Shaw Friedman: Pence, Hershman whistle past the graveyard
Thursday, June 30, 2016 10:19 AM
LaPORTE – State Sen. Brandt Hershman (R-Buck Creek) has emerged as one of Gov. Mike Pence’s chief surrogates, assigned mainly with the unenviable task of trying to paint the Hoosier economy as far better for ordinary working families than it really is.
Hershman’s latest, a column he sent around to Indiana newspapers last week, is notable for its “whistling past the graveyard” optimism that could only be attained from surveying the Hoosier economy from the corner office suites of the most prosperous CEO’s in our state, or from one of the few counties like Boone and Hamilton where the “gilded age” reigns supreme as state government continues to shower largesse on the few while neglecting 80 to 85 other counties.
For Hershman to wax rhapsodic about rankings from the likes of CEO Magazine, or to tout a business tax climate that is superior to other states, completely neglects the key indicator that his hero, former Gov. Mitch Daniels, said success should be judged by: Did Indiana increase per-capital income during state Republicans’ tour of duty? The fact is that yes, Indiana “is a State that Works” but only for the very few at the top of the heap.
Hershman flat-out misrepresents Indiana incomes as growing and outpacing the nation, and gives no source to back up his boastful claims. The fact is that the non-partisan Bureau of Economic Analysis data shows that Indiana’s income growth was 0.7% in the first quarter of this year and trailed the national average of 1.1%. Even the state economy that Hershman and Daniels try to favorably compare us to, Illinois, outpaced our growth.
Most damning is the very statistic that Daniels said his tenure should be judged by, per-capita income. According to business reporter Joseph Pete in the Times of Northwest Indiana in this past weekend’s editions, the Hoosier state has now seen per-capita income average $38,812 last year, which was 38th in the country and still down from when Republicans took over in 2005.
For Pence and Hershman to continue claiming that their endless cutting of corporate taxes, including cutting taxes on big banks and the biggest, multi-state corporations, has done anything other than deprive the state of much-needed tax revenues to improve roads and education is just plain false and misleading.
At the same time that Hershman claims Indiana’s economy is so superior to our neighbors, despite our abysmal per-capita income rankings, he actually has the temerity to claim quality of life is improving. Again, Brandt, take a look at the surveys released in just the past week as your pollyanna, rose-colored view of the world from the corporate suites just doesn’t match up with what Hoosiers are feeling when they gather around the kitchen table to pay their bills.
In just the last week, WNDU-TV reported that Washington-based personal finance site WalletHub ranked Indiana fourth from the bottom of states for military retirees. That’s right, Brandt. Those who’ve sacrificed and given their all for this country and our freedoms find that on 20 different factors from taxing military pensions to access to VA facilities and numbers of doctors and cost of living, we are nearly dead last in the nation. Another survey prepared by the VA itself and released this past week found Indiana ranked 47th in the nation in benefits paid to veterans as a percentage of the state’s total veteran population.
The same for the consumer website Bankrate.com which ranked the best and the worst states for overall retirement. Indiana placed 37th on that list last week, lower than our neighboring states, including Illinois.
At the other end of the age spectrum, the newly released Kids Count book just came out from the Annie Casey Foundation, finding that our state ranked 30th in the nation for overall child well being and 31st in the nation for child health.
I understand politics as well as the next guy, and certainly if you’re the Pence administration that has been so diverted with divisive, polarizing social issues, you want to change the subject and try to put a good face on your economic efforts, weak though they may be.
But it is downright objectionable for surrogates like Brandt Hershman to try to claim with a straight face that our Indiana economy is the “envy” of other states when the statistics and surveys released the very same week tell a much different story. Brandt, there’s massaging the message and then there’s flat-out mischaracterization, and what you and the governor are doing to claim we are the “envy” of other states just doesn’t square with reality.
Shaw R. Friedman is former legal counsel for the Indiana Democratic Party and a longtime HPI columnist.