MICKEY MAURER Commentary: A plug for non-partisan policy making

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Commentary A plug for non-partisan policy making

In my final week as secretary of commerce, I appeared at a hearing before the State Budget Committee on behalf of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. The hearing was the first step in the reauthorization process for operating budget and incentive program funding for fiscal years 2008 and 2009. It was to be my final presentation at the Statehouse.

In an effort to demonstrate that the Legislature was reaping a handsome return on its investment, I presented our 2005 and 2006 statistics on competitive deals closed and the new jobs and capital investment associated with those deals, using years from the O’Bannon/Kernan era as comparative data. Perhaps I was a bit too proud when I shared this information.

Presentations at Budget Committee hearings and other legislative committees are always challenging; vigorous debate is the norm. Although I didn’t expect the committee members to leap to their feet with a standing ovation, I was quite surprised when a Democratic senator responded that, “The state was doing just fine before you got there and your achievements can just as well be attributed to the economy and blind luck.”

He then challenged me to name three IEDC accomplishments from the last two years, strongly implying that I would not be able to comply with that request. He was hostile.

In hindsight, I should have realized that comparing our work to the previous administration’s was likely to send some committee members running for an Alka Seltzer. And the senator was correct; you can’t always compare apples to apples in different time periods.

It would have been far less partisan if I had compared our track record not with that of our predecessors, but as it related to our competition with other states.

In his State of the State address, Gov. Daniels, recognizing the slim Democratic majority in the lower chamber of our General Assembly, declared to the legislators assembled on the floor of the House Chamber his willingness to “[get things done for Indiana] through bipartisan cooperation.” He declared, “I am ready if you all are.”

Thanks to my experience in the committee hearing, I’d already learned my lesson. Bipartisan cooperation begins with sensitivity to your colleague’s political base. It’s the easiest way to get things done, and there’s plenty to accomplish. The crossroads of the nation, Indiana, is at a crossroads. The health of our residents and the education of our children are at stake.

The advantages of full-day kindergarten for every child are no longer in doubt. This excellent idea was first proposed by members of the Democratic Party. Our Legislature must work together to make full-day kindergarten a reality this fall. Failure to work out the details of this important initiative and the subsequent loss of one full year of all-day kindergarten is a disaster we cannot afford.

We are one of the most unhealthy states in the nation mainly because too many of us smoke. In fact, Indiana smokers per capita rank second only to Kentucky. Consequently, we suffer disproportionately from diseases related to smoking, including heart disease, lung cancer and emphysema. This reflects adversely on health care costs and makes it difficult for those interested in economic development to attract industries to Indiana.

An effort to raise taxes on cigarettes failed in last year’s Legislature. A bipartisan effort to raise those taxes and to wisely spend this revenue will discourage new smokers, save the lives of thousands of Hoosiers, and ultimately bring more economic development opportunities to our state.

Politics by its very nature tends to be unproductive. As the important issues of education and health care are debated, it remains to be seen from both sides of the aisle whether Indiana will be tarred by partisanship or treated with the cooperation, collegiality and, yes, sensitivity needed to move Indiana forward.

Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Corp., which owns Indianapolis Business Journal. To comment on this column, send e-mail to mmaurer@ibj.comor go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.com.

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