The Indiana House of Representatives just dealt with five laws and hundreds of millions of dollars in four hours or less. How is such a feat possible? The answer lies in the efficient use of the secretive caucus process. Successful gerrymandering not only creates a supermajority, it allows for government to be run behind closed doors.
The House Republican caucus met privately one afternoon. It decided on the bills to pass at the special session. Reportedly, the caucus did not take a great deal of time and followed up with a fundraiser. Five bills emerged. One of them left some $180 million dollars in revenue rejected
A professor of rhetoric would refer to the debate on the bills as “desultory.” That’s a fancy way of saying there wasn’t much to it. The supermajority was reluctant to explain the bills for two reasons. The first was that several bills were symbolic at best. A good example of this was the decision to add $5 million to a grant fund that could be spent on school safety. Several thousand schools have a right to dig into that rather small pile of cash.
The second reason for the slim debate was that the supermajority did not want to explain how it decided when to conform with changes in federal tax policy. The decision was made to tax entrepreneurs some additional $48 million a year while turning down some $180 million in revenue from large corporations. Conformity gave way to random reductions for the favored firms. If there was a policy here, it wasn’t the promised conformity.
Hoosiers pay a price for the poverty of this debate. First, and most important, it erodes transparency, the idea that we legislate in public. The public is left to fester over the $30,000 cost of the special session, while being left in the dark as to the millions of dollars actually at stake.
Happily, the supermajority did slip twice and let us know what’s really going on. When debating the bill that allows for takeover of the schools in Muncie and Gary, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee predicted a substantial loss of population for both of the affected counties. This apparently justified dramatic action. It also showed that the Legislature’s chief fiscal leader holds out little hope for some of our communities. Implicit in this is a willingness to let some of our communities sink. That explains why we are doing nothing to rescue shrinking schools in small towns and in urban centers. It would’ve been better for them to keep silent on this topic, but at least the supermajority revealed its hand.
The second gaffe made in the course of the day might well have been the bigger one. Thus, the same fiscal leader felt compelled to identify by name some of the companies that would benefit from a decision to give up new revenue. Generally, legislators avoid naming private individuals or firms as objects of their bounty. It just doesn’t look good. Public concern about favoritism is also increased when there has been no public testimony, no amendments allowed for the minority, no witnesses, and no public lobbying.
Whatever might have been going on? Surely, whatever the supermajority discussed in caucus, it wasn’t what $180 million could have done for schools in decline, teacher pay, the opioid crisis or our deplorable roads.•
DeLaney, an Indianapolis attorney, is a Democrat representing the 86th District in the Indiana House of Representatives. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.