Tag Archives: Indiana

Mike, Mike, Mike…

I am all for transparency in government–but that’s not the same thing as transparent bull—-.

In yesterday morning’s Star, we learned that the state had “abruptly” terminated its costly contract with a national PR firm–a contract necessitated by the disastrous publicity generated by Indiana’s passage of RFRA.

Thursday afternoon, Chris Cotterill, executive vice president of the Indiana Economic Development Corp., cited strong employment numbers, national recognition for the state’s business-friendly climate and cost management efforts in the decision to cancel the contract with Porter Novelli.

Gov. Mike Pence said through a spokeswoman he supports the decision.

“Given the record-setting pace of job creation by businesses across Indiana, Governor Pence supports the decision by the IEDC to conclude the contract with Porter Novelli and continue current efforts to promote the advantages of doing business and creating jobs in our state,” said press secretary Kara Brooks.

And I have some swampland in Florida to sell you.

That “national recognition” of Indiana’s “business friendly” climate evidently is a citation to one of those notoriously unreliable magazine lists (the ten best places to retire! the 25 best cities for people with allergies!). And Indiana’s method of calculating its job-creation numbers has been the subject of criticism for years.

It’s fairly obvious why the Governor terminated the contract: he’s running for re-election, and the fact of that contract, its cost, and the administrative decisions that necessitated it have been subject to significant ongoing criticism. So…Voila! Suddenly, Indiana’s RFRA troubles are all behind us.

But they aren’t.

In San Francisco last week, tourist areas were dotted with Air BnB advertising signs saying “Dear Guests from Indiana, Just know you are always welcome here. (We’ll even share our pizza).” Teeshirts at New York pride celebrations proclaimed “Too gay for Indiana.” And sober Hoosier business executives share the conviction that the damage done by RFRA remains deep–that (as Arizona learned a few years ago) the attendant publicity conveyed an unfortunate message about the state’s civic climate that remains a substantial drag on tourism, business relocation decisions and convention business–a message that will not soon be eradicated.

If the Governor really wanted to improve the state’s image without spending money on a PR campaign, it would be simple enough to do: he could take a high-profile position in favor of amending Indiana’s civil rights laws to include protection from discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity.

If anyone thinks our culture-warrior Governor is likely to do that, I still have that swampland in Florida….

Being Poor Isn’t Probable Cause

The Indiana ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a disabled, indigent Posey County woman who was denied financial assistance because her disabilities prevented her from taking a drug test required by the Black Township Trustee.

A number of courts around the country have held that conditioning benefits on passage of a drug test violates the United States Constitution. (Before these programs were struck down, the states that imposed such tests also found far fewer abusers than would be expected in the general population. That makes sense, since people having trouble affording food are unlikely to have money for drugs. But hey–we all know that poverty is evidence of moral turpitude…)

The lawsuit against Black Township and Lindsay Suits, the Black Township Trustee, was filed on behalf of Mary Neale, a resident of the township. Neale previously received aid from the trustee only after submitting a urine sample and passing a drug test. Last year, however, Neale’s physical disabilities made submitting the sample impossible, so she was unable to apply for benefits.

The ACLU’s lawsuit points out that the Township Trustee’s “policy of requiring applicants for assistance to take a urine drug screen violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Further, the trustee’s failure to accommodate Neale’s disability when she sought to apply for assistance violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

“The Constitution prohibits this type of suspicionless search and seizure,” said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana legal director. “It is wrong to condition the receipt of government benefits on the waiver of fundamental rights that protect all of us.”

The Fourth Amendment requires government actors to have probable cause to conduct a search. Probable cause has been defined as “articulable reasons to believe that a given individual has violated the law.”

Someone needs to explain to the growing ranks of eager-beaver “public servants” that neither poverty nor skin color are probable cause.

What We Do and What We Say

My friend Morton Marcus has a good column in the recent issue of NUVO.

He reflects upon the most recent legislative session, and on Indiana politics generally, and in a make-believe conversation with one “Victor Van Nutt,” he makes a point my father used to emphasize: if you want to know what people really believe, what they really value, you’ll look at what they do–not at what they say.

“If we wanted local control of schools, we never would have allowed the state to take over financing education. If we wanted strong communities, we would not have voted for property tax controls starting with Otis Bowen and ended up supporting a constitutional amendment capping those taxes.

“On the other hand,” he continued, “if we wanted economy in government, we would have eliminated township governments, merged adjacent cities and towns, and merged under-populated counties.

“Then,” he went on, “if we truly believed in the virtues of small business, we wouldn’t yield our tax policies to the imagined desires of out-of-state corporations, hoping they will bring any kind of jobs to Indiana.

“We would stop shifting taxes to households and away from the big corporations. Remember, many small businesses are basically households not paying corporate taxes. We would not be anti-union since small businesses are not likely to be unionized.”

Until and unless Hoosiers start following what our government is actually doing–until we stop taking political figures at their word, and ignoring what they actually do once in office–nothing will change.

And of course, that advice also applies to us. If we just criticize those in power, content to complain about the “World’s Worst Legislature” while finding excuses not to vote–if we bitch and moan at cocktail parties while doing nothing to help change the system that keeps returning these same people to office–well, that says something about We the People and what we really value.

We Don’t Care What the Evidence Says….

The Indiana General Assembly is finally going home, concluding a session which most sane Hoosiers couldn’t wait to see come to an end. There was plenty of bad policy to go around (RFRA, anyone?) but–as has become typical during the Pence Administration– city schools took the greatest hit. The final budget slashed funding for urban public schools in districts serving the poorest populations, while raising amounts for rural, charter and voucher schools.

Once again, the legislature took money from the state’s most strapped public schools to increase funding for Pence’s ill-considered voucher program–currently one of the most extensive in the nation. Indiana has close to 30,000 students receiving public funds to attend private schools, some 80% of which are religious.

To add insult to injury, lawmakers also took oversight of voucher schools away from Superintendent Glenda Ritz, and moved it to the Governor’s office. According to the Indianapolis Star

A proposal was slipped in the state’s new $31.5 billion budget without public debate, moving calculation of school voucher costs from Ritz’s Department of Education to Pence’s board and shifts control over which schools qualify to receive vouchers.

If anyone thinks Pence’s office is competent to do either job, I have a bridge to sell you…

Whatever one thinks of charter schools, at least they remain part of the public system. Vouchers are another thing altogether. There are plenty of reasons to object to the growth of the state’s voucher program–vouchers bleed money from the public schools, have been shown to re-segregate students, and give parents choices without providing them with the information they need in order to inform those choices. (In Louisiana, a significant percentage teach creationism and other “biblical truths.”) Most also fail to deliver.

Proponents defend vouchers as a means of escape from “failing” public schools; the obvious implication/promise is that students will receive a better education in the private schools to which they take those vouchers.

The evidence does not support that promise.

According to a report from the bipartisan Center for Tax and Budget Accountability in Chicago, school choice in Indiana is “designed to funnel taxpayer money to private schools, with little evidence that demonstrates improved academic achievement for students who are most at risk.” The study compared Indiana’s program with those in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington, D.C. – some of the oldest voucher programs in the country – where they say they found similar results.

The study replicates several others that have been conducted since “school choice” programs became the easy answer to struggling schools.

Virtually all scholars who have examined the performance of voucher schools have concluded that academic gains range from none to minimal. The single improvement that has been documented is parental satisfaction; when parents feel they have had a choice, they are more empowered and exhibit more positive attitudes.

Hoosier taxpayers are paying a lot for that parental satisfaction.

The vast majority of Hoosier children, who remain in public schools being purposely drained of necessary resources in order to support private (mostly religious) education, are paying a lot more.

Show Me the Money…

Wasn’t “show me the money” a repeated demand in that Tom Cruise movie, Jerry MacGuire?

The phrase seems appropriate in light of recent news from Indiana’s budget mavens; according to several media reports, state lawmakers will have about $213 million less to spend during the next two years than they thought they would.

And why might that be? After all, we’ve been assured by our elected officials that Right to Work and similar measures would grow Indiana’s economy and fill our coffers, that the ability to hire workers for low wages (because we all know that’s what Right to Work was all about–low wages) would bring “job creators” in droves to our state.

It didn’t seem to occur to our economics-challenged lawmakers that people who work for less have less to spend and less to tax.

The General Assembly’s logic reminds me of the old joke about the business owner who bragged that he was selling more widgets than his competitors, because he had priced his below cost. When he was asked how he expected to make any money, he said he’d make it up on volume.

Low wage workers don’t pay a lot of taxes, and widespread reductions in disposable income translate into less business for retailers and other business establishments, so the amount of tax paid by those businesses is also less than it would otherwise be.  

Nor has Indiana seen the promised influx of new enterprises. Businesses tend to gravitate to places that can offer a high quality of life, and low-tax states like ours can’t compete with places that can spend more money on schools, transportation, parks, public art…. When you don’t have any natural amenities–seashores, mountains, great weather–the absence of those niceties is really noticeable.

You’d think our lawmakers would notice that constantly chasing the lowest common denominator hasn’t worked, but they’re doubling down. This session, it was repeal of the Common Construction Wage.

We’re circling the drain, while our “frugal” lawmakers wonder why they can’t show us the money.