Tag Archives: Indiana General Assembly

Bribes As Economic Development

According to the Indianapolis Business Journal, Indiana lawmakers are considering paying people to move here.

Members of what I still call “The World’s Worst Legislature” (despite a significant amount of competition from places like Florida and Texas) are evidently considering what the IBJ calls “an extensive piece of legislation to restructure the incentive toolkit of the Indiana Economic Development Corp.” One “key” component would create a statewide remote-worker grant program.

Senate Bill 361 has a provision that would require the department to design and implement a program giving remote workers cash incentives for moving to Indiana.

A remote worker would be eligible for a grant of up to $5,000 a year with a maximum of $15,000 over the life of the program. The total grants, which would come from the IEDC, would be capped at $1 million this year and $1.5 million in 2023….

The bill also would allow businesses outside Indiana to apply for IEDC tax credits, if they bring at least 50 remote jobs to Indiana, paying at least 150% of the state’s average hourly wage. That would be about $25.

This interesting use of taxpayer funds is essentially an admission that Indiana isn’t a very attractive place to live–that (at least, outside Indianapolis, the city our legislators love to hate) people need to be bribed to move to the Hoosier State.

A few days ago, in another blog, I noted that Indiana’s Statehouse is filled with legislators who have exactly one policy proposal to offer for any problem you can name: tax cuts. When it comes to economic development, they assure us that the only thing businesses look at when looking  to relocate or expand is a “favorable tax environment.” Believing this, of course, requires a certain imperviousness to that pesky thing called “evidence,” but if there is one thing our GOP super-majority is really, really good at, it’s ignoring evidence.

Which brings me to yet another bit of unwelcome research, sure to be dismissed and ignored.

The Brookings Institution has been examining ways to “rejuvenate” states in the Midwest that have, as we say, “missed the boat.” The report begins by noting that there are currently two Midwests

One Midwest features communities that have diversified and turned an economic corner in today’s urbanized, global knowledge economy. In this Midwest, many of the region’s major metro areas and university towns have found new economic dynamism and relative prosperity.  

In the other Midwest, however, factory towns that have lost anchor employers continue to languish. Most of these small and midsized industrial heartland communities rely on traditional economic development strategies to reinvigorate their economies, including doling out incentives to attract or retain employers or attempting to create a more “business-friendly” environment with lower taxes and labor costs. 

Most of Indiana clearly falls into that second category. But as Brookings reports, there is “compelling new data” telling us that these traditional economic development tools are–if not entirely ineffective–far less effective than investments in quality of life and place.

Research on smaller communities has found that community amenities– recreation opportunities, cultural activities, and especially “excellent services (e.g., good schools, transportation options, including connectivity to urban areas)” significantly exceed so-called “business-friendly” policies in their ability to  contribute to healthy local economies.

Smaller places with a higher quality of life experience both higher employment and population growth than similarly situated communities, including those that rank high by traditional economic competitiveness measures.

Research has confirmed that people are willing to pay higher housing prices and even accept lower wages to live in places that offer a higher quality of life.  

Indiana’s lawmakers will have great difficulty getting their heads around another finding (assuming they would even bother to consult the research); studies, including this one, have shown that businesses are willing to pay higher real estate prices and offer higher wages in order to locate in places with more productive workers. 

More productive workers, of course, are produced by better schools. Not religious indoctrination academies supported by Indiana’s voucher program with monies drained from our struggling public schools, and not schools in which teachers are forbidden to teach accurate history…

The bottom line:

After estimating quality of life (what makes a place attractive to households) and quality of business environment (what makes a place especially productive and attractive to businesses) in communities across the Midwest, we found quality of life matters more for population growth, employment growth, and lower poverty rates than quality of business environment. 

Or, of course, you can just take some of the tax money generated by those low rates and try to bribe people to move to the “hanging on by a thread” areas of Indiana.

Given the pathetic history of Indiana’s General Assembly, I expect they’ll opt for bribery.

 

What A Great Idea!

As state legislatures around the country move to censor the teaching of accurate history, a number of people have evidently abandoned the usual opposition tactics–political argumentation and (if those measure pass) lawsuits, in favor of a new and better approach.

I recently came across one such effort by students in Pennsylvania. They formed a student “banned book” club.

Junior high school students in Kutztown created a teen-banned book club to discuss and celebrate challenging stories, discussing both classic novels and current hot topics.

The club’s first meeting, held at the Firefly Bookstore in Kutztown on January 12, was attended by a group of nine young people, primarily from grades 7 to 11 in the Kutztown area.

14-year-old Kutztown 8th grade Joslyn Diffenbaugh founded the club after reading about a public protest to ban books in national and regional schools based on the topics of race, gender identity and sexuality.

Evidently, several communities are seeing the formation of similar clubs; they are entirely voluntary after-school activities, and several meet in public–not school–libraries. They are prompted by a characteristic of teen-agers that is well-known to anyone who has ever parented one: nothing–absolutely nothing– is as alluring to a teenager as something that has been declared off-limits.

The same kid who wouldn’t read a particular book for class will absolutely consume it after being told not to do so.

I especially loved a different, albeit related response from Tennessee.

Following a school board’s ban of Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize–winning graphic novel Maus, Davidson College professor Scott Denham is offering a free online course for eighth- through 12th-grade students in McMinn County, Tenn., where the board voted 10-to-0 to remove the book from use in middle school classes.

“The McMinn Co., TN, School Board banned Spiegelman’s Maus I and Maus II, so I am offering this free on-line course for any McMinn County high school students interested in reading these books with me. Registration details for those students coming soon,” Denham tweeted Wednesday as news of the book’s removal began to circulate online.

The ban, according to minutes from a Jan. 10 school board meeting, stems from eight curse words and a depiction of a nude woman in the graphic novel, which tells the story of the Holocaust by depicting Jewish people as mice and the Germans as cats. The highly acclaimed book is an academic standard and the first graphic novel to earn the Pulitzer Prize.

In fact, that is such an excellent response that I would be willing to round up a couple of former colleagues and offer a similar course in “banned history” for kids deprived of that history should our legislature pass the currently pending “anti-CRT” bill.

The Indiana House has passed HB1134 and sent it to the Senate for consideration.

The bill, which would limit what teachers can say regarding race, history and politics in Indiana classrooms, is nearly identical to a piece of legislation that senators already abandoned after its author said it would require teachers to remain neutral on topics including Nazism, Marxism and fascism and promptly became the subject of national outrage.

The bill lists a series of “divisive concepts” that would be banned from Indiana’s public school classrooms, including those dealing with the superiority/inferiority of “sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin or political affiliation”  or any that might make an  individual student feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish responsibility, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin or political affiliation.”

Rather obviously, if a teacher is teaching about slavery or the civil rights movement, s/he is “dealing with”such subjects. (How a teacher is supposed to tell whether an individual student feels “discomfort” is anyone’s guess….)

The linked article noted the “considerable opposition” to the measure mounted by Indiana teachers. No kidding! I imagine teachers were already getting pretty tired of the legislature’s constant efforts to tell them how to do their jobs, and are understandably hostile to a bill that essentially tells them to revise history and be nice to the Nazis…

If this barely-veiled effort to bolster White Supremacy actually passes, I can think of a number of excellent, accurate history books that might form the core of an online, free, absolutely voluntary class–and might well appeal to teenagers who could be curious about what it is our legislative overlords don’t want them to know.

I don’t have hobbies, and retirement is pretty boring. I’d have plenty of time to replicate that Tennessee professor’s approach….

Speaking Of The World’s Worst Legislature…

Every time I refer to Indiana’s General Assembly as “the World’s Worst Legislature” (note capital letters), readers remind me that there are other worthy contenders for that title–Texas and Florida among the standouts.

Granted, the competition is fierce, but Indiana’s lawmakers–not content to rest on their embarrassing laurels–have engaged the contest with what I can only describe as a bravura performance. As James Briggs of the Indianapolis Star explained:

While you were preparing for Thanksgiving, and maybe for a run in Broad Ripple, the Indiana General Assembly’s gobbledygook plot to set a new speed record for bad policymaking ended in a sloppy, embarrassing fiasco.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s understandable, because you were probably supposed to miss it. Legislative Republicans barely a week ago revealed that, as part of a rare one-day session intended to help Gov. Holcomb end the state’s public health emergency, they also were going to jam through severe constraints on businesses that require workers to either get vaccinated or find a new job.

As Briggs patiently explained, this effort was insane both substantively and procedurally. The bill that had been drafted would have required employers requiring vaccinations to adhere to onerous testing burdens. It would have required them to accept any and all “religious objections,” despite the inconvenient fact that no major religion has asserted that getting a COVID-19 vaccines violates its faith.

Perhaps most egregiously, the draft language gives credence to vaccine disinformation by carving out an exemption for pregnant women despite no evidence that vaccines pose a risk to them and much evidence that COVID-19 kills pregnant women at higher rates than women who are not pregnant.

And as Briggs also noted, as ridiculous as the draft language was, the process by which the Republican super-majority planned to ram it through was worse. They intended to pass the employer vaccine mandate ban on Monday, “the first business day after a major holiday weekend, while bypassing normal procedures to establish a consequential law faster than anyone could remember.” Even Kevin Brinegar, CEO of Indiana’s extremely conservative, Republican-loving Chamber of Commerce, testified that in his 42 years interacting with the  Indiana General Assembly, he’d never seen anything like what they were preparing to do.

“The chamber and, I believe, the entire employer community is opposed to this legislation,” Brinegar said.

Briggs described the seven-hour hearing as a disaster filled with vaccine lies and confusion, and he noted that the most effective–albeit unintentional– opponents of the bill were the anti-vaxxers in attendance who were urging lawmakers to pass it. Following the fiasco, the Speaker informed lawmakers that the one-day session was cancelled.

One item missing from Briggs’ report was how much that fiasco cost Indiana taxpayers. The last one-day session, held in 2018, cost 30,000.

The issue of employer vaccine mandates could return once the legislature begins its session in January, but the brake-slamming suggests that a critical mass of Republicans either were horrified by what they heard during the committee hearing or they were unwilling to consent to ramming through new rules for employers on an extraordinary timeline.

If you have been reading this and thinking “this is insane–why would the presumably “pro-business” party, a party that has been unwilling to regulate even the most socially harmful business practices, call an expensive special session and ignore their own rules of procedure in order to prevent businesses from safeguarding the health of their employees and customers? Especially as news of a new COVID variant is emerging?

If rational Hoosier voters need any more evidence that the state GOP has gone completely off the rails, this exercise should provide it.

A recent Doonesbury Sunday cartoon captures the moment, illustrating that Republicans are not only willing to infect their families and friends, they are willing to die  from an almost completely preventable disease–all in order to “own the libs.”

In the contest for “worst,” I submit that Indiana’s legislature has secured a place in the very top tier…..

This Isn’t Governing–It’s Pandering

When he was alive, Harrison Ullmann, a former editor of NUVO, always referred to the Indiana General Assembly as “The World’s Worst Legislature.” I know a lot of states have been competing for the title lately, but he wasn’t far off.

When I was scanning the (embarrassingly thin) news covered by the Indianapolis Star, I saw that the Republicans who have gerrymandered a super-majority in Indiana’s General Assembly are preparing for the upcoming session by discussing plans to cut taxes. After all, thanks to the federal administration they routinely excoriate, the state is currently flush.

The House is considering both a reduction in business equipment property taxes and income tax rate reduction. Senate leaders have at least committed to evaluating whatever legislation the House sends their way. 

Indiana ended its 2021 fiscal year at the start of July with nearly $4 billion in reserves due in part to an influx of stimulus money, unintentionally triggering an automatic refund to taxpayers worth $545.3 million. Since then, revenues have exceeded April estimates by over $560 million…

House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, wants to see a longer lasting tax cut — assuming revenues continue to exceed expectations —  instead of relying on another automatic refund to give taxpayers more money in their pockets.

“My biggest fear is if we keep it, we’ll spend it,”  Huston said Monday during the Indiana Chamber’s Legislative Preview.

Well, goodness gracious Mr. Huston–we taxpaying citizens sure wouldn’t want that! We wouldn’t want to see you use any of those dollars to patch a few of the gaping holes in Indiana’s pathetic social safety net (TANF pays a munificent $130 per month to households with one parent and one child).

We Hoosiers know it would be too picky to expect you to earmark some of those funds to maintain any of the roads and bridges that the federal infrastructure bill will finally repair–you know, the infrastructure you “fiscal conservatives” have ignored for years.

For that matter, it is highly unlikely that the federal bill will provide Indiana with monies to repair all the crumbling roads and dangerously deteriorated bridges that need such repair. In a state served by a less irresponsible legislature, those “extra” funds might actually be put to that use. (There are 19,327 bridges in the state, and over 1100 of them are classified as structurally deficient. The state has identified 3,198 that need repairs, and has estimated the cost of doing those repairs at $2.3 billion. The feds are highly unlikely to cover all of that–even with a Hoosier as Transportation Secretary.)

We also wouldn’t want to use that money to improve public education, or to replace any of the education funding that Indiana’s legislature has siphoned off and sent to private, mostly religious schools. After all, we aren’t (yet) the worst–Indiana ranks 47th among the states for per pupil spending. That means there are three states worse than us, so no worries, right? And we do even better in teacher pay–why, we are way up there at 38th!

I hate to break it to you, GOP legislators, but “fiscally conservative”lawmakers don’t continue to ignore the multiple needs of the state in order to use an obviously temporary influx of dollars to reward the business interests that donate to their campaigns. They don’t cut taxes so that they can plead poverty when urban areas need added funds for public safety or public works, and so they can keep telling teachers the state can’t afford to pay them competitively. 

Fiscally prudent lawmakers establish sinking funds to retire bonds, plan for the ongoing maintenance of infrastructure, and pay TANF recipients enough to buy food and diapers. They fund education adequately, recognizing the importance of an educated workforce and polity. They don’t act like pigs in slop, “spending” a temporary windfall to curry favor with their donors and supporters while shortchanging everyone else.

Honest to goodness, Indiana! Stop proving Harrison Ullmann’s point!

 

 

 

Indiana’s Fools Aren’t Just For April…

When it comes to politics in Indiana, one of the savviest observers is Jack Colwell, who writes for the South Bend Tribune. A recent column documenting reasons the Indiana General Assembly still deserves to be called the World’s Worst Legislature is a good  example.

After reading it, I decided that a discussion of our legislature would be appropriate for April Fool’s Day.

Colwell’s list–while not exhaustive–is illustrative. He began by noting that Indiana’s legislature has historically been ridiculous.

Indiana’s legislature long has been the subject of ridicule, going back historically to a time 134 years ago when violence among members forced the end of a session.

Later came influence of the Klan, influence of money that brought scandals and prison and decades of influence by naysayers who found progress too risky.

Sometimes it became a national joke, as with a bill to establish the state’s own definition of pi. Not pie, as in apple, cherry or pumpkin, but Indiana’s own mathematical value of pi.
 
In 2015, there were all those jokes by comedians on national TV about Indiana’s Freedom to Discriminate Act.

Colwell then enumerates the disaster that is the 2021 session: in the face of Governor Holcomb’s largely effective measures to contain the pandemic (whatever your “take” on the Governor’s efforts, it is undeniable that he has been more decisive–and effective–than most Republican Governors), the legislature has moved to remove his authority to act in a future emergency.

Colwell notes that “pressure from the Freedom to Infect Caucus” also has pushed Holcomb to end the statewide mask mandate a bit prematurely.

Speaking of the pandemic, some businesses have acted in ways that endangered the health–and lives– of their workers and others. Our General Assembly to the rescue–of the businesses, not the victims. It passed a. bill awarding COVID-19 civil immunity for businesses and prohibiting class action lawsuits against them. 

Is climate change a looming danger? The General Assembly–especially members who  develop real estate–  wants further limits on the protection of wetlands. (Who cares about the world their grandkids will inhabit? Or the purity of the water we’re all drinking now?)

Speaking of the environment, replacing  a significant amount of emissions by encouraging and enabling mass transit is one of the many, many reasons such systems are important. So our legislature is trying to destroy Indianapolis’ belated effort to create a workable and environmentally-friendly mass transit system. 

Has the nation recently been stunned by still more mass shootings? Indiana’s General Assembly wants to eliminate the need for a license to carry a gun. As Colwell says,

Why require unnecessary cost and bureaucratic delay for someone wanting a gun? Some law-abiding citizen might want a gun quickly for a visit to a spa. A new recruit of the Proud Boys should not be inconvenienced.

And then, of course, there’s the persistence of the “White Legislative Caucus.” Colwell notes the ugly episode during the current session, where Republican legislators booed their Black colleagues.

Coincidentally, the same day his column ran, the Indianapolis Star had a front-page report about Representative Jim Lucas, Republican from Seymour whose Facebook page has been the subject of numerous accusations of blatant racism. (Our daughter has previously told us that she had visited that page, and was horrified by the “out and proud” bigotry she saw.)

The Star article reported on a conversation between Lucas and a Black surgeon, which the surgeon experienced as racist. Lucas evidently feels that any rhetoric or action short of lynching isn’t really racist, but as the newspaper noted

Lucas has a history of making troubling comments. The Indiana State Conference of the NAACP has called for his resignation after past actions.

Last year, Huston removed him from two committees as punishment for other controversial Facebook posts. On Twitter there’s a hashtag used by some critics, “#LucasMustGo.”

I’m clearly not the only Hoosier who is mortified by the people elected to “represent” me.