The Outstater: The GOP and Taxes

June 21, 2017


IT TOOK AN OUTSTATE EDITOR, Dan Carden of the Northwest Indiana Times, to compile the 45 different tax increases approved this year by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. And he tells us his count does not include allowing the Natural Resources Commission to increase 25 different fees or include a variety of increases for gaming and corporate securities.

In all, there is cause to reassess why you registered with the GOP in the first place. But it would be simplistic to assume taxes are always too high. That is reactionary and hollow and difficult to defend. It gets muddied pretty quickly in the typical political wrestling match. Taxes, as they say, are the price of civilization, and any tax increase can be rationalized as only a few pennies a day for that mythical, average Hoosier household.

Opposing tax increases, rather, is a means to an end, that is, keeping government small enough that regular citizens, including journalists, can keep track of what’s going on. And that being the test, how many of us can explain the logic behind each of those 45 tax increases? How many of us even know our taxes are going up?

“One reason it’s tricky to assess a state’s tax burden is that much of it is hidden from many taxpayers,” notes an editorial in today’s Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. “Unlike general taxes, such as those on sales and income, that affect everyone, there are many taxes and fees that affect only select groups. And it might surprise people how many of them had activity this year.”

If you are an established Republican, confident in the political calculations of an Eric Holcomb, a David Long or a Brian Bosma, there is nothing to worry about. Others, though, might want to ask the GOP leadership why it never gets around to closing down useless programs or regulations, or why the deterioration of roadways and wastewater systems comes as a political surprise, or why nobody can put their finger on the reason teachers and students in public schools never seem to benefit from education “reform,” or how taking cash (tax revenue) from citizens and giving it to politically selected businesses strengthens the economy.

Please know that merely calling your most immediate Party representative won’t get you the answers. The Party apparatus (municipal and county chairmen) is largely unaccountable and has been since rules changes in the 1980s made replacing chairmen difficult to impossible. Nor is writing stiffer language into the Party platform, a document rarely read and never honored.

More effective is a challenge in the primary election. Several groups around the state have demonstrated how to defeat incumbents who have, shall we say, outgrown their electorate. It doesn’t take a lot of money. All that is needed is an organized door-to-door campaign focused on the incumbent’s statements and voting record.

As a practical matter, such challenges are limited by the low number of solid, hard-working candidates who can be identified and funded in time to organize for the next election. Statewide, though, to send even two or three more legislators to Indianapolis who will resist politics as usual can shake up a caucus and make the undoable doable.

Yet, the process is slow and uncertain. Today’s crusading reformer becomes tomorrow’s swishy incumbent. It is worth the effort nonetheless. For the most disastrous tax of all is paid for in lost trust, when a government loses the confidence of its citizens.

Indiana is about there.  — Craig Ladwig


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