EYE ON THE PIE: Hoosier excess contrary to our nature

January 21, 2008

People think of Indiana as a place of moderation. We're not known for extremes. We are followers, not leaders. Certainly, we are not risk-takers.

How then can we explain some inexplicable behaviors?

Indiana's secretary of state and others were in Washington, D.C., before the U.S. Supreme Court recently to defend the nation's most extreme voter ID law. No one was prepared to say we suffered from an avalanche of voter fraud. There was not even evidence of a snowflake of fraud offered. No, Indiana's imaginative General Assembly passed a law to prevent a crime that does not seem to exist here.

This does not mean the dead never vote in Indiana. But it is not the lack of a government-issued photo ID that permits such fraud. None will say the ballot boxes or machines have never been finagled in Indiana, but that is not a voter ID issue. It was just an overdose of legislative testosterone that got Indiana to pass a law that makes us look tough about Election Day security.

Speaking of security, consider the security provisions at the Statehouse that went into effect around June 1. The day I visited was rainy and the eastern entry was closed by some project, but there was no sign indicating what the project was meant to do. That would be asking for minimal openness in government.

Nor was there a sign telling me how to enter the building. So I went to the north entry, which had a prominent handwritten sign, "Use next door," with an arrow pointing to the left. But that door was locked, as was the door on the right.

Then I saw the neat sign that said "Employees Only," even though there was no sign as I approached these doors indicating they were locked. After a few moments, knocking on the glass and making funny faces, I attracted the attention of a friend inside. He opened the door.

Wet and disgruntled, I went in and saw two lobbyists. I told them about my displeasure with being considered a threat to my state government and they laughed. It seems lobbyists can get passes to enter the sanctuary of the Statehouse because they are there so often. Later, I learned that members of the press also have such passes.

Any disgruntled state employee, lobbyist or reporter can enter the Statehouse with a gun, knife or explosive mixture. They are not subject to search. They do go through a background check at some time, but if they "go postal," because working in the Statehouse can do that to a rational person, they will not be stopped by our security system. Only schoolchildren and ordinary citizens are subject to the indignities of metal detectors and the scrutiny of polite, but bored, officers.

Is this system needed? No one knows. If they do know, they have not shared that information with us.

Let me tell you about the least-needed capital project in Indiana. It is called the extension of the South Shore Railroad to Lowell in Lake County and Valparaiso in Porter County. This would cost many, many millions of dollars. It would not relieve traffic congestion and it would not aid the Indiana economy. Other efforts in the same metro area would be more worthwhile.

Why consider improving the linkage of northwest Indiana with downtown Chicago until the existing system is brought up to an acceptable level of comfort and performance? Why improve a system that doesn't provide a passageway to other rapid-transit systems in Chicago? Why help Chicago when South Shore passengers are treated like unwanted relatives at the Randolph Street terminus?

The needs of northwestern Indiana would be served better by high-quality bus service that focuses on nodes of employment throughout the region. An extended rail link with downtown Chicago is nothing more than another abdication of opportunity for Indiana.

Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU's Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mmarcus@ibj.com.
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