Maybe you've seen Mike Pence's latest 30-second spot. It opens on Pence — or Mike, as he would have us call him (hell, it worked for Mitch!) — standing beside a red pickup truck, somewhere in Hoosierland.
"Hoosiers are blessed with a lot of common sense," says Pence. "Folks around here have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't."
This, of course, is what Indiana folk have been telling themselves since before the days when the state government was taken over by the Ku Klux Klan. In 1907, we were the first state to pass a law providing for the involuntary sterilization of "confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles and rapists." And before that, we tried building a system of canals — just as something called the railroad was catching on.
Figuring out what works and what doesn't can be kind of tricky, I guess.
Pence goes on to say: "To put us on the road to recovery, we need to be willing to say yes to Indiana and no to Washington, D.C. As your governor, I'll fight for the right of Hoosiers to run our own schools, choose our healthcare, and produce our energy the Indiana way."
OK, er, Mike. But what, exactly does this mean?
It sounds good, I know, to pit good old common sensical Indiana against the great beast of Washington, D.C. For a politician like Pence, this represents a nifty pirouette. Pence started out as a get-the-government-off-our-backs talk show host. This, however, didn't keep him from wanting to get a government job. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2001, where he set about trying to make the federal government seem as useless as he said it was. When Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, Pence shrugged and said, "We must not let Katrina break the bank."
After awhile, though, common sense — even the Hoosier variety — might begin to wonder why someone so dead set against the federal government would continue wanting to be a part of something he found so dang-nabbed corrupt.
So Pence pivoted into state politics, where he can rail away at Washington, D.C., while continuing to cash taxpayers' checks. The only trouble with this approach is that it doesn't make sense — common or otherwise.
For starters, check out our outgoing senator, Richard Lugar's official website. There you'll see just what a pain Washington, D.C., has been to Indiana: $47,254,172,000. That's the amount of federal dollars brought into our state in a single year, 2007 — the last year for which figures like these are available.
That total includes $5 billion in family health and human services assistance, $1.8 billion for transportation and highways, $616 million for education, $343 million for housing and urban development, $451 million in agriculture grants.
Then there was the $6.8 billion for Medicare. The $797 million in unemployment compensation. The $677 million in food stamp payments.
Oh, and how about the $4.6 billion that went to Indiana defense contractors?
But maybe you're a purist about these things. Maybe you'd just as soon say yes to Indiana and no to Washington, D.C., so we Hoosiers can, as Pence says, "run our own schools, choose our healthcare, and produce our energy the Indiana way." I have a common sense question for you: How you gonna pay for it?
Indiana is a low-tax state. According to a Purdue study comparing tax rates across the country: "One index of Indiana's combined tax rates puts the state 40th in the nation — that is, in the bottom ten — in tax rates overall.This low-tax ranking comes from low taxes on households — low sales taxes and low individual income taxes, and somewhat lower residential property taxes."
And speaking of those property taxes — they've been capped. There's no wiggle room there. Not only that, while Mitch Daniels was able to get away with funding billions worth of highway projects by leasing the northwest Indiana Toll Road for 75 years to foreign investors, that windfall's been spent. The next governor will have to find new sources of cash to fund infrastructure improvements common sense tells us are way overdue.
Daniels actually made trying to get federal funds a priority of his administration. Here's a message he posted on the IN.Gov website: "I created the Office of Federal Grants and Procurement (OFGP) by Executive Order on my first day in office in order to increase significantly the amount of federal dollars coming to our state. Indiana ranks at or near the bottom among states in terms of our success in bringing federal funds back from Washington, and now the state is determined to move quickly to improve our performance and our ranking."
Pence says he wants to say no to Washington, D.C., and run education, healthcare, and energy "the Indiana way." But the Indiana way has been based on an awkward kind of math.We've used federal dollars to keep our state and local taxes low. There's a kind of Hoosier common sense in that: Why take the heat for raising state taxes when you can blame the IRS? If Mike gets his way — and it looks like he will — we'll find out just what saying no to Washington really costs.