Russ Stilwell: Missed opportunities for a state that can do better
Wednesday, May 29, 2013 4:42 AM
BOONVILLE – Thank goodness the 2013 General Assembly is over and the leaders of our state decided to put the brakes on some of the frivolous bills that came before our lawmakers.
The infamous ag-gag bill, a provision that would have criminalized almost any electronic messaging that might damage a Hoosier business, is my favorite. Speaker Bosma gets an A-plus for his leadership in pulling this freight train disaster from the agenda. Ever wonder if Sinclair Lewis would have finished “The Jungle” if the ag-gag bill had been in place? We might still be digesting body parts in our canned ham.
By no means was there only one irrational proposal in this past session. Some survived while others got the deserved meat ax. The Marion County government reform bill (SB 621) clearly is one that should have gotten the fatal blow. But sometimes, partisan legislators just can’t help themselves.
If the need for a quick and concise explanation of what “power grab” means, look no further than Senate Bill 621. It is a thesis on the subject. Google “power grab” and you should be directed to SB 621.
It’s beyond the bounds of believability when Sen. Mike Young, the Indianapolis Republican author of this spitefulness, said the it was not a power grab nor political, just “good policy.” If you believe that, then I think someone could substitute rabbit droppings on your ice cream, call it chocolate chips and convince you how yummy it is.
At the conclusion of the session House Speaker Brian Bosma called the session “a tremendous success.” Democrats called the session a missed opportunity. I guess success and missed opportunities are in the eye of the beholder.
We should commend Speaker Bosma for his inclusion of the minority caucus and respecting their rights. Of course, this might have been a little easier with Leader Pelath than it might have been with former Speaker Pat Bauer. Scott Pelath is smart, articulate and willing to work with anyone, when he and his caucus are treated with respect. This seeming openness between the two leaders is a breath of fresh air in a legislative chamber that was often all-out political combat.
You can be certain that Governor Pence and Speaker Bosma did not fail to notice that working with the new Democrat leadership was a welcome change. I can still remember then-Leader Bosma walking into Speaker Bauer’s office during a recess in the final hours of the 2009 session. He had a simple request. Then-Congressman Pence was in the chamber and Bosma asked the Speaker if he would allow him to introduce Pence and maybe permit him a couple minutes of remarks. Acknowledging that we were seemingly pressed for time, Bosma pointed out to a disinterested Speaker that Pence was the number three ranking Republican in the U.S. House. Without fanfare or any sense of empathy for the request, Bauer just repeated that we were “too busy.” As often is the case when Bosma gets angry, blood raced to his face as he exited the office exasperated.
Right after the furious exit, half-heartedly I said, “Pat, you are the meanest person I have ever known.” With a broad smile and a twinkle in his eyes he graciously said, “thank you.”
Five minutes later the House was gaveled in. Bosma tried to recognize Congressman Pence from his seat, but was ruled out of order by Speaker Bauer. After all, the Speaker had said we were too busy. And then, like a bolt of lightning, the Speaker announced that the House would be in recess for a three-hour dinner break. So much for being too busy.
Yes, you can be sure that Bosma and Pence did not miss the daily diatribe of former Speaker Bauer.
There is no doubt that Governor Pence and Speaker Bosma welcomed the new change of House Democrat leadership. I’m even more certain that Pence will never know how fortunate he was in working with Leader Pelath. Lines of communication and mutual respect among leaders are key elements to making the legislative process work. Bosma and Pelath both deserve our respect for their mutual openness with each other.
The bigger question this past session is what did the House super majority do to promote jobs and a better quality of life for Hoosiers. If this were a “bull’s eye” query, the center of the target would say “missed opportunity.” It seems like every time a large tax cut is implemented, our legislators toot their political horns. Such was the case this year as well. A billion dollar tax cut. Something for everyone. Increased funding for schools, roads and child services. What more could a Hoosier want? Maybe the average Hoosier just might want to be included in these endeavors.
Governor Pence got a half a loaf of his tax-cut bread, though this tax-cut manna does virtually nothing for the bottom line of most Hoosiers. When fully implemented, this cut would not come close to the Daniels tax rebate that every Hoosier benefited from in 2012. The average Hoosier will see just over a hundred bucks. The average Hoosier millionaire? About $3,500 bucks.
The unfortunate fate for average Hoosiers continues. There seems to be a common theme about Hoosier tax cuts. The 25-percent corporate tax cut was accelerated. The financial institutions had a tax cut. And the inheritance tax is eliminated. There’s a common thread about these tax cuts. They help rich people and not average Hoosiers.
Ask a Hoosier you might see on the street three simple questions. Will you benefit from a corporate tax cut? Are you going to celebrate the big-bank tax cut? And finally, do you think you will ever inherit any monies that will even be eligible for an inheritance tax? My best guess is that the answers are a resounding “no” on every question. What about those omnipresent claims that corporate tax cuts will create jobs? Actually, I believe that folks who are already highly paid and near the top of the corporate ladder would only get bigger bonuses with such a cut. Let me explain.
A couple of years ago I asked a corporate finance officer of a large Indiana company what would happen if they received a 25% Hoosier corporate tax cut. Would they create jobs with the new-found money? The answer was sobering. “We don’t create jobs with tax cuts. We create jobs when there is more demand for our product. We cut jobs when the demand is less demand. I hate to say this, but any new-found money at the end of the year is added to our profit line. That extra profit would just mean my share of the profits (bonus) would just be larger.”
I asked an honest question and received an honest answer. Want to lay a wager at an Indiana casino that the same holds true for the financial institutions tax? You just might win that wager.
When discussing the action or inaction of the past session, one has to wonder why there wasn’t an emphasis on jobs. Two of the state’s largest jobs initiatives that were immediate, shovel ready and would employ thousands of highly paid construction workers were placed on the shelf of missed opportunity by the legislature and Pence.
The legislature rendered the Rockport Coal Gasification plant dead in the water and Pence withdrew state support for the Posey County Midwest Fertilizer plant. Combined, these southwest Indiana facilities would have created thousands of highly paid construction jobs for several years and hundreds of highly paid permanent jobs for the next several decades.
And have you ever considered why the legislature and Pence said no to the Affordable Care Act? How in the world can you say no to a health care plan that will cost the state zero dollars through 2016, insure more than 360,000 uninsured Hoosiers, and add billions in new heath care spending with upwards of 30,000 sustained and new jobs? The answer: Only if you live in Indiana.
Hoosier federal taxes will pay for insuring folks in all of our contiguous states and elsewhere, while we continue to ponder the fate of more than 800,000 uninsured Hoosiers just because we can. One would think that if Arkansas could find a solution for buying into the program then we Hoosiers might do so as well.
If all the facts about the entire 2013 session were presented in a fair and impartial manner, one would wonder what the average Hoosier would think of the handiwork of the 2013 session. Would they call it a “tremendous success” as portrayed by Speaker Bosma or “a missed opportunity” as relayed by Leader Pelath?
The bull’s eye was ready to be pierced with arrows of opportunity for our state and not only did they miss the center, they missed the target as well. It was a missed opportunity for a state that can do better.
Stilwell is the former House Democratic Majority Leader and an HPI columnist.