Opinion and Forefront

DAVIS: Let's press candidates for better ideas

June 30, 2012

Kathy DavisDear fellow voters (and those who will please register by the Oct. 9 deadline), how do you feel about the state of our union, nationally and here in the Hoosier state? I have confidence that we are fundamentally strong, and we will find our way forward. But through our government, or some other channel, we need conversation that leads to our best plans for success.

I don’t see that happening. And for the conversation to happen, and the plans to be laid, we have to want it. We have to ask questions, seek facts, push until we get them. Find a shared view of success, make a plan to get there, be ready to respond as things change. Be intentional and nimble, together.

Hoosiers are workers. We are hospitable. We live within our means. Indiana has abundant natural resources and renowned research universities. We have many gifts and many strengths to build on.

But build we must. Indiana is low and dropping in personal income and education attainment. We need to change a 40-year trajectory. Recently I heard that “culture eats strategy.”

We need businesses—manufacturing, agriculture, life sciences, logistics and information—thriving in world markets.

With the skill and infrastructure pipeline that supports the long term.

Indiana being the place where people want to live.

Enough of us have to want to be really good if we are going to get there. We have to want it and talk about it and make our way.

Our candidates for governor came out early with dueling tax cuts. John Gregg’s for corporations, to attract new ones. Mike Pence’s at inheritance, letting those with family money keep more of it. I guess that is what they think we expect. Is that true for you? Are tax cuts top priority? Are they the tools for growing skill and enterprise and raising incomes? What do we know about that?

A few months ago, the Indiana University Public Policy Institute released the work of three study commissions. I co-chaired the commission on tax policy.

Indiana has a competitive tax structure. We look good in state-to-state comparisons. Our sales tax rate is high, but overall our taxes are low—property, income and gasoline. What we pay in state taxes is a small fraction of our federal taxes.

Indiana cut spending as revenue fell, and we are emerging from the recession better than most states. But we haven’t recovered. And our retirees are growing faster than our work force. We won’t regain past funding levels for education, infrastructure, law enforcement and human service unless we turn a corner.

Our older cities and towns are grappling with the impacts of property tax caps—cutting budgets and then having revenue come up short. We need cities and their surroundings to have strong identities, with the ability to fund projects. Not scrambling to fill in behind shortfalls. We want employment centers in a position of strength from which to operate, serve and lead.

The $3.4 billion raised from the 70-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road is spent. Major Moves created a robust transportation program for state roads and interstates while it lasted. And during a time we needed it.

But local roads suffered. And looking ahead, Indiana’s federal and state gas tax revenues aren’t enough to maintain our roads, never mind adding to the road system or creating transportation alternatives to cars. And never mind having long-term plans for energy, water and information systems.

State funding for Indiana’s superb public research universities provided over half of their revenue in the 1990s, and now is less than 20 percent. State rules still apply. We need their innovation and teaching excellence. We need it to cost less. Something’s got to give. And, we have a new general in the field.

Indiana has a lot to do. We can do it. Don’t know if tax cuts make the short list.

Who will lead us to be really good? Let’s ask.•

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Davis is a former Indiana lieutenant governor who owns and operates the Indianapolis technology firm Davis Design Group LLC. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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