. Ironically, those GOP lawmakers are about to experience an assault from the same group that targeted national public officeholders who would not embrace a rigid, tea-party agenda — primarily Democrats, but also consensus-building Republicans such as former Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana.

To be sure, that pressure can be withering and occasionally successful. Ads painted Lugar as an out-of-touch liberal, of all things, and he lost in last May’s primary to compromise-averse Richard Mourdock. In November, though, the full spectrum of Hoosier voters rejected the ploy — and Mourdock — and instead gave the seat held by Republicans for nearly 40 years to a more Lugar-like moderate, Democrat Joe Donnelly.

Likewise, pragmatism should rule in the General Assembly. Republicans should stick by their budget proposal.

As this AFP campaign unfolds, Hoosiers will undoubtedly wonder why Republicans would snub a tax-cut plan by a governor of their own party.

Pence, then a congressman in Washington, came up with the tax-cut idea during his campaign for governor and didn’t consult the GOP state legislators who’ve labored through the austerity policies of recent years. They know Indiana already is a beacon of fiscal frugality. Taxes are among the nation’s lowest. Cuts have been made to K-12 education, colleges, social services, corrections and public safety, and environmental protection. Local governments and school districts have downsized. The state workforce hasn’t been smaller since the 1970s.

And now a new governor and a national super PAC want them to slice another half-billion dollars a year with another tax cut?

“It’s easy to bang a ‘Hey, let’s cut taxes drum,’” said Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, a conservative Republican. “But you’ve got to be sure it’s a smart cut, [and] it’s sustainable in the long run, not just in an election cycle. That’s our goal.”

“Tax cut” looks good on a campaign platform, whether in 2012 or 2016, which the Koch brothers’ super PAC obviously knows. “Tax cut” may also look good on a “Welcome to Indiana” sign. Thousands of folks who plan to stay here, though, are ready to see “Road Construction Ahead.”