Letters to the Legislators: ‘An Un-Thanks’

January 12, 2012

State Rep. Jeff Espich
Chairman, Appropriations Committee
The Indiana Statehouse

Dear Chairman Espich:

Ellen DeGeneres had a funny bit ready for her acceptance speech at last night’s People’s Choice Awards. She read from a list of “peoples” that she expressly wanted to “un-thank” — a nasty letter-writer from Topeka, Kan., a fourth-grade detractor on her school bus (“you know who you are”).

It is time to apply this perverse thinking to your House committee, Representative Espich. My foundation’s constant listing of higher taxes and greater intrusion is getting us nowhere — becoming boring, if you were to be perfectly honest with us.

Let’s list, then, the things that state government is doing well, on which it is spending our money wisely and with inarguable good effect:

OK, we’ll need some help. Fortunately, you gave us a hint in an interview this week with the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Niki Kelly, Statehouse reporter, set up your comment nicely with a supportive lead sentence defining the agenda for this General Assembly:

“Just because Gov. Mitch Daniels reached a sales tax agreement with the online retail giant Amazon.com doesn’t mean there isn’t more work for legislators to do . . .”

Some who will be paying an additional seven percent for their next book or disc might wonder if that is really the “work” that we elect legislators and governors to do — but moving on, you then confided to Ms. Kelly that:

“There is growing concern that we are losing money that we’d like to be spending on something important.”

And there you have it, Representative Espich. The problem, the work left to do, is this: Indiana citizens are keeping money that other people, more important people, would like to spend.

Which segues to a favorite New Yorker cartoon: Two well-heeled capitalists are looking down at workers in the factory below. One says to the other, “How do I know it’s a cost-of-living raise? How do I know they’re not going to put it in the bank?”

Keeping with our perverse model, how do we know that you and Governor Daniels are going to spend that extra money collected on Internet sales for something “important”? Or tangentially, can a Niki Kelly be trusted to tell us when you have taken too much? When you have spent it on something not important?

Boy, that’s a good question isn’t it? In this brave new world it’s difficult to imagine anything that the Democrat Journal Gazette or, for that matter, the Republican Indianapolis Star, would think not important for you to finance or regulate.

The closest they come is that government should be more efficient. But that takes legislative form as “consolidation,” which is your political code for making it bigger (say “no” to township nepotism). Some economists tell us that will mean even higher per-capita taxation.

When I first began writing editorials in the late 1970s, Representative Espich, the most radical issue on the table was a flat tax. I can see now that it never had a chance. What officialdom decided was needed instead was a sharply inclined tax — now at 65 percent by some estimates.

But what strikes me as most important 30 years later is that the suggested rate of that flat tax, the amount that both proponents and opponents agreed was required to keep government at then spending levels, was 10 percent.

So in the manner of Ellen DeGeneres on the People’s Choice stage, and before we accept our 2012 award from the Indiana Department of Revenue, we might want to un-thank all of those unnamed legislators and congressmen responsible for our being here, for being in this situation.

(Applause)

And yes, you know who you are.



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