WILLIAMS: Cost-cutting obsession is myopic

March 30, 2013

viewpoint-williams-brianOften with great pride, elected officials and those seeking elective office exclaim that Indiana is a paragon of fiscal probity and that bountiful state reserves demonstrate the caliber of Hoosier leadership. While it is certainly true that Hoosiers expect fiscal prudence from their elected officials, Hoosiers also expect their government to provide a framework that allows for the free flow of intellectual and financial capital.

A functioning and integrated transportation network, quality educational systems, an efficient legal system, and a robust technology and communications network are all essential for an informed and engaged populace. We need a robust economy that empowers innovation and a dynamic cultural community that deepens our appreciation of humanity.

Unfortunately, a myopic focus on fiscal reserves and low tax rates is placing Indiana at a disadvantage.

Although a few million dollars are in its “rainy day” funds, Indiana remains one of few states without mandatory full-day kindergarten. The abundance of research on the value of early childhood education makes any argument against it moot. And still, we promote near-term financial reserves that will evaporate when paying future societal costs for not mandating and funding early childhood education.

In secondary education, Indiana continues to underperform relative to most states and, more important, against international competitors. Indiana’s public universities have proud traditions of achievement, yet for the last eight years we have consistently underinvested in them. Enrollment has increased nearly 20 percent while state funding declined 17 percent.

Equipment and intellectual capital for research cost money. Understanding of math, science, the arts and humanities continues to advance, requiring analysis and instruction. Overcrowded, understaffed public universities do not create quality instruction or a better-educated citizenry.

The state’s motto of the “Crossroads of America” should reflect not only the number of highways but also the quality of roads, bridges, railways, ports and inland waterways. The proceeds from the 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road have been committed and spent, and Indiana roads continue to be in poor repair and bridges are structurally deficient. Indianapolis lacks an integrated mass transit system. A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report on inland waterways and ports found growing demand and limited funding.

While heralding the state’s financial reserves, the state has failed the moral test of government in its treatment of those in the dawn of life, the children. Since 2007, at least 36 children died after their parents had been reported to the Department of Child Services. Equally disturbing is the 15-percent increase in children re-abused or neglected within six months of DCS intervention.

Gov. Pence’s focus on the politics of a tax cut rather than the principle of sound financial management should be cause for concern. Every dollar returned represents not fiscal prudence, but opportunity missed—to educate a child, to enhance our ports, to hire another police officer, to train another teacher, to save the life of a neglected child.

The Greatest Generation had the greatest tax rates in America and those taxes paid for the greatest public institutions, some of the world’s most prestigious universities, one of history’s most triumphant military forces and the world’s greatest transportation network. Those public investments created opportunity that men and women seized, driving some of the greatest economic growth and societal gains in wealth ever known.

So, the next time an elected official promotes a tax cut or rebate, ask them what they are asking you and your children to forgo.•


Williams is an Indianapolis based entrepreneur and businessman, who is active in many community organizations. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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