Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
Last year, the people of Indiana entrusted the Republican Party with some of their most precious possessions.
They have a new, polished Republican governor. They have two powerful Republican “super-majorities” in the House and the Senate. The Republicans hold every state office except for school superintendent, and its current steward, Glenda Ritz, works hard to keep politics out of education.
What the people wanted in return was simple: Pay attention to hardworking taxpayers. Alleviate their fears of slipping out of the middle class. Spur opportunities for people trying to get into the middle class. Set a clear direction for our kids’ future.
Instead, during the 2013 legislative session, the people were told that what they have is good enough.
That probably is not what folks had in mind.
When the Legislature convened in January, Democrats gave some heartfelt advice to our freshly triumphant friends across the aisle. Put the middle class first.
They heard us. But they didn’t listen.
Let us always remember that the middle class is Indiana’s economic engine. They buy the consumer goods and spend at local businesses. They create profits for their employers. They pay most of the income and sales taxes.
But they are struggling.
Indiana’s unemployment rate stubbornly hovers right below 9 percent. Hundreds of thousands of working taxpayers have only the emergency room as their primary health care option. Median household income trails the rest of the nation.
The Legislature’s response, unfortunately, was to tackle these problems by ignoring them.
Legislative leaders punted on the biggest issue of our generation, which is the expansion of health care under the Affordable Care Act.
Remember that we already pay taxes to Washington for the ACA. We now risk that our taxes will support health care in Michigan and Illinois, while our citizens flood into chaotically expensive ERs.
Middle-class taxpayers and premium payers cannot afford that anymore.
And neither can the 30,000 taxpaying workers who would fill the jobs that depend on health care expansion.
Nor can the 400,000 uninsured Hoosiers who would be lifted out of the ranks of the uninsured and into the middle class.
Even the one Republican idea for helping middle-class consumers — Gov. Mike Pence’s income tax cut — was turned into a lose-lose situation by Republican hand-wringing and pointless compromises. The state will now lose millions in revenue that could train middle-class workers. In return, the typical taxpayer will get an extra buck a week to spend — starting two years from now.
It’s tax cut hell: Less revenue with no economic benefit in return.
Instead, the super-majorities fell back on what often makes them happy, which is getting money in the hands of folks who may or may not help the rest of us. Utilities, insurance companies, banks, race car drivers and corporations were all lavished with their expected favors.
Some of those things are fine, I suppose. Businesses have to be successful. But when you add them up, most of the breaks are going to those who need them the least. Crowing about the largest tax cut in history doesn’t count for much when it only means a couple of extra bucks a week for too many Hoosiers. It’s not that great a deal for them.
Unfortunately, those with all the power have forgotten that these favors don’t work unless our vast middle class is confident, secure and thinking about spending a little more.
This year, the Republican powers in Indiana did not try and ended up failing spectacularly for the middle class. They were given everything, and decided to rest easy.
As a result, a precious opportunity was squandered.
Rep. Scott Pelath, a Democrat, is the Indiana House of Representatives Minority Leader. He is from Michigan City.