EYE ON THE PIE: We all could use a dose of civility

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Whenever life seems too gloomy to endure, there is relief to be found in the antics of the Bloomington City Council. That body of jokesters recently voted to permit households within the city limits to keep up to five chickens. These chickens will help supply fresh eggs, thereby reducing the community’s dependency on unnatural food sources. (No, dear reader, I did not make this up.)

We will not claim the City Council of Bloomington is sexist because it permits egg-laying (female) chickens to live in the city but denies that right to honest, upstanding roosters. Nor will we ask “What’s next?” Would that same august body license Purdue University-trained pigs to patrol the streets as a natural way of collecting and recycling garbage?

All of which is a way of reminding you that the Indiana General Assembly will be back in session soon. Even without the results of the Nov. 7 election, we already know a great deal about the 2007-2008 legislatures. Only 64 of the 100 seats in the House are contested by the two major parties. More than one-third of the new House enjoys no change. How serious is the competition for those seats remains a matter for conjecture. In the Senate, the picture is about the same; seven of the 25 seats up for re-election are uncontested.

Many issues-such as tax reform, Interstate 69 and education finance-remain unresolved from previous sessions of the General Assembly. Why?

Let’s consider two factors: ignorance and insolence.

Ignorance is a major factor in our state’s fiscal matters. The public and its representatives know little, if anything, about the state’s budget, its tax structure, or the demands and mandates for public services. We have a phalanx of public officials who continue to mouth popular, but false, messages that Indiana residents suffer from high taxes and an unnatural dependence on property taxes.

State-level officials and legislators continue to believe they alone possess the wisdom and right to determine taxes and expenditures in our 92 counties and hundreds of cities, towns and school districts.

While it is easy to point to egregious examples of incompetence and corruption, most locally elected officials are not inferior to their state-level counterparts.

Ignorance is converted to arrogance and a refusal to participate in civil discourse. I recenty attended an excellent meeting in Portage conducted by Operation TEN (Tax Education Now) that attempted to educate citizens about sales tax increment financing. I also had the opportunity to participate in an Indianapolis seminar conducted by the American Values Alliance. AVA attempts to find ways to help groups and individuals engage in civil discourse about complex and often emotional issues.

Indiana needs Operation TEN to educate us about our fiscal realities. My ignorance and yours are a great obstacle to progress. Each week, as I write these columns, I learn how little I know and how limited is my understanding of the lives and perceptions of others.

How well do I communicate what I know, what I believe, and what I want? Is my style too confrontational to be effective? Many of the notes I receive from readers are polite, but a number are offensive and remarkably ignorant. Indiana can benefit from what AVA can teach us about talking to one another in a variety of forums, from the Legislature to the living room.

Let us hope the newly assembling 2007 Legislature will spend time this session learning about fiscal realities and being civil. The results might be actions we can all respect and from which we can all benefit.

Marcus taught economics 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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