Tag Archives: Indiana

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!

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things….

Like reasonable laws.

Recently, Indianapolis City-County Councilor Kip Tew sponsored an ordinance that would  require people to file a report if a gun they owned was lost or stolen.

Laws requiring gun owners to report loss or theft of a weapon help police in several ways:  they deter gun trafficking and discourage straw purchasing; they  facilitate the return of the guns, if found, to their lawful owners; and they help police disarm people who aren’t legally eligible to possess firearms.

As an officer friend pointed out recently, timely reporting of gun thefts and losses allows police to trace guns more effectively, and makes the successful prosecution of users of stolen guns more likely.

A very small step, granted, but a step in the right direction.

Currently, however, there aren’t enough votes to pass the measure. Not because council members are opposed to it, but because several of them worry that it might violate a relatively recent provision of the Indiana Code–a provision so ridiculous I couldn’t believe it was real.

Here are the relevant parts of Indiana Code 35-47-11.1 – 7.

Except as provided in section 4 of this chapter, a political subdivision may not regulate:
(1) firearms, ammunition, and firearm accessories;
(2) the ownership, possession, carrying, transportation, registration, transfer, and storage of firearms, ammunition, and firearm accessories; and
(3) commerce in and taxation of firearms, firearm ammunition, and firearm accessories.

Anyone “adversely affected” by such an action is authorized to sue for damages.

This is yet another example of the legislature telling local governments what they can and cannot do (my Home Rule complaint). And in this case, what our local folks can’t do is anything that even smells of gun regulation.

But the rest of this abomination is even worse:

A person is “adversely affected” for purposes of section 5 of this chapter if either of the following applies:
(2) The person is a membership organization that:
(A) includes two (2) or more individuals described in subdivision (1); and
(B) is dedicated in whole or in part to protecting the rights of persons who possess, own, or use firearms for competitive, sporting, defensive, or other lawful purposes.

Sec. 7. A prevailing plaintiff in an action under section 5 of this chapter is entitled to recover from the political subdivision the following:
(1) The greater of the following:
(A) Actual damages, including consequential damages.
(B) Liquidated damages of three (3) times the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees.
(2) Court costs (including fees). (3) Reasonable attorney’s fees.

Short version: if Indianapolis tries to protect its citizens by controlling guns or ammunition in any way whatever, the “membership organization” (i.e. the NRA) can sue the city and recover attorney’s fees and punitive (“liquidated”) damages from our tax dollars.

Think about that.

I can’t imagine what “damages” the NRA would suffer from the passage of an innocuous and helpful measure like reporting stolen guns. (For that matter, putting on my lawyer hat,  I don’t think that “theft” comes within the definition of “ownership, possession, carrying, transportation, registration, transfer, and storage,” but I do understand council members’ concern that it might.)

If you ever want an example of the way a well-heeled lobby overrides the will–and the welfare–of mere citizens, this one’s a doozy.

Life in the City

INIndianapolis will be holding its elections for Mayor and City-County Council in November, and the candidates will be talking about the issues that face our city–and hopefully, how they plan to address those issues.

It will be interesting to see how many of the challenges they identify are the same ones that mayors of other cities cited most frequently at a recent conference on the state of the nation’s cities.

Our annual State of the Cities report examines what is happening now in cities. The top 10 issues discussed by mayors in their 2015 State of the City addresses are essential to operations, development, and livability.

The analysis reveals what issues mayors are focused on by measuring the percentage of speeches significantly covering an issue. We examined 100 State of the City speeches in cities large and small, with a regionally diverse sample from across the country. These are the top issues that matter to cities.

The issues identified were, in ascending order of frequency, healthcare (especially in states that have refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA); demographics (race relations, cultural diversity, sexual orientation, and immigration); environment and energy (a category that includes public transportation); data and technology; housing; education; budgets; public safety; infrastructure; and economic development.

All of these issues face us here in Indianapolis. Unlike cities in states with genuine home rule, however, the ability of our mayor and council–no matter whom we elect–will be severely constrained by the fact that, in Indiana, municipal governments can do very little beyond what the state legislature in its “wisdom,” allows. (You will recall we spent a good two years begging the General Assembly for the right to decide whether to tax ourselves in order to expand mass transit.)

So–as the candidates mount their campaigns, hold “meet-and-greet’ events and fundraisers and otherwise make themselves available to We the People, in addition to asking about their preferred policies, we also need to ask them how they intend to work with our “overlords” at the Indiana General Assembly.

Indiana’s Children

Sunday sermon.

According to the Indianapolis Star, the improving state economy touted by Gov. Mike Pence at campaign stops “has yet to trickle down to the 345,000 Hoosier children, or more than 1 in 5, living in poverty.”

In a recent editorial, the Anderson Herald Bulletin urged lawmakers to deal with the reality of Indiana’s working poor.

The Herald Bulletin has reported extensively this year on a group labeled Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) in a study released in 2014 by the Indiana Association of United Ways.

About 23 percent of Indiana’s population and about 28 percent of people living in Madison County belong to the ALICE group. While they earn too much income to qualify for most forms of welfare, they earn too little to afford necessities, pay monthly bills and save enough money to handle unexpected expenses such as illnesses and car repairs. Hoosiers who belong to this group find themselves in a spiral of debt toward poverty.

Many belonging to the ALICE group have children and find that paying for child care while they work is often a money-losing proposition. In Indiana, the Child Care Development Fund provides subsidies to help financially insecure families pay for child care.

It’s a great program, but it has a major flaw. A slight rise in income level can cause a family to lose eligibility, providing a disincentive to work hard and earn a raise. If CCDF subsidies were set up on a sliding scale, hard work would be rewarded.

Tweaking the CCDF program with a sliding scale is something we should do. And we should provide adequate resources for the Department of Children’s Services. But important as individual programs may be,  the inconvenient truth is that the welfare of Hoosier children is inextricably connected to the welfare of the families that are raising them.

When wage levels are too low to allow those families to provide decent housing, adequate nutrition and reliable child-care, children suffer. Recent research also suggests that the higher stress levels common to low-wage households take a particular toll on the children in those families, who arrive at school unready to learn,  and who have poorer health prospects and lower life expectancies.

A policy agenda focused upon keeping Indiana a low-wage state not only fails to create the promised jobs–it hurts children.

Politicians uniformly insist that they care about children, but aside from efforts to ensure that every conception ends in the birth of a child, I haven’t seen much evidence for that concern.


Indiana’s Economy–the Spin and the Reality

Indiana Governor Mike Pence has just bragged about the state’s surplus. We are supposed to consider the existence of that pot of money–that “rainy day” fund–as evidence of fiscal responsibility.

Not so much.

Assume I have a mortgage on my house, and I’m intent on building a savings account from which I can make future payments. Prudent fiscal management. Unless, of course, I have refused to repair the hole in the roof, because I’m saving the money for future house payments.

One of the biggest holes in the Hoosier roof is FSSA, which is being sued by caseworkers over huge caseloads that keep them from adequately protecting children. FSSA “reverted” 37 million dollars from its budget, so that the Governor could brag about his surplus. And it wasn’t just FSSA; here is a list of other “reversions” required by the Administration.

It’s amazing how much money you can save if you don’t deliver services.

And what about all those other “indicators” the Governor touts?

In the wake of the RFRA debacle and the subsequent hiring and firing of a PR firm that was supposed to repair the damage, there has been more interest than usual in what the numbers really say about Indiana’s economy.

Recently, the Indiana Democrat’s blog addressed what it called the Governor’s “Fuzzy Math.” It would be easy to dismiss its conclusions as partisan spin, and probably in anticipation of such dismissal, the posted article cited its source for each number.

The data is in table format, with the Governor’s statements on one side and the actual numbers on the other. There are several sections, but I was particularly struck by the response to Governor Pence’s assertions that Indiana is enjoying “historic” employment levels and that the Hoosier economy is “growing stronger every day.”

The blog shared the following data, from which we can all draw our own conclusions:

  • Since spring 2000, 500,000 more people have moved to Indiana while the employment participation rate has seen one of the largest declines in the nation.

[Indianapolis Star, 5.28.15]

  • New Indiana manufacturing jobs pay wages that are far lower than the national average – and are considered “lower-valued” in the manufacturing industry.

[Indianapolis Star, 6.10.15]

  • Indiana ranks 38th in the nation in per capita income.

[Indianapolis Star, 6.1.15]

  • Hoosiers make 86 cents to every one American dollar.

[Indianapolis Star, 6.1.15]

There are lots of ways to “slice and dice” economic data. It’s a question of focus–are we just trying to create an environment where business can keep costs down? Then the Governor is right:  Right to Work, a low minimum wage, and low business taxes are the way to go. (Although the numbers suggest those tactics aren’t producing many jobs.)

Do we want a state where workers can count on a living wage, a state where all workers, whatever their gender and/or ethnicity, are paid equally for equal work, a state where tax revenues are sufficient to provide a decent quality of life? If those are our goals, the numbers tell the story; we aren’t doing very well.

Do we want an Administration that provides essential public services in a businesslike fashion, or one presided over by a Governor who is focused upon image while ignoring the hole in the roof?

In case you hadn’t noticed, Mike, it’s raining.