Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Casinos and Legislature and State Government and State Budget and Hospitality taxes and Taxes and Capital Improvement Board and Gambling and Government & Economic Development and Government

General Assembly is shame of Indiana

April 20, 2009

Most of the 150 men and women who sit in the Indiana General Assembly are fine people. This column, however, is too short to detail how they become a collective disgrace.

They continue to vote along strict party lines. Virtually every Democrat and Republican is in lock step with the caucus leadership. Even their Web sites are segregated. House Republicans and Democrats have their own Web sites, as do Senate Democrats and Republicans. That makes four Web sites announcing to all that party is the overriding organizing principle for these puppies.

Are your interests being represented or are they being sacrificed to the interests of partisanship? When we read that all the Democrats in the House voted against all the Republicans in the House on a given issue, we know independence has been cruelly killed by the leadership of each party. The same applies to the Senate.

The result is a stalemate over the budget. Once more, we are seeing our state's future stretched on the rack of politics by the masters of the Legislature. Each party ignores the governor's attempts at moderation by attempting to sell out our future for votes in the next election.

We can do something: Elect a Legislature in 2010 that is committed to nonpartisan redistricting so elections are contested with greater vigor. This may be the best way of getting rid of the deadwood that leads to deadlock. Otherwise, we might have to demand legislative term limits to eradicate the infestation that afflicts us today.

Consider this: The Legislature is seeking to cover the financial disgrace of the Indianapolis sports facilities under the Capital Improvement Board. Sweetheart deals at Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the Indianapolis Colts) and Conseco Fieldhouse (home of the Indiana Pacers) left CIB without enough cash to cover expenses.

Solutions proposed in the Legislature: increased taxation and a new casino for downtown (possibly on White River or on a moat surrounding the Statehouse).

Long ago, legislatures nationwide decided that sports facilities are public goods. Economists normally define public goods as those where people cannot be excluded from use. While there are no "pure" public goods, traffic lights and streetlights are good examples. The safety I gain from those lights is not diminished by your use of them. Whereas, if I can afford a seat at a Colts game, someone else cannot use it.

Indianapolis, Gary, South Bend and Fort Wayne have all been convinced that new professional sports facilities "deserve" public money. The same cities do little of substance to support the arts, but shell out for athletic entertainment. The argument is that downtown will benefit; restaurants will flourish, tourism will be increased, and kids will have fun.

Now, to help out CIB, our Indiana General Assembly is seeking to increase existing taxes and find new sources of revenue. That an Indianapolis casino could spell the death of casinos in Anderson and Shelbyville, while diminishing the attractiveness of other gambling venues in the state, is not of concern to the proponents of the bill.

This Legislature wants to define school days in terms of teachers instead of students. When the superintendent of public instruction wants snow days made up in full, the Legislature is willing to have teachers engage in other activities as a substitute for teaching. Meeting with parents and improving skills are important; perhaps teachers should have separate compensation for these activities, but not at the expense of teaching.

This is the Legislature that cut unemployment taxes while raising benefits, squandered a surplus, and now faces a massive deficit. We, the people of Indiana, must demand a Legislature whose purpose is not politics but the public welfare.
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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. He can be reached at mmarcus@ibj.com.

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