Indiana GOP Leadership Failing Budget Test
by Craig Ladwig
Dr. Stephen M. King of Taylor University, a political scientist, offers Hoosiers a template to measure the quality of their political leadership between elections. Just in time, it turns out. The Indianapolis Star over the weekend delivered a lecture to its readers on the difficulty of leadership these days and the need to lower expectations.
To summarize the editorial, the Star trusts Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley and House Speaker Brian Bosma when they say that state government just can’t get any smaller right now. So please don’t distract them; they’re doing the best that can be done. And by the way, the uppity insistence of a new governor on cutting state income taxes by 10 percent is not helpful.
“It was exceedingly difficult to keep the state on a fiscally sustainable path while tax revenues tumbled and the demand for services grew as a result of rising unemployment and falling incomes,” the Star editors wrote in supporting the leadership’s policy of protecting major government revenue streams.
The problem, you see, is that taxpayers haven’t done their part. They haven’t found taxable employment in numbers that the leadership judges adequate for the needs of government. So their solution is to maintain tax pressure on those employers and investors who might otherwise find ways to become more productive and create new jobs?
That’s not leadership, that’s accounting — bad accounting.
Dr. King’s template skips over journalistic posture to empirically weigh leadership decisions on three factors: personality, politics and policy. However such a template is applied to the current budget debate, my guess is that business will not be done as usual during the remainder of this session. For the legislative rank and file is by now fully aware that the electorate is concerned about its own little budgets at its own little statehouses (in most cases, kitchen tables).
What voters see in plain sight all around them is an Indiana, despite the proclaimed heroics of its legislative leaders, becoming a third-tier state. Indeed, Dr. King cites data showing us falling behind the nation and region in five of six key economic indicators.
Leadership, being leadership, will disagree with all of this. The warning signs can be dismissed as cyclical. The Tea Party can be co-opted. Issues can be muddied, incongruity explained, embarrassments covered, the unruly disciplined, facts disputed, reportage and commentary skewed. Power always thinks it will hold.
It cannot be denied, though, that we are returning to a time when Hoosiers want to send legislators to the statehouse as friends and neighbors and not as mere lawyers to court. The difference is that friends are expected to sincerely share our beliefs; lawyers are only expected to win the next case on the docket.
You don’t have to be a Karl Rove to know what this means around the electoral corner. Voters will be looking for representation that is authentic and trustworthy. Compare the popular reaction to freshman Sen. Rand Paul’s impromptu filibuster with John McCain’s characterization of it as “wacko.” Compare the governor’s election-tested budget with the elitism of the Star editors.
So legislators ask voters to pay for new infrastructure and shore up basic education because their super majority won’t swear off costly public-sector collective bargaining and a prevailing wage on public construction. Well, that is irresponsible. It is asking your spouse to take a second job because you spent the grocery envelope on beer and pickled eggs.
Under such calculation, the laws of economics don’t apply to government itself. For Mr. Bosma and Mr. Kenley, past accounting and spending errors don’t carry over to the next page, do not prompt systemic adjustment. The leadership thereby proclaims itself supremely exempt from the rules by which the rest of us live.
And that, as Dr. King’s template might predict, is a leadership that will not stand.
Craig Ladwig is editor of The Indiana Policy Review.