The Revenue Forecast: ‘Close Enough for Government Work’

October 9, 2009

For immediate release (622 words)

The news that Indiana missed last month’s revenue estimate by a whopping $165 million brings to mind the pejorative, “close enough for government work.”

When or if the nation emerges from the current malfeasance, we will want to rethink our reverence for state government. Particularly, we will want to choose which state model we would emulate, Michigan or Texas.

If we want our grandchildren to have jobs, we’ll pick Texas. And that, please know, will require an abrupt reversal of policy. For Indiana this last decade has followed the example of Michigan  — abashedly, to be sure, but we have followed it nonetheless.

That means the lockstep work rules and salary schedules of a teachers union are a higher priority than the bankruptcy of hometown businesses. That means instituting nominally conservative programs that promise only to slow rather than reverse the increase in taxes and other disincentives. That means ignoring a breakdown in the two greatest of economic engines, rule of law and the free market.

And thus does Indiana slouch toward Armageddon with Republicans as well as Democrats under the impression that wealth is government inspired and directed. Think about it. There hasn’t been a statewide election in decades where both candidates didn’t promise to “create” jobs.

The governor, in announcing the dismal revenue figure, was not prepared to offer a policy change, just the promise to try to keep Indiana “above water and solvent,” to try to keep the books balanced. His”outside” economic advisers apparently had told him he was on track, that we were going to miss the ice berg.

Yes, we feel like ticket holders on the Titanic, assured that the deck chairs will be kept properly aligned no matter what. It is why we stand a pathetic 49th in the category, “Growth Prospects,” in this year’s Forbes ranking.

Assessing blame is the responsibility of the Indiana electorate (or those parts of it not made irrelevant by gerrymander). Let us just say to all officeholders that coyness in the interest of political ambition is one thing but dooming your state to third-rate status is another.

A friend of this page, a candidate for the state legislature, is being pressed to sign one those 1990ish no-tax pledges. He is deferring, suspecting that we have passed the point where posture matters.

Indeed, the pledge sends a message that you don’t fully understand the gravity of the situation. Fighting off one more tax increase isn’t so much the problem as avoiding usurpations of government that will throw us into abject slavery.

The pledge could be updated. It should include a promise to reinforce property rights, to restore sanctity of contract, to institute right-to-work laws, to eschew inheritance taxes, to repeal the minimum wage and prevailing-wage, to neutralize the tort bar and to generally return to what is written in the state and national constitutions.

That in a nutshell is what the political majority in Texas has tried to accomplish in recent years, and investors appreciate the effort. It is why Texas economic numbers stand out.

Indiana, in contrast, continues to take comfort that its economy is outperforming Michigan, a state suffering the highest rate of unemployment since World War II. Our leadership, incredibly, draws the comparison over and over. The governor alluded to it in his revenue briefing. He might have added that our Zeppelin floats better than the Hindenburg, that we ski better than Senator Bono.

All of which leads us to a fuller understanding of what the late William F. Buckley meant that his mission was “to stand athwart history yelling, ‘Stop.’”

Stop — it would make a fine banner across the Statehouse entrance welcoming legislators back for another session of self-destruction.

Craig Ladwig is editor of The Indiana Policy Review.


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