Teaching Cats to Bark: A Do-Nothing Legislature

October 30, 2011

For immediate release (751 words)
Of all the things you have to worry about in these serious times, don’t worry about the Indiana Legislature, GOP majority or not, doing anything substantive to improve Indiana’s budgetary, fiscal or economic position. With Organization Day around the corner, Nov. 22, and a governing class marking time until the gubnatorial election, that is not cynicism, merely reality.
Here are the topics that could make a difference but will not be on the table:

  • Private Property — First and foremost, the Legislature as well as the Indiana Supreme Court have made clear they consider private property an abstract, something that reasonable men (lawyers) can parse, disassemble or regulate. If they are wrong, if private property is an absolute and therefore essential to economic growth, Indiana will fall into the third tier of states. That possibility will not be seriously raised on the floor of either house.
  • Multi-Issue Legislation — The state constitution prohibits the Legislature from passing laws bunched together to limit debate and accountability. They do it anyway, allowing a leadership clique and lobbyists to control the outcome of a session, and the Indiana Supreme Court ignores it. Ditto for a slew of laws and rules that ensconce party leadership and protect incumbency. A national study this year found that more than 50 percent of incumbent legislators faced no primary or general election competition compared with 26 percent last year.
  • The Collective Bargaining Act — The absurd idea that public-sector workers have the same rights as workers in the competitive sector has prevailed since the 1970s. This puts 80 percent of the state budget in the control of unelected, unaccountable privately managed “unions” and has created an unassailable political machine. The basis of the law, under both Republican and Democrat majorities, has never been challenged.
  • Tax Reform — Changes in the state tax system continue to be designed to buy votes rather than create jobs. As evidence of the folly of that strategy, a recent study found tax revenue declined despite an uptick in per-capita income. The likely explanation is that Hoosiers changed their economic habits in reaction to the larger economy and to avoid the ever-more-complicated machinations of the tax code — that and you can only get so much blood out of a middle-class, salaried turnip.
  • Higher Education — Texas and other states have reformed their university systems, wresting control from chancellors, deans and administrators, and giving parents, students and individual faculty more say in regard to the quality, cost and choice of higher education. Indiana has not. Indeed, there is a strong argument that grade inflation here is devaluing the ultimate product, an Indiana degree.

Introduction of a right-to-work law and repeal of the state inheritance tax will be encouraging signs, certainly, as would a strong legislative statement opposing the twin disasters of minimum and prevailing wage. But to have the maximum effect on Indiana economics, such a discussion should have begun a decade ago when other states became aware of how ruinous these measures are to investment. Also, it is likely that any reform will be watered down to the point of insignificance in respect to Indiana’s position vis-à-vis other states — a case of too little, too late.

Most troubling of all is that few in the leadership of either party share the belief that government must be kept small for smallness sake. The goal is not to run it “like a business” or make it more efficient (consolidate) but to ensure that government is simple enough that average citizens can understand and monitor its workings. The constitutional ability to do that and a passion for self-government (governing one’s self), thereby reaping the rewards or accepting the consequences, are what is meant by American exceptionalism.

Nor does the current leadership appreciate that government cannot by nature be proactively involved in prosperity, that it cannot create wealth but only refrain from taking it away or destroying it. Even Republicans busy themselves in such neo-mercantile schemes as tax rebates for politically favored companies and industries or training programs to win more contracts from the federal government. At the same time, they slap a tax on entrepreneurial activity as soon as it finds success, most recently in Internet commerce.

Look, Democrats already work tirelessly to extract from us the revenue to support a bloated, systemically flawed and misguided state government. They don’t need Republican help, and Inviting Rand Paul to Bean Dinners is not enough.

Milton Friedman famously described those trying to reform government without changing its makeup as being engaged in an attempt to transform a cat into a dog. This General Assembly may learn to bark but it will still be a cat.

Craig Ladwig is editor of The Indiana Policy Review.


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