I Don’t Think You Understand How This Works….

Okay…I wasn’t going to weigh in on the ridiculous clerk who has been refusing to comply with the law and numerous court decisions requiring her to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but these paragraphs in a recent story got me:

Davis, an elected official and Democrat, has argued that she should be exempt from following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges because she objects to same-sex marriage for religious beliefs.

She had asked the judge to delay his ruling until the Kentucky state legislature, which won’t be in session again until January, can pass legislation that would exempt her and other clerks who don’t wish to follow the law.

Does this woman really believe that the state legislature can pass a bill that–in effect–overrules the U.S. Constitution?

It’s depressing enough when ordinary citizens don’t understand the most basic structure of American government, but how in the world does someone who has spent decades working in a government office remain so appallingly ignorant of the Constitution, the Supremacy Clause, and the operation of the First Amendment?

It’s hard to escape the suspicion that this is intentional ignorance, grandstanding–that no one is really that stupid.

It’s bad enough that she seems embarrassingly ignorant of the nature of religious liberty. As many observers have pointed out, she is entitled to believe anything she wants, but she is not entitled to a government job or paycheck. If her beliefs prevent her from doing what the job requires, she needs to quit.

If I told the University that my religious beliefs “exempted” me from having to teach certain students, believe me, I wouldn’t be on the faculty very long!

A Facebook friend put it this way: if a Quaker public official refused to issue a gun permit, citing “sincerely held” pacifist religious beliefs, would Davis’ “religious liberty” defenders insist that those sincerely held religious beliefs should be accommodated? Or are her defenders more likely to be a bit selective about their demands for accommodation?

It is difficult to identify the most offensive element of this sordid effort to blame discrimination against LGBT folks on God, but I think the winner may be a statement issued yesterday by Davis’ attorney, Matt Staver of the Liberty Counsel. Stare had the chutzpah (google it) to compare Davis to the Jews under the Nazis.

According to Staver, sanctioning a government employee for refusal do the job she is being paid to do is just like sending millions of people to the gas chambers.

I want to pity these people. I really do. But they seem so unworthy of human compassion.



John Ketzenberger’s Required Read

John Ketzenberger’s “Business Insider” columns should be required reading for anyone who cares about economic policy–and that should be all of us.

Ketzenberger, for those who don’t know, directs Indiana’s Fiscal Policy Institute, and is thus privy to a wealth of information about Indiana’s economic performance. He is also able to “connect the dots” between various economic indicators in clear English, as he did in his column in last Sunday’s Indianapolis Star. (For example: Job creation is only part of the picture; because Indiana workers make less than workers in other Midwest states, they have less buying power–one reason Indiana’s economy remains sluggish. We need to recognize that the number of jobs may be high while per capita income remains low.)

As illuminating as his economic analysis consistently is, however, what really struck me about last Sunday’s column was its conclusion. Ketzenberger drew on his years of observing the operation of Indiana policies on the prospects of Hoosier citizens and offered five recommendations:

  • Understand it’s not a political thing, it’s a practical thing. And that thing is compromise. Nobody has the market cornered on good ideas, so it’d be nice to see business leverage partnerships and politicians apply a little common sense. Compromise, contrary to popular belief, is not a sign of weakness, but it takes a lot of fortitude and smarts to apply it.
  • Mitch Daniels was right—never mix social issues with public policy making. It’s hard to debate the state’s budgetary priorities when all of the attention is on efforts to discriminate against a class of people in the name of protecting religious liberty already enshrined in the constitution.
  • When we’re ready to get serious about the issues, I’d suggest we consider them in this order: long-term infrastructure funding, comprehensive long-term education policy, ensuring the public safety net is wide as possible.
  • Let’s agree to destigmatize taxes. This is not a call for a tax hike, a cut or dramatic shifts. It’s just a plea to recognize that taxes are necessary to pay for domestic tranquility—an organized community, public safety and basic services. Treat all taxpayers fairly, use the money wisely and balance the need for fiscal responsibility with the other two points and we can get on with substantive policy debates.
  • Finally, we must remind our elected officials they are leaders obliged to serve all of the citizens, not just those who paid the freight or voted for them. Votes are a far greater currency than all the big-money interests, but only if people choose to participate. The next time you see a negative campaign ad, remember its purpose is to drive independent people out of the voting booth. Maintain your independence and vote.

Yes, yes and yes to all of these!

Constitution Day–And Other Public Service Announcements

September 17th is Constitution Day.

Bet you didn’t know that, because it hasn’t gotten very much attention. In 2004, Congress passed a law requiring that any school receiving federal funds of any kind provide educational programming on the significance of the signing of the Constitution.

Public school systems also have an obligation to mark the day, but many of them evidently struggle to find appropriate speakers and/or materials.

Fear not! The ACLU to the rescue!

The ACLU of Indiana will send trained volunteers into classrooms in central Indiana. (If you are an educator who wants to have this programming in your classroom this year, you can sign up on the organization’s website.) You can also download all sorts of helpful things–the Constitution, study guides and other materials, a classroom PowerPoint presentation and a wide variety of online resources, including games, curriculum, and videos.

As the website says, nothing is more important to our democracy than improving civic literacy. So spread the word.

Okay–so you aren’t a teacher, and you don’t need help marking Constitution Day.

If you live Indianapolis and feel the need to know more about the city and how it works before November’s municipal elections, have we got a deal for you!

The Center for Civic Literacy, the League of Women Voters, the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, the Urban League, the Indianapolis Bar Foundation, the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee, the Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center, NUVO, WFYI, and several other civic organizations are working with the Indianapolis Public Library to sponsor three forums to be held at Central Library. They’re free and open to the public. You can learn more–and register to attend one or all of them– here.

Have you always wondered what a municipal corporation is? How the City-County Council works? Who pays taxes and who doesn’t? What our most pressing problems are? Where we see our City in 2020? Come find the answers to these questions and many others! Forums will be held on September 21st, October 6th and October 20th.

The series is called “Electing Our Future: What You Need to Know about Indianapolis Government In Order to Cast an Informed Vote.”

No politics, no spin, just basic information that will help you evaluate the priorities and capacities of the candidates for Mayor and Council who are asking for your vote.

See you there!


Efficiency versus Transparency

A couple of days ago, a friend re-posted a FaceBook meme–one of those numerous sardonic messages on what appear to be digital postcards. The message was  “for all the taxes they take out of my paycheck, the least they could do is send me a picture of the ghetto family my tax money is supporting, to hang on my refrigerator.”

My friend’s response was perfect: “Here you go: Here are pictures of Walmart, Kaiser Permanente, Citibank, BP…”

Leave aside, for this discussion, the casual racism (we know what “ghetto” meant) and the mean-spiritedness, the implication that lazy “takers” are being supported by self-styled,  hard-working “makers.”

What the statement really reflected was a widespread lack of understanding of corporate welfare, and the magnitude of the tax dollars flowing to profitable companies through the tax code.

Let’s stipulate that some of these subsidies can be justified. (Others not so much.) Let’s also stipulate that it is more efficient to subsidize an activity through the tax code than through a grant. (Why send money to the federal government and then have that government send it back?)

Let’s also stipulate, however, that there are situations in which transparency should trump efficiency. This is one of those situations.

Every time lawmakers vote to make what CPAs call a “tax expenditure,” that credit or deduction represents money otherwise due to the federal government that it doesn’t take in. The process is more efficient, but the fiscal impact is no different from a payment out of the treasury.

What is different is the ability of the public to monitor the decision to subsidize and to evaluate the justification for the subsidy.

What the federal government pays out in TANF or SNAP is visible; what it pays to GE or Exxon or Walmart is buried in the bowels of the Internal Revenue Code.

If we insisted that all corporate welfare payments also be paid in cash, in the full light of day, we might be able to begin a reasonable discussion of the merits, magnitudes and justifications for those subsidies.

It probably would be news to the people who posted that vile Internet message, but they are supporting a whole lot of people who not only aren’t “ghetto,” but who are pulling down salaries most of us ordinary “makers” can only dream of.

When Debt is Investment

I recently ran across a very interesting report from the Brookings Institution, arguing for a “balance sheet” approach to fiscal policy. The basic argument, in “economic-ese” was

For a long-term balance-sheet approach to gain traction, politicians will have to drop the ideological biases that are distorting fiscal policy. Proponents of austerity currently use nominal debt figures to scare voters, even in countries with record-low interest rates and large private-sector profits that are not being channeled toward investment. To counter their arguments, opinion-makers should emphasize the expected long-term returns on incremental public investment, not with ideological arguments, but with concrete examples from various sectors in the recent past that have had reasonably good rate of returns.

In everyday English, author Kermal Dervis was arguing–among other things– that we need to distinguish between kinds of debt.

The mortgage on your house is debt. So is the credit-card balance from that shopping spree you indulged in. But the house is a long-term asset–the clothes you bought probably aren’t.

When we look at the books of a business, the purchase of more modern tools and machinery are an investment that will allow the business to earn more in the future (hence the saying “you have to spend money to make money”), while the CEO’s acquisition of a spiffy and expensive corporate jet is unlikely to improve the bottom line.

When we invest tax dollars in improved infrastructure or education, those investments generate future productivity and economic growth.

When we play games with the tax code to subsidize profitable businesses (with influential lobbyists), not so much.

All debt is not equal.