EYE ON THE PIE: Whom will the state subsidize next?

April 2, 2007

Last week, I was walking on the Statehouse grounds and I saw some folks with large green pins on their lapels.

"What do those stand for?" I asked.

"Small businesses need Electronic Gaming Devices" one wearer told me.

"That's for bars," I

commented. The reply I got was not friendly.

In the newspapers and on TV during the same week, there were features about horse breeders "needing" more state subsidies from slot machines at racetracks to "keep the industry alive."

Isn't this the lowest form of special pleading imaginable? Bar owners and horse breeders are not and should not be a protected class. Unless they claim inferior intelligence or innate inadequacies regarding their business acumen, why should they get help from the state? Do we as a state have any legitimate reason to help them? Just because they exist does not entitle them to special treatment.

What has happened to the idea of getting people off welfare? Do we want horse breeders dependent on the state or should they make it on their own? Do bar owners need help from us? We already protect them from open competition.

If more gambling devices are warranted to raise revenue, let's install them to benefit worthy causes. Instead of supporting more gambling devices to keep horse breeders in business and to raise the revenue of bar owners, let's use the funds to educate displaced workers. We could subsidize child care for needy families. We could fund health care or housing. We could do any of a hundred things we are not doing because "we don't have the money."

I don't like gambling because it redistributes wealth by chance. I have argued, without success, that rewards in life should be based on merit. That is at the heart of American economic ideology. When we have raffles and lotteries, we tell ourselves and our children that effort, good deeds, knowledge, good manners, even good looks, are not important.

To use gambling to increase the revenue of the state is unfortunate. To use it to benefit small groups of people who have no legitimate claim to special treatment by the state is plain wrong.

On another note, I am disappointed that Gov. Daniels has withdrawn his support for the Commerce Connector around the eastern and southern sides of Indianapolis. I am equally distressed that he orphaned the Illiana Expressway east of Interstate 65. These were good ideas. Now is the time to pursue them.

Today, the public outcry against these initiatives is too strong for a smart politician to ignore. Soon, it will be too late to advance these projects because the land will be built over and the number and intensity of the protests will be much greater.

The governor proposed what will be needed. His ideas deserved serious consideration, not knee-jerk opposition. The narrowminded occupants of these lands today showed again the human tendency to ignore the needs of the future. Rather than risk their ire, the governor stepped back.

If Mitch Daniels were a good bureaucrat, he would have appointed a "blue ribbon" council to outline the transportation needs of the state. Then he could have endorsed their proposals with less identification of his own political career with the projects themselves.

It is always sad when voters won't consider the rational programs of their leaders. And these are the same voters who follow blindly a president who is bereft of rational programs.

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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