Thoughts on Indiana’s “balanced budget” amendment

Another Reddit thread turned blog post, as someone asked how to think about Indiana’s proposed “balanced budget” amendment. You’ll be asked about it on your ballot and it’s not getting much attention. I agree with most commentators that it will likely pass because it sounds good and smart. But here’s my thought process in the context of the Reddit thread:

Libertarians like reigning in government, setting strong limits, and keeping the fiscal house in order. This amendment checks all the boxes.

Libertarians (and I suspect most people) also like smart, efficient government (or at least the idea of it) and treating constitutions like well-respected, protected texts. That doesn’t mean they can’t change, but the spirit of them from history is worth recognizing.

That said, Indiana already has debt-guidance in the 1851 Constitution. Like many states, our Internal Mammoth Improvements Act (mostly canals) bankrupted the state when the economy crashed.

We defaulted on payments in the late 1840s, raised taxes by as much as 3x or more, slashed services, and had no money except to pay interest. Come 1851 our forefathers said, “Never again”. They wrote in rules about how debt was to be used by the State. Some exceptions were to repel rebellion and invasion, for instance. General debt to float a shortfall or two was allowed, so long as it was temporary and we felt secure in knowing we could pay it based on revenues.

That is the sticking point House and Senate R’s today have latched on to. Nothing in the 1851 Constitution says the budget has to be balanced. It just says we have to be smarter about debt. R’s are right in saying the only thing that’s balanced our budgets is our current desire to always do so.

So now I ask: what is the worst case scenario with this new amendment? Really worst case: another civil war where slightly less than 2/3 of the House and Senate don’t agree that it’s a rebellion, we have no money, and we can’t repel the invaders. In other words, the South rises again, a bunch of our legislators think it’s fine and are sympathetic, and this amendment fails to garner the 2/3 Supermajority vote to do anything about it.

What is a more likely worst-case scenario? Another depression or recession where state projects and services are cut. Democrats fear this and say we should go into a bunch of debt for it, but they seem to forget states, unlike the feds, can’t just print money. We’re already bound by the limits of monetary reality anyway.

But we just had a recession, and many others before that, and came out fine. The 1851 language has worked for us for 150 years. Amending it for political points, which is what this seems like, seems unnecessary. And for that reason, I’m voting “no”. The Constitution isn’t a cocktail napkin you just get to add political buzzwords to so you feel better. Fiscal responsibility comes from making hard decisions and leadership, not forced amendments that may or may not come back to bite us in the ass in 100 years.

We already have limits on debt that have worked. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

Also for what it’s worth, I don’t like the idea of requiring “supermajorities” for things. That’s not the spirit of democracy. Thomas Jefferson didn’t run around requiring 2/3 of the Continental Congress to establish Independence. Lincoln didn’t run around Congress vying for 2/3 of the votes to free the slaves.

Can I take 3 minutes to convert your political beliefs?

The Indiana Republican Party is holding their convention this weekend. There is a debate about whether to remove marriage being defined as a man-and-a-woman in their official platform. Last night, the report came that Speaker of the House Brian Bosma is against it. Governor Holcomb dodged it and refused to form an opinion. It’s up to the delegates, and I have no idea how they’ll vote.

But as they’re voting, literally a half mile up the street Indiana’s largest gay Pride parade and festival will be marching along.

I’ve written about Pride before. To recap: I don’t quite understand it, and I’m still not convinced it helps win over the hearts and minds of the people that have hearts and minds that need reaching. But people have fun, it does no harm to me, and best I can tell it doesn’t cost a bunch of money from public funds (parking revenue losses may be a wash with other parking revenue elsewhere, and police presence may be a regular shift of officers. I don’t know.)

I know a lot of gay people. I know a lot of Republicans. And I know a lot of Democrats. I know two gay Republicans. I know that Republicans get booed, with few small exceptions (like former Mayor Greg Ballard), and most of the people there are firmly in support of the Democrats. It’s not hard to imagine why.

But this does not align with reality. We know that about half of the population has to be conservatively-minded and half are progressive and liberal. It’s been this way forever. So how can you have that many thousands of diverse individuals at Pride and not have more than half a dozen people in favor of a narrowly defined government, cost savings, and personal freedoms?

You can’t. At least a third of the people there have some conservative ideals.

Over the years I have shifted between political parties, often voting fiercely independent in each election. But this does no one any favors because it still rewards bad behavior. There’s one party that is so hung up by civil liberties and personal freedoms they can’t help be renege on their own platform and deny them to people. This is idiotic and hypocritical.

But for the millions of gay men and women looking for a party, the Democrats are “the least bad choice” in most but not all circumstances around their personal freedoms. But what if you think charter schools might be worth looking at? What if you don’t think a government program is a solution to a problem? This is no way to live. This is no way to run a country or a state. Because then you’re tied to the baggage of the rest of the platform.

If you’re reading this and nodding slightly in agreement — regardless of our sexual orientation — consider if the Libertarian Party isn’t exactly who you are. Consider that maybe people should be free to do with their bodies as they wish, love who they choose, take part in safe, lawful events as they choose, and also we can do things in this country without it being a government program. That maybe there are some cost savings yet to be found in a few places. That maybe some government programs do more harm than good. Perhaps the solution to not every problem is an increase in taxes, but a re-alignment of taxes. That the best way to honor our veterans is to avoid sending them to more wars. And that maybe, just maybe, adults are free agents capable of deciding what’s best for them in every circumstance of their own lives. Perhaps a policy of “do no harm” is ideal.

A lot of this used to be the Republican Party, which does not seem to exist anymore. Someone once told me the reason they don’t vote Libertarian is because “Libertarians don’t win”. Well, you know what changes that, right?

Thoughts on the SCOTUS “gay cake” decision

The Supreme Court ruled today in favor of the Colorado bakery owner who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple. The headlines on this are terrible because people conflate “SCOTUS rules narrowly” with a 5-4 decision. In fact, it was 7-2. The “narrow” decision derives from the mere declaration this ruling decided just this case, mostly punished the Colorado agency that administered too unfairly, and doesn’t have much impact on other cases going forward.

That said, this is a good ruling. I know my gay and lesbian friends see this as a “loss” but that’s looking at this through the same partisan team mentality we decry every other day. For you to win it doesn’t always mean the other team has to “lose”.

Guys, it’s a cake. It is not an unreasonable request. It’s not like it was water service or electricity or a life-saving heart surgery. It’s a cake.

It is not unreasonable to ask for a cake. It is not unreasonable for someone to decide they don’t like you. It is not unreasonable for you to decide you don’t like them. It’s not unreasonable for you to decide not to hire them or for them to serve you. It’s not even unreasonable for you to tell your friends about it and for them to tell their friends about it. In fact, that’s all that should have ever happened.

But it went to court, as is their right to do, and it went to court again and again.

Guys, it’s a cake.

You can ask for a cake, be declined, and go somewhere else. I can’t even get a plumber to respond to several requests over the last two weeks and they don’t know anything about me or my life. They just straight up don’t respond. So I try someplace else until someone does respond. This only becomes a problem if the issue is so systemic and ingrained people can’t get access to vital services or trivial ones. Yes, we have had that problem in the past. But this was not that problem and courts can only solve the problem presented directly to them.

This is an okay decision. It means the government has no precedent to force someone to do something for someone they don’t like. You may argue that we should just criminalize bad thoughts, but this cuts both ways. If a gay woman didn’t want to bake a cake for a guy with a swastika on his forehead, she could still decline to do that. And the swastika guy can screw off somewhere else until he finds a Nazi baker.

And you know what — maybe if you tell your friends and all your friends agree, the business will suffer. And maybe it’ll go away like another restaurant people got up in arms about. Because unlike government mandates, businesses can go away.

This is a good thing.

7 miles in Indianapolis

Think about your morning routine. If you’re like me, you wake up, get dressed, and head out the door to go to work. Your schedule will vary, of course. I get up early, and you may get up later. I don’t have to shuffle kids to school. You might have to. But the routine is steady. Only occasionally does something get in the way – like an illness or a dead car battery. How many of the 260 working days each year does that happen, though? For most, it’s probably only a few.

For another group of commuters, it’s likely most days. I’ve long lamented the wastefulness of cars and car culture. But there’s a reason why cars win and there’s a reason why self-driving cars have so many people excited for the future: it works way better.

My commute this morning, and last Thursday, and last Wednesday looked something like this:

  • Wake up at 5:30 a.m.
  • Out the door at 6. Walk 15 minutes.
  • Take a bus Downtown. Arrive at 6:40.
  • Walk across the street to grab a Bikeshare bike. There are no bikes.
  • Walk to another station. There are no bikes.
  • Walk to another station, 15 minutes later, get a bike.
  • Bike to the station nearest my office. There are no open docks.
  • Bike backward to dock at another station then waste another 15 minutes walking.
Pacers Bikeshare Empty Station

An empty Pacers bikeshare station

You can imagine how awful that is when the weather is lousy. This is all to go 7 miles.

At the end of the day this process is reversed on more occasions than not.

Bikeshare as transportation doesn’t work because bikeshare doesn’t work for anything buy playful jaunts on a whim. I spend more time walking to and from bike and bus stations than I do using them.

The broken Pacers Bikeshare app just displays a map

The broken Pacers Bikeshare app just displays a map

The Bikeshare people regularly say to check their app to make sure a bike is available or a dock. Except it doesn’t work and hasn’t worked for over a month. Plus, it’s ridiculous. You’re telling people, “Before you go to work make sure one of the five spots is open.” As if that somehow changes where your office is.

Cars cost a lot of money, and I think they cost more than they’re worth. Government regulations require ever-additional costs (backup cameras, for instance). But there’s a reason everyone immediately shuffles to get one in all but a few cities in the U.S.: you get in them, you go somewhere, and you go somewhere else, and you get stuff done. That’s what productive high-performing people do. They get stuff done.

If time is money, then the time wasted on this dance every morning is a tax. We try to fill it with “productive” work – like listening to audiobooks or podcasts, but you can’t read a book or type on a laptop while you’re walking. If I left my house in the morning when I was ready, at 5:45, I could be at work by 6:05. In other words, I could be at my destination in the time it takes to walk half a mile down the road. This is why self-driving car advocates are excited. You couple the speed of destination arrival with the ability to read a book or catch up on emails. Convenience always wins. If every morning was a driving disaster this conversation might be different. But that’s not a problem I encounter even if I did drive.

Nothing any mere mortal can do will change this. Cities aren’t magically going to increase their density so you don’t have to travel as far. This doesn’t matter anyway. Just look at my commute problems, where most happen in the city’s densest square mile. The Transit Plan addresses none of this, because it doesn’t matter if the frequency is higher if I still have to walk 15-20 minutes to get to a stop. The Bikeshare isn’t going to get any better because no one’s coming to work at 4 am to make sure everything’s in order by 6.

Using car share isn’t much different in problems than bike share. But the cost is bonkers, at nearly $6 for a one-mile jaunt thanks to Indy’s nation-leading rental car tax. $12 a day round-trip just to move a mile is insane. You might as well buy a car so you could go more than one place a day. And spending more on ride-hailing services like Lyft is even more expensive. I don’t, however, think self-driving cars will make Lyft and others cheaper. Just more profitable for the companies.

Before urbanists and cities can attempt to make this better, we must start from a few central points:

  • Everyone living in apartments in a city center isn’t for everyone in costs, availability, and life needs.
  • You must recognize people can’t build wealth if they’re spending it all on transportation, or in time waiting for it to work.
  • You can’t change where people have to go. That client meeting on the edge of town, the school on the other side, the grocery store with food you like and can afford, and the dog park all exist where they exist.

It’s also a little insulting to tell people everything would be better if they lived in $1,500+ per month apartments they rented for their entire life in the nicer, denser places.

Honest to Goodness must go, so let’s make a new one

Three years on and Visit Indiana’s “Honest to Goodness Indiana” slogan is still lousy. It doesn’t make us feel proud. It doesn’t make us or anyone else love Indiana. It’s also barely lifted off the ground. A quick Google search reveals a few solid hits, but mostly just a bunch of negative press about it. An Image search shows almost nothing – though a simple Mayberry post from yours truly sits out there.

We need to believe in Indiana again. We need to understand our history, look to the future, and be optimistic.

In true government fashion, the state has dozens of slogans all competing against each other. “Indiana: A State That Works” is emblazoned on the side of the Government Center. The DOE has “Working together for Student Success”, and the State Police have “Step out of the vehicle”, probably.

That’s not even counting all the little sub-agencies and sub-sub-agencies that exist to market various things, like Hoosier agriculture products, clothing, big business and commerce, and so on AND the various icons and metaphors that go along, like gears, light bulbs, and other household cliches that get through committees.

The old “Restart Your Engines” had a bit of cleverness and whimsy to it. But the other 91 counties that didn’t have an “Indianapolis Motor Speedway” within their 2,709* governmental units complained it didn’t focus on them. Counties need something to work with, too.

Indiana needs a new, authentic, unifying rally cry. Something that can be adapted to any situation that Indiana is uniquely positioned to capitalize on. Something that works for every corner of the state, for every person who works and makes something of their day and life, for every small business, big business, loyal worker, and entrepreneur. Something that works as part of our state’s history and its future and something that people already associate us with.

It turns out, we’ve been using a phrase for generations: “Made in Indiana”.

From Elkhart to Evansville, Shipshewana to Shoals, things are made in Indiana every day. More things are made in Indiana than anywhere else in the United States. Let’s acknowledge that more things are made in more places than we give them credit for.

Columbus Architecture Made in Indiana

 

Holiday World can use “Excitement: Made in Indiana”, rural communities can use things like, “Hand-dipped ice cream: Made in Indiana”, and state agencies can run with this for all manner of things. “Great students: Made in Indiana”. “13,000 new jobs: Made in Indiana”. “1,200 new lane miles: Made in Indiana”. “Memories: Made in Indiana”. Workforce development and others can tweak it a little to get the tense right to say things like, “Make it in Indiana”.

Ice Cream Made in Indiana

It’s flexible, indicative of our strengths and our future, and applies literally to every single Hoosier in the state.

Memories Made in Indiana

Illinois can keep “Are you up for amazing” because you won’t feel so amazing after you see the tax bill. Michigan can keep “Pure Michigan” until it eventually rots like spoiling milk. Kentucky can keep “Unbridled spirit” since it seems all they must have is their hopes and wishes down there. Ohio can keep “Find it in Ohio” as if grandma lost her glasses there. Then everyone can drive to Indiana and make something.

Dreams Made in Indiana

 

*That’s more than Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, Nevada, and Hawaii – combined! We’ll have to do something about that, too.