Perspectives in Education: John Krull

 

By John Krull

The Statehouse File

The chair of the Ways and Means Committee in

the Indiana House of Representative played a game of chicken the other day.

In the process, Rep. Jeff Espich,

R-Uniondale, may have created an opening for reshaping the political dialogue

in Indiana.

The issue was the mass

transit

system many people in Central Indiana want. The system has a big

price tag — $1.3 billion – but many of the movers and shakers in

Indianapolis and the eight counties surrounding Marion County see it as

essential to the region's growth.

Espich, through whose hands all taxing and spending questions before

the Indiana General Assembly have to pass, authored a bill that would help make

that happen. But he threatened not to give it a vote.

"I don't know if I'm going to bring it to

a vote until I see some support from individuals," Espich

told The Statehouse File.

Espich said that he was upset that no one else – no Democrat

– had signed on as a co-author.

"Everyone is afraid of the tax increase,"

Espich said in a story written by Krista Chittum. "I'm the only one who's supportive of the tax

increase and I haven't found anybody else that is."

Translation:If you Democrats think

I'm going to be the only one assuming the political risk of calling for a tax

increase, you're crazier than Charlie Sheen.

It used to be said Social Security was the

third rail of American politics. Touch it and die.

That is still true, but there is another third

rail.

Tax increases.

For more than 30 years, one certain path to

victory at the polls has been to accuse an opponent of supporting tax

increases. The accusations often don't have to be fair or accurate. And it

often hasn't mattered if the tax increases created important change or helped

the people who were being taxed.

Touch it and die.

In some ways, the two third rails are

bookends. Democrats use a Social Security scare as a campaign weapon.

Republicans use tax increases.

But Republicans' favorite weapon also has

brought the GOP into a kind of political cul-de-sac. At a time when Republicans

are in power in many states where the infrastructure is crumbling or

opportunities go glimmering without new investments of resources, tax increases

might make sense.

This trap of their own making sometimes has

pushed Republicans into strange choices.

Gov.

Mitch Daniels

and Indianapolis

Mayor Greg Ballard

, for example, pushed through plans to lease the Indiana

Toll Road and Indianapolis's parking meters, respectively, for the same reason.

In order to improve things, they said, we need to let the private sector solve this, because

government just won't do this well.

That argument always has been circular in

nature — a large part of the reason government can't improve services is

because Republicans won't vote to improve them. And, in many ways, their

arguments have cut against the grain of the claims Republicans such as Daniels

and Ballard make to leadership.

They both pride themselves on being good

managers who understand opportunity, yet they both said this was an opportunity

they had to pass up because they couldn't manage the challenge. If it was possible to streamline either the toll road or the

parking meters, wouldn't it have been better to have government do it so that

the taxpayers could have reaped the rewards?

That's what makes Jeff Espich's

role so intriguing.

His implied argument is that some tax

increases are okay if they operate like investments and bring something in

return.

Just as Richard Nixon was the only one who

could open China to the west, a Republican is the only one who can say that,

sometimes, tax increases make sense.

And, on the flip side, it will have to be a

Democrat who proposes meaningful reform to the Social Security system.

Espich won his game of chicken.

Not long after he threatened to deny the mass

transit bill for a vote, Rep. Peggy Welch, D-Bloomington, signed on as a

co-author.

John Krull is director of Franklin

College's Pulliam School of Journalism, host of No Limits, WFYI 90.1 FM

Indianapolis and executive editor of The Statehouse File, a news service

powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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