The Republican publicity machine has four main engines that make news: the tax reform cheer squad, advocates for education “reform,” economic development braggarts and the proponents of higher rates of post-secondary education. These mighty engines are full of braggadocio but empty of substance. Let’s look at just four recent data points measuring actual results. Voters need to consider each as we approach an election year.
What tax reform? The unstated suggestion is that, when tax rates are lowered to great fanfare, people are paying less. This is in essence false, at least in Indiana and for the average taxpayer.
Policy Analytics, a respected think tank, produced a remarkable and simple chart at a recent hearing before Republican Sen. Holdman. He chairs a long-term study of Indiana state taxation. The chart makes one simple point: After decades of tax cuts, Hoosiers on average are paying the same 10% of personal income to the state and local government that they have been paying for decades. If there has been tax relief, it has not been so in aggregate or for each Hoosier.
The reasons are clear: Under Republican leadership from 2004 on, we raised sales tax to one of the highest in the land. And while we nibbled away at the personal income tax rate set by the state, we presided over a flood of increases in income tax raised by local units of government. And while the benefits of the property tax caps are diminishing over time, the dramatic reduction in corporate tax rates stays firmly in place. In short, while some favored folks benefit, the overall impact of the cuts is nil.
Which high-paying jobs are flooding into Indiana? There must be some reason for all the ballyhoo over the IEDC, the center of our economic development efforts. One might guess that we are getting lots of great new jobs, raising our income above competing states.
The guess would be wrong. The average Hoosier has a personal income that is only 89.1% of the national average. Places some hate are doing better: California (117.7%), Massachusetts (129.2%) even benighted Illinois (103.3%). In fairness, I note that our rates are very close to those of our other Midwestern neighbors. And our employment level is fine at a time of high national employment.
Do enough kids in Indiana read well? I have been on the Indiana House Committee on Education long enough to be firmly convinced that it is critical for our kids to read well as they leave the third grade. The House speaker has just commented that some 20% of our kids fail to meet that requirement.
We were at 86.2% proficiency when the reform wave began in 2011. We crept up to 87.3% in 2019, then fell after COVID hit. We are now at 81.9% after a small gain this year. In the meanwhile, we have reduced the extra support we give to low-income and special-ed kids. Thousands of kids are falling behind, often to stay there.
How are we doing on going on to college? Well, we were at 65% of high school grads going on to education beyond high school as recently as 2015. Our leaders rightly called for us to reach that level. Instead, the rate fell dramatically, dropping to 53% in 2020.
This is a direct result of our downplaying the value of higher education. At the same time, we have left our colleges and universities to hold the line on tuition. We should have lowered it. Instead, we found ways to squirrel away our growing surpluses.
Look to results, not to self-raise, when you vote.•
DeLaney, an Indianapolis attorney, is a Democrat representing the 86th District in the Indiana House of Representatives. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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