Op-Ed: The Governor’s Budget

January 23, 2013


“Now is the time when men work quietly in the fields and women weep softly in the kitchen: the legislature is in session and no man’s property is safe.” — Daniel Webster

by Craig Ladwig

Republican legislators, the target audience of last night’s State of the State address, had cause to silently reorder their constituency relationship. Some no doubt decided to become more of a political agent. Others, though, decided to become something new, or at least something that hasn’t been tried for a while — a citizen legislator.

In normal times, the two roles commingle with the best of them. Even the most conscientious find moments when they have to be just a bit of a mandarin to meet voter expectations. Those who are most comfortable with that duplicity have floated to the top and leadership. Those who were least comfortable dropped to the bottom and ignominy.

This may not be true any more. Hoosiers who listened to the new governor were focused on their own little budgets at their own little statehouses (in most cases, the kitchen table). Listening to the State of the State, they couldn’t help but realize that they are expert in the economics of their times — as expert as the speech writers or even their own legislators (arguably more so because they are dealing with their own money).

We are returning to a time when Hoosiers send legislators to the Statehouse as friends and neighbors, not as lawyers to court. The difference is that the former are expected to sincerely share our political, religious and philosophical beliefs, the latter are only expected to win the next case on the docket.

You don’t have to be a Karl Rove to know that this means voters will be looking for representation (political relationships) that is, above all, authentic and trustworthy.

Earlier this month, the governor put down an uncommonly straightforward budget, making it unassailable by the usual socio-political means. Moreover, the budget appears to build on the fiscal successes of the previous administration in a concerted way that promises to reduce the size of Indiana government.

That could mean surpluses, tax cuts and, eventually, the increase in private investment and jobs that some economists tell us accompanies such policy. At the least, it would send an economic message to the nation that Indiana “gets it.”

So who could be against that?

Yes, well, liberal Democrats of course, of whom, judging from the presidential inauguration, are pretty much all Democrats these days. It threatens their contention that governments, in good times or bad, should grow larger to keep pace with what they see as the uninterruptible advance of Homo sapiens toward the Utopia of the moment.

Opposition also has come from GOP leadership, at least initially, and perhaps even from tacticians within the governor’s office. The Indianapolis political class does not appreciate any attempt by any governor to make the Statehouse less palatine. Who will cut the deals, make the exceptions, apply the realpolitik so that everything comes out fair, balanced and neutral? Who will guide this historic super-majority? Who, in sum, will make the sausage we call state government?

“(The governor’s budget) puts transportation funding totally in the hands of the economy; if the economy tanks, there’s no transportation dollars,” complained House Speaker Brian Bosma to Network Indiana.

To appreciate the difficulty of the Speaker’s position, ask your spouse to take a second job because you spent the grocery budget on beer. Under such calculations, the laws of economics don’t apply to government itself. Even past accounting and spending errors don’t carry over to the next page. The leadership, in effect, proclaims itself supremely exempt from the rules by which the rest of us live, an expression of hubris that is always fatal.

So let’s hope Mr. Bosma and his friends take a step back in coming weeks. They need to know that this is no longer about them. The state and nation are in full crises. The Republican brand is not exactly flying off the shelves. From now on, every issue headed their way will not be “politically survivable” in the old sense of the words.

Leadership, being leadership, might disagree. The Tea Party, it hopes, can be co-opted. The warning signs in the polling data can be dismissed as “cyclical.” Issues can be muddied, incongruity explained, embarrassments covered, the unruly disciplined, facts disputed, reportage skewed. Power always thinks it will hold.

More and more, though, the legislative rank and file recognize that their relationship with friends and neighbors must be restored. They must be citizens first and politicians second.

A real budget is the right place to start.

Craig Ladwig is editor of The Indiana Policy Review.

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