EYE ON THE PIE: Time to stop being timid and tell the truth

April 9, 2007

The latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis show that Indiana ranks 33rd in per capita personal income. Fifty years earlier, in 1956, Indiana ranked 17th in the nation. Our state is in long-term economic freefall and we suffer with representatives who piddle away their time on raising revenue through gambling.

Per capita personal income in Indiana has not been on par with the nation since 1966. We have a record of ongoing decline, interrupted briefly from time to time by economic problems elsewhere. Our share of personal income closed 2006 at 1.88 percent of the national total; that is an all-time low.

And the Legislature? It, too, seems to be at an all-time low. But then I've been around for only 35 years, and that may not be enough time to have found an absolute bottom. What are they doing, those 150 members of the General Assembly? Indiana's economy was stagnating and they were debating an amendment on gay marriage. As a state we make little progress and legislators fiddle with tax breaks for homeowners, while devising means to raise income and sales taxes on those same people.

It is a disgrace to have such narrow-minded, shortsighted people in positions that deserve respect.

Most of us think our individual representative or senator is fine; it's the others who corrupt the system. That is not true. Neither your representative nor mine is fine. There is no outcry of indignation from them. They follow the dictates of their party leaders in the House and the Senate.

Too many legislators know too little about the state to make good decisions. Many have traveled to other parts of the state primarily for golf outings and have been guided closely so that they remain ignorant in their safe cocoons.

Too many legislators lack the intellectual independence or moral courage needed for the tasks they face.

Do you think this is unwarranted invective? I invite you to visit the Statehouse and meet our representatives and senators. There is more energy in the turtles' tank at the zoo than in our deliberative chambers. In committee meetings, their questions make it clear how little knowledge and insight most of our legislators have about specific issues. If it were not for dedicated staff and lobbyists, little of the state's legislative work would get done.

Yes, many of our legislators are nice men and women. They have charm and the necessary ability to avoid taking a stand. Some of them even manage to be friendly.

But the time has come for the rank and file in the two major parties to start planning to dislodge the majority of the incumbents. The citizens of Indiana need to express their revulsion that this annual charade goes on. A good legislature requires diligent voters, people who are prepared to have meaningful steps taken on their behalf.

How do we start? Citizens in each district need to meet and clarify their agendas beyond the limitations of party politics. The environmentalists and the education supporters must meet with the advocates for low taxes or historic preservation to learn how government works. Then they must find energetic candidates to enter the 2008 legislative primaries.

The task is daunting. But if you and I do not engage in the process, we will continue to be the victims of our own neglect. Our obligation is to provide the flame and the fury necessary to elect a legislature that will modernize Indiana.

Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU's Business Research Center.His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.
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