Trump’s budget proposal is a mean, necessary, first step.

On principle, I’m a fan of some of Trump’s budget proposals. I’ve long argued our funding is upside down. There’s no reason New Yorkers should pay for art projects that get displayed in Indianapolis. There’s no reason people in Alaska should pay for a highway in Fort Wayne. It’s safe to say almost no one could name one thing paid for by the National Endowment for the Arts in Indianapolis. I’m sure there are things, but it’s unlikely anyone knows what they are on a grand scale. Asking for money from the Feds is like asking the Mayor’s office to buy you lunch.

A discussion just the other night with someone working here in Indiana suggested the millions of dollars flowing in from the federal government to help Indiana’s HIV crisis has been responsible for a hiring spree of people who work in Indianapolis and never visit the impacted areas. That’s a situation where there’s a clear order of operations: give addicts needles, then detox beds, then send them on their way with some job training. The Federal money isn’t doing much of that if any. There’s no reason Indiana can’t handle this itself. We caused it, after all.

We’d all be better off if we kept money at the local and state level, with the most going to local governments. It’ll get stuff done faster, too because nothing cuts red tape like not having any red tape to cut through.

Trump’s proposal even cuts IRS funding by $293 million, which I guess most people won’t mind.

My biggest problem with the plan is it just shifts money around, mostly to defense. There are no true net cuts to spending. If we’re going to cut these programs nationally, let’s reduce expenditures. Move money to the debt in the short term so we can lower taxes at the federal level long-term.

If I have to spend 30% of my income on taxes, I’d rather 20% of it go to Indianapolis. I live here. I walk on these streets. I have to look at the art projects done here. Cutting taxes at the federal level means we can maintain the status quo of tax expenditures if states and cities want or can increase taxes. If they don’t, at least I have some ability to move. It’s a lot easier to move from Indianapolis to Chicago than it is to move from the US to Canada. Shifting money this way would maintain the balance to a person’s tax status quo, but now people can see what they’re paying for. That’s a big deal, and this plan doesn’t do that at all. It just throws money into an existing pile no one asked for.

If there’s a big political problem in this country, it’s the perceived or real failure of governments to provide for their residents competently and efficiently. This leads to division in spending a bunch of money on taxes because you can’t see what you’re paying for. A healthy market – even of ideas – can’t function in that system.

This just leads to the federal government taking on a disproportionate amount of work to support what were always local issues and feeds more resentment. There’s no reason Congress should fund street lights for Detroit and buses for Indianapolis. The only time the federal government should provide local funding is in the event of large-scale disasters, attacks, or catastrophes that approach a scale unforgiving to a local unit of government. I’d argue flint’s water disaster qualifies.

PBS is going to be another sore point for people. We had this same outcry when Mitch Daniels cut public radio funding in Indiana around 2009. That continued just fine, WFYI is still on the air, and life went on. Remember, too, that HBO owns the rights to Big Bird first now.

It’s nuts so many great, deserving services and programs, like nonprofits funded with federal money, is so reliant on random whims of legislators who don’t know who they are. States may be in a race to the bottom on tax rates, but that’s surely driven in part by this cycle of increasing federal taxes that take money away to put it somewhere else far away. Pressure from voters in this cycle has us moving upside down.

I get that this proposal sounds bad, and there are certainly some downright mean things in there, like cutting Meals on Wheels. But we have to be adults and recognize we’re in debt. We have to make some hard decisions. One example is The Legal Services Corp., which provides legal aid to the poor, is getting cut entirely in this proposal. Legal-help services have always been over-burdened to the point no one thinks they help. They just fulfill a constitutional requirement to the minimum level. What use is that? Can’t we do better? We’re going to have to do better. A good way might be looking to the legal help in one’s community. I’d rather pay for that here in Indiana than Florida because at least the money can stay here and it might promote a stronger sense of community and pride.

A lot of America could use that right now.

Eric Holcomb may be the second coming of Mitch Daniels

Mitch Daniels’ long shadow over Indiana politics doesn’t seem stunted by Mike Pence’s cloud of gloom. Now that Eric Holcomb seems to be firmly in the middle of his first legislative session, he’s hitting all the right notes to say that he’s nothing like his immediate predecessor.

Holcomb seems to be skating right around social issues that consumed Mike Pence in a flaming blaze best reserved for the most fabulous attendees at Indy Pride.

Today alone Holcomb has reversed Pence’s dumb decisions on a bunch of stuff. He issued a pardon for Keith Cooper; a man arrested nearly two decades ago for a crime everyone now recognizes he did not commit. It was also a campaign promise. Pence ignored that, along with every other duty of his office, while he was off pretending to look Vice Presidential.

Holcomb also announced a disaster declaration for East Chicago around their water-contaminated Superfund site, which by itself doesn’t do much yet. But he did ask the Mayor there for a report of what’s needed, and the disaster declaration frees up parts of the Bureau of Bureaucracy to make things happen faster. The order currently prioritizes moving people out the contaminated area.

Holcomb has also suspended a contract with Agile Networks and the Indiana Finance Authority, a move that Pence thought would bring a real boat full of money to the state to pay for his Bicentennial projects through leased wireless towers in state parks for rural Internet coverage. That, of course, didn’t happen, just like everyone said it wouldn’t. Some people operate in reality and not blind faith.

Holcomb has also expressed support for double-tracking the South Shore line in northern Indiana. Trains! I wouldn’t be surprised if Holcomb doesn’t fear buses either! And he’s clearly open to expanding needle exchanges in an attempt to do something, anything, more than what Pence’s “I’ll pray for you” approach was to drug abuse.

It’s almost like Holcomb’s not masquerading as Governor to someday become President.

If today is any indication, Eric Holcomb is going to be a conservative with a slight libertarian angle to him like Mitch Daniels. I know for a lot of people that brings a sense of dread, but there are Republicans, and there are Republicans and Daniels – and hopefully Holcomb – are the former.

I have not been shy about my support for Daniels over the years. Yeah, we got Daylight Saving Time out of it, but lest we forget Indiana was doing relatively well overall. We were reducing expenses, balancing budgets, got our first AAA bond rating (which saves state and local governments millions in financing costs), and we were most improved in state efficiency, environmental permits, job growth, and – come on people – do we remember what the BMV was like? Have you tried going to a motor vehicle department anywhere else?

A lot of low-hanging fruit was picked between 2004 and 2012. Maybe Holcomb can find the stuff that Pence missed – and he missed a lot.

Mike Pence is not “Indiana nice”

I’ve always heard this claim about the Midwest being “Midwest nice.” More locally, “Hoosier hospitality” and “Indiana nice” might as well be on our license plates. But then a guy like Mike Pence comes along, and he’s just not a very nice man. He seems downright mean.

My grandmother used to say some people “had a lot of meanness in ‘em.” No one was safe from her scorn – Democrat, Republican, young, old, didn’t matter. Her litmus test seemed to be if you caused someone harm, damage, or were otherwise uncouth, you were mean. I feel the same way about Mike Pence. More broadly, it’s starting to feel that way about the entire Republican party.

When Pence was still Governor, I began to realize why a generation of people had begun to shift to the left and continue to stay there: everyone in my generation was taught more than any other to “just be nice to people.” I can’t prove it, but I’d bet 50% of Indiana’s brain drain problem is directly related to the politics of our State House. I’m not even talking about bag bans and Tesla sales. I’m talking about all the social cruft that strikes an entire generation as somehow mean, like a bully.

The Republicans aren’t doing a superb job of framing their agenda as “being nice.” And when someone isn’t “nice,” they’re probably being “mean,” and that’s very off-putting. The Democrats may just be better at hiding their meanness because the government can certainly be a bully to a lot of people the more it expands.

“Justin, this is ridiculous. Just because a bunch of sissy millennials can’t handle some toughness is no reason to coddle them,” you might say. If you did say that I would say you just proved my point by being a dick.

It doesn’t make a generation of people weak to be nice. It just means we don’t see a reason to push large groups of individuals away. Pence’s, and now Trump’s, Muslim ban, the wall, Sessions, the Supreme Court nominees, etc. are all just mean dick moves. Their downsides are worse than the potential purported benefit.

Don’t get me wrong – everyone’s kind of a dick some of the time. Left-leaning folks love shows like The Daily Show and Full Frontal precisely because they’re mean. They poke at people in a way that you’d never do to someone’s face. Bill Maher is mean. Sean Hannity and others on the right are mean.

Pence, and certainly Trump, come across as that kind of person. A sort of faux-niceness that’s him just pushing people in ways they don’t want to be. That is against the grain of what it means to be “Indiana nice” where we stay out of the way, help when people ask, and kindly say hello and smile when interacting with others.

As an aside, I find anyone who blindly supports a specific party, votes straight ticket, doesn’t question everyone and everything, and anyone who lacks some level of empathy to be psychopathic. That can’t be healthy. In what other endeavor do we do that? Do you only drink one beer? Do you only ever always and forever buy one brand of batteries or toilet paper?

I can support a lot of reform efforts that Democrats largely don’t like. I can get behind a lot of issues that Republicans generally don’t like. And I can feel at home with a good chunk of the Libertarian party because they’re increasingly just, “Leave people alone, and be nice.”

Don’t be mean. Leave people alone when they want to be left alone. Be Indiana nice.

Indianapolis must stop apologizing for winter

Hallway whiteboard

Last week’s hallway whiteboard outside SuperPixel World Headquarters asked passers-by if expense weren’t an issue, would you move away from Indianapolis or stay here? There was also a little follow-up about why.

It’s highly informal and doesn’t mean much, but it does echo a common refrain: “Indiana’s weather is bad” and “Indiana’s politics are wrong.”

The political issue is what it is. But we have a better chance of changing the weather than we do the Legislature. Or at least we have a better chance of embracing the weather.

Everyone’s gripe is that it’s cold and it snows; which are certainly two defining criteria for “winter.” Indianapolis should stop apologizing for winter. Lots of places have winter. Chicago has a winter. Buffalo has a winter. No one in Buffalo sits around crying about the snow and neither should we.

Instead, Hoosiers should embrace and prepare for it, because there’s another one coming around.

Encourage everyone to put on a thick coat and snow boots and promote sledding, ice skating, skiing (yes, skiing – there are two great slopes just a 90-minute drive away from here), and hockey.

Indianapolis promotes itself as the Sports Capital of the World. We’ve done a lot for basketball, football, racing, and swimming. We’re continuing to improve in baseball, hockey, and soccer. Why not extend that to snowboarding, bobsledding, figure skating, curling, and other winter Olympic sports?

We already have the facility for curling, hockey, and figure skating. Carmel’s interested in building an ice skating rink. Building facilities for Bobsleighs and other winter sports doesn’t seem any more impossible than what we’ve consistently already done. Except skiing, none of this requires a mountain or some other geographic trait we don’t already have.

Open the spectator sports for sports lovers, and you’ll have facilities people can enjoy themselves. Then instead of always complaining about winter and apologizing for it, we can market it and make Indianapolis the most kick-ass winter city in North America.

Repeal and replace…with what? How about this?

It seems likely that Republicans in the House and Senate are going to have their way with the Affordable Care Act someday soon. Trump, for his part, has expressed interest in keeping the more popular provisions, like children 26-and-under staying on their parents’ insurance and not denying people with pre-existing conditions.

Those are two rules that are likely to survive. The individual mandate, however, is likely not going to. Which is a key part of the system working. It already had a big hole poked in it from the Supreme Court at its inception. Another poke is likely to be a huge undoing.

“Repeal and replace” isn’t likely to happen, either. But people say they want it. They just never say what should be the replacement. Paul Ryan has been leading the way on this “A Better Way” campaign. When it comes to healthcare they’re largely hands-off, saying what they always said, like “buy insurance across state lines”. This won’t fix anything because the operations aren’t transparent enough for consumers to make informed choices. It’s another cozy relationship with Washington that’s going to begat more problems.

So I thought about it. I have routinely said for healthcare to work for Americans you have to pick a “side”. Either full-single-payer or full-free-market. Any mix of the two and you have too many special interests mucking things up. We know what we get with single-payer, and it does have downsides, but it’s easy to understand.

I happen to think a free market system would be more uniquely American and healthier in the long-term. Here’s Hartercare:

First, we’re going to require hospitals, medical providers, and pharmacies publish their prices clearly and consistently for everyone. If Starbucks can put the calorie count on a muffin, you can tell me how much a pill costs. This will give consumers the critical piece they need to make informed decisions on non-emergency care.

Second, we’re going to have a debate about patent reform. The fact hospitals often don’t seem to know how much an MRI costs or how much a drug costs is part-and-parcel with patents. A $30 million piece of equipment costs $30 million because of patents. Patents are important for a lot of things, but healthcare seems to be an area where that profit is more problematic. If transparent pricing doesn’t work, then let’s setup patent reform. This could be government buy-backs of technology, front-loading the research grants (maintaining our status as a research powerhouse), limiting their duration for drugs and life-saving patents, or all the above.

Third, encourage employers to stop granting health benefits at all to their employees. This was always a weird hack from WWII and it needs to stop. No one likes it when their employer issues them a phone or a laptop because it’s usually a crappy one. Health insurance should be about the same. The pool is now “everyone”.

We can ween people off this by slowly reducing tax write-offs and other incentives for employers over a period of 3-5 years.

Protect low-income, the elderly, and everyone else with a universal emergency plan. When your heart stops beating it’s not a time to Google around for price lists. And no matter what kind of private insurance exists on the market, low-income people are likely never going to be able to afford it. If we as a country are going to do something about that, we must have a universal system. I propose a universal emergency plan that covers everyone with basic care, preventative care, and emergency room care. This is paid for through taxation and distributed to everyone.

To supplement that, private insurance carriers, complying with the same rules on transparent and consistent pricing can offer add-on services. We already do this for a bunch of stuff, like supplemental Medicare plans, supplemental deductible coverage, and other benefits like Aflac.

Plus, having preventative care available to everyone saves money in the long-run for everyone. And having a “Basics” system removes all debate over contraceptives, abortions, and other hot-button issues.

Forget state lines, let’s open this up to the world. Insurance carriers and pharmaceutical companies’ cozy relationships with legislators are over. Let’s open competition globally. Drugs in Canada cheaper? Buy ‘em there mail-order. Health insurers in South Korea think they can provide better service to Americans than Anthem? Bring it on. Doctors in Japan want to provide tele-health services to look at grandma’s bunion? Let’s try it.

If Samsung can manufacture dishwashers from Korea and sell them against GE, and Tylenol can be made in Mexico and sold here, so can anything else. We have the systems and incentives in place to ensure people stay no less safe than they are now.

Stop incentives for the wrong things. If you read “Reinventing American Health Care” by Ezekiel Emanuel, one of the architects of the ACA, you’ll discover two important things:

  1. The Obama administration didn’t know what impact it would have on healthcare. They assumed it would either cut the costs and we’d see a permanent decline, or, we’d take “a big whack” where it went down for a few years and would proceed back up again. Seems we’re on the big whack track.
  2. Medicaid and particularly Medicare is incredibly distorting to the health system. Hospitals, for example, get more money back on reimbursement rates from the government for the same procedures if they’re in a new hospital. Thus, every hospital in the country is consolidating and merging and building shiny new buildings. Shiny, expensive, buildings. Because the government is mostly paying for the construction through higher reimbursements. Stop. That.

There’s no reason a little bit of profit with some healthy competition can’t be a solution that brings affordable care for everyone. Yes, some people are going to have better care than others. But that’s always been that way and always will be. We’re talking about ways to sustainably build a robust system that can scale to everyone, on demand, and without distorted incentives. These steps would go a long way.

And, there’s always single-payer system, too. Which is what most carriers think we’re moving toward anyway. It’s also what Emanuel points out in his book as one of the Administration’s “That’d be nice” goals anyway.