EDITORIAL: If it's a priority, fund accordingly

January 26, 2013

Gov. Mike Pence followed his campaign playbook in his first State of the State address by keeping a lid on social issues and pushing economic proposals designed to play to the masses. Whether his primary plan for adding jobs can win approval—or is viable—remains to be seen.

Pence continues to push for a 10-percent, across-the-board cut in Indiana’s personal income tax rate, a suggestion with obvious appeal to many Hoosiers. But one important group remains skeptical of the idea: Republican lawmakers.

The governor insists Indiana can cut taxes, maintain its strong financial position, and fund its priorities, and that the tax cut will stimulate spending and put businesses in a position to add jobs. Whether that’s realistic depends to a great extent on how the state’s priorities are defined and how much should be spent on them.

Certainly, leaving more money in the pockets of Hoosiers and small businesses could have a stimulative effect on the economy. But is that a wiser path to growth than funding pre-kindergarten and vocational education, or coming up with a long-term strategy to fund transportation? To suggest that the only responsible thing to do with the people’s money is to give it back implies that it can’t be invested on their behalf in a responsible, beneficial way.

We agree with the governor that pre-kindergarten education and vocational training should be a state priority, but neither of them will come close to achieving their full potential without significant resources invested in a strategic way. Imagine the revenue that could be generated, the jobs filled and the variety of costs avoided by putting more young Hoosiers in a position to succeed in their school and work lives.

It’s time to move beyond platitudes and lay out a plan—and a budget—for making those priorities happen.

As for transportation, Pence recognizes the need to repair and upgrade the state’s roads and bridges, but shifting $347 million out of the state’s budget reserves doesn’t strike us as a sustainable vision for our transportation infrastructure.

And it was disappointing that the governor didn’t mention public transportation in his speech. It’s not that public transit is a big idea or especially innovative—it’s been around for more than a century, after all. The problem is that it’s such an afterthought here.

Rather than continuing to view roads as the only mode of transportation worth investing in, the governor and some lawmakers need to acknowledge the potential economic advantages to Hoosiers and their employers of adding public transportation to the mix.

A spirited debate about what form that should take and how to fund it is welcome and is beginning to happen. We hope Pence will join the conversation about how, not if, Indiana can diversify its transportation options.

The governor is fond of saying that Indiana is poised to go from good to great. We don’t disagree. The question is how to get there.•


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