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.

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.

A letter to Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb

Governor Holcomb,

Everyone said when Mike Pence began his term as Governor he had some huge shoes to fill left by Mitch Daniels. I think that was true, but I also believe you have an even bigger set of shoes to don now that Mr. Pence has left the State House.

I appreciate your work so far as Governor. We’ve met on a couple of occasions, once in your office (I was there to take photos at an event). For the first time in a while, Hoosiers think the state the is on the right track. I’m here to implore you to take your work to the next level so Indiana can leapfrog competing states.

We know from the Indiana Chamber, among others, that Indiana’s universities are powerhouses in STEM fields. Indiana’s high school graduation rate is nation-leading. Our logistics and agriculture businesses are firing on all cylinders. Tech is flourishing at a rapid pace in Indianapolis. But we also know that migration isn’t increasing. We’re barely treading water in net migration. Let’s be honest: most people don’t want to live in Indiana.

That might be because of work or family obligations elsewhere. But we know from places like Hamilton County and Kokomo that jobs follow people, not necessarily the other way around.

Let’s be honest about another point: Americans across the country think poorly of Indiana. People think Hoosiers are friendly, but not very bright. People believe that we’re too religious to a fault, too socially conservative, and incapable of being open to new ideas and societal changes.

Does everyone believe that? Of course not. Is this all a bad thing? Not necessarily. Does it matter what other people think of us? Maybe not, but net migration is significant. I think you get my point: Indiana has a severe image problem. Our brand is tarnished. People are voting with their feet and leaving for elsewhere.

If Indiana’s goal is to attract a new, modern, educated workforce, it starts with you. If we do a quick market analysis we’ll find there’s a niche not being filled by any state: “Affordable, but progressive.”

I’m not talking progressive politics in taxation or regulation. That would undo the “affordable” part, wouldn’t it? Indiana, under your leadership, can be the nation’s leader in affordability and be noticed for being truly socially welcoming, free, and contemporary. Colorado almost had this clinched, and that’s worked well for them, but their affordability is getting out of hand.

Indiana can embrace LGBT rights, responsible marijuana and alcohol laws, urbanism in its cities and towns, technology, parks, place-making, and so much more to make communities great places to live. There has to be more than just being a place to work. Like Governor Daniels said, “We have to build the best sandbox in the country.” We’ve built the sandbox, but there aren’t many sand castles yet.

Some work will require legislation. Others are simpler, like seeing you at next year’s Indy Pride festival. Your remarks on Indiana’s alcohol laws are promising, but we can’t be seen playing catch-up from a century of lousy laws.

We don’t have the best weather or significant natural landmarks like mountains or many beaches. But there’s no reason Indiana can’t have the cultural and inspirational leadership of Washington or New York and the affordability and business climate to compete with Texas. It’s a differentiation no one else is making. Will it make some people here uncomfortable? You bet. Will it be better for Indiana in 20 years? Absolutely.

I think you know that. You can set that tone for everyone to see and recognize. The House and Senate trust you, and so do most Hoosiers, to lead Indiana’s brand to the next level.

Sincerely,

 

 

Justin Harter, Indianapolis

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.

Is your social media unbalanced? Here’s some help to fix it.

Several people have commented that their social media feeds are depressing, upsetting, bitter, and in most cases: an echo-chamber.

I wrote about this recently on what you can do about “Your Facebook Bubble“, how the algorithm works (particularly on Facebook), and why it’s important. So today I thought I’d share a list of Twitter and other sources you might consider adding to your feeds.

I took the effort a year or more ago to balance out my streams and sources with opposing and bi-partisan sources. if you’re reading a lot of Slate, or getting all your news from Sam Bee, Sean Hannity, or Jon Oliver, try balancing out with some of these folks. I watch Jon Oliver, too, but that doesn’t help the echo-chamber.

I have tried to avoid large “ad” entities, like political parties’ sources, though I follow each just to read what they’re saying. There’s no Drudge or Breitbart here. There’s no hate-mongering people here. I’m looking for smarts, not entertainment.

I also include several Indiana-specific people, too. If you find yourself lacking in knowledge about what’s happening at the State House, these folks are indispensable.

And if you find yourself saying, “Oh, no, I don’t want to see that”, you’ve missed the point and opportunity. If you feel angry at these things, then it’s probably working.

Is this the end-all list? Of course not. But this has helped me understand more sides of important issues.

I’ve linked to Twitter and sites where possible here. Facebook and other URLs can often be found in the bios of these people. You can follow me directly on Twitter @jlharter.

Nicke Gillespie – Journalist at Reason.com, a libertarian-leaning news source.

Reiham Salam – Writer for Slate and the National Review.

Adam Wren – Writer for Indianapolis Monthly and POLITICO.

Charles Cook – Editor for the National Review, frequent panelist on Real Time with Bill Maher

Grover Norquist –President of Americans for Tax Reform (“the tax pledge”), which has the ear of every elected representative in Washington.

Brian Slodysko – AP Political Reporter for Indiana.

Dan Carden – Statehouse Bureau Chief for the Times of NW Indiana.

SCOTUS Blog – Indispensable source for Supreme Court coverage.

Indiana Law Blog – to add to the former, Marcia Odi has done stellar work over the years covering Indiana’s Judiciary.

Abdul-Hakim Shabazz – Veteran Indiana politics reporter with a conservative tilt.

Nikki Kelly – can’t recommend following her enough. Great Indiana government and politics reporter covering the State House. One of the few left.

Aaron Renn – Indiana native now working at the conservative Manhattan Institute. An urbanist covering issues related to city growth and economies.

Doug Masson – Lafayette attorney covering Indiana’s politics for about a decade.

Alex Griswold – Media reporter at Mediaite.

Matt Welch – Co-author of the Declaration of Independents.

HHR – The urban conservative blog.

Matt Taibbi – excellent writer and journalist (left-leaning) for Rolling Stone. Also a regular on Real Time With Bill Maher.

Windsor Mann – Writer and editor of The Quotable Hitchens.

David French – Senior Fellow at the conservative National Review Institute.