Monday, December 30, 2013

Seven Questions My Legislator Wants Me To Answer

It's that time of year when state lawmakers send out those colorful legislative surveys with their beautiful smiling picture staring at you and their name emblazoned in bold letters you can't miss and hopefully won't forget the next time you enter the voting booth, if you are among the minority of Americans who still participate in the "democratic" process. The lawmaker assures you that he wants to be your voice at the State House, and that your opinions are very important in guiding her votes on bills that are heard during the legislative session. It's all a bunch of baloney if you haven't already figured that out on your own, and it's hardly worth the expenditure of taxpayer dollars that are used to send out campaign literature masquerading as official government business.

I'm represented by Rep. Dan Forestal. I've met him, and he's a very friendly and nice guy. He's a Democrat and I'm a Republican. He's Catholic, and I'm Protestant. He's also a career government employee from a family of career government employees, the exact opposite of my family upbringing, so it's no surprise that he and I don't agree on many issues. Before Rep. Forestal got around to the questions he wanted me to answer, he took time to share his broad agenda for the session: "rebuild the middle class" by "creating stable, good-paying jobs" to reduce unemployment; increase the medial household income; and "focus on issues that matter to all Hoosiers." Alright, those are noble, lofty goals, but how does he plan to achieve them? The survey questions might shed some light on that.

Question 1. Would you support allowing local governments the ability to increase the minimum wage/benefits for workers in their area?

Both the federal and state minimum hourly wage rate is $7.25. Presumably, Rep. Forestal is suggesting a state law that would give local units of government the right to raise the minimum wage within their geographic boundaries to a rate that is higher than the applicable federal and state minimum wage rate. Rep. Forestal seems to like the home rule approach on a host of issues as you'll see from later questions in his survey. My answer to this question is an emphatic no. Raising minimum wage rates will not create more jobs or succeed in raising real wages. As long as we continue to enact federal trade policies supported by Democratic and Republican administrations alike that promote the transfer of American jobs to countries that pay slave wages to their workers through one-sided trade agreements, little is accomplished by raising minimum wage rates other than to eliminate jobs for those who most badly need them. If you want to affect wage rates, then talk to your congressman about enacting fair trade policies that don't punish American workers.

Question 2. Would you support a college tuition freeze at public universities in Indiana that would lock in a student's tuition rate over a four-year period?

That depends. I abhor the way public universities are currently funded. Public university administrators and educators are grossly overpaid in my opinion. If the legislature doesn't appropriate the amount of money the universities request, they just make up the difference through higher tuition rates. They need to live in the real world like the rest of us and learn to get by with less. The fact is that the cost of obtaining a higher education has been increasing well above the rate of inflation for decades, and most graduates can't find jobs that pay well enough to repay their student loans. A tuition freeze without reforms designed to force our public universities to provide higher education more economically and efficiently would be self-defeating. Tuition freeze is a good catch phrase, but the problem is complex and requires more than simple solutions that sound good at election time.

Question 3. Do you believe the operation of state employee pensions should be privatized, even if that means the unpredictability of the stock market could eliminate guaranteed returns?

If you're asking if I believe that defined pension benefits that allow government employees like yourself to retire 15 to 20 years before the rest of us with a generous life-time benefit should be phased out, the answer is an emphatic yes. I have no problem with the government matching contributions made by the employees to their retirement plans based on rules similar to those the rest of us must rely upon for our retirement benefits. In case Rep. Forestal doesn't know it, government pension benefits for state and local employees are already invested in the stock market. It's just that, unlike the rest of us, their retirement benefit is guaranteed regardless of the return on invested pension funds. If there's not enough in their retirement fund to pay their defined benefits, then all the rest of us are socked with higher taxes to pay for their retirement benefits. Join the rest of us in worrying about how we're going to pay for our retirement.

Question 4. Indiana law currently defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Should this definition be permanently added to our state's constitution?

Absolutely not. The current law banning same-sex marriages has already been upheld as constitutional by our state's Court of Appeals, and our state's Supreme Court has rarely struck down a law enacted by the General Assembly, no matter how unwise, on state constitutional grounds. A majority of the members of the U.S. Supreme Court have already strongly hinted in the U.S. v. Windsor case that state laws like Indiana's Defense of Marriage Act will have a difficult time passing federal constitutional muster in the future. A state constitutional amendment will not stop the state's law from being struck down on federal constitutional grounds and it strikes many as being motivated by mean-spiritedness and intolerance.

Question 5. Do you support allowing residents in central Indiana to determine for themselves through a referendum if they want to pay to expand mass transit?

Absolutely not. Your constituents have been paying a dedicated tax to support a mass transit system in Marion County (subsidized with additional federal and state tax dollars) for decades to which suburban residents have contributed nothing directly. Now you want your constituents to pay a second tax to expand the reach of mass transit into the surrounding suburban counties. If those suburban counties want to expand and connect mass transit in our county with their communities, then let them pay for it. If IndyGo needs more funding to operate a better mass transit system within Marion County, then tell Indianapolis' mayor and city-county council to stop giving away hundreds of millions of dollars to private developers to build luxury hotels, new housing and commercial development for downtown and handing out property tax abatements to their campaign contributors like candy.

Question 6. Several commercial buildings in our district are old, outdated and waste a great deal of energy. Do you support state incentives to create jobs by retrofitting old buildings to make them energy efficient, lowering energy bills and reducing our dependence on foreign oil?

No. The federal government has already wasted hundreds of billions of tax dollars on these green energy boondoggles that are nothing more than thinly-veiled efforts to give tax dollars away to businesses owned by connected political insiders who are stuffing money in the politicians' pockets in consideration for their support of these government handouts. We should allow market forces to drive energy efficiency.

Question 7. Would you support a local tax increase to put more law enforcement officers on the streets in our local neighborhoods?

Absolutely not. Been there, done that. Our local income taxes were raised 65% in 2007 to put more police officers on the street. We have fewer police officers today than we had before our taxes were raised. Your survey only gives me the options of selecting "yes" to "support a local tax increase to hire more officers," or "no" if "I believe there are enough officers currently on the streets." Those are false choices. Assuming there are insufficient funds to pay for public safety, it's not because we're being taxed too little. To the contrary, we're taxed plenty already. It's just that those responsible for allocating our tax dollars have chosen to divert more and more of the revenues to slush funds used to finance the private development projects of the politicians' favored campaign contributors, while many other favored businesses are afforded generous tax abatements, necessitating the need for the rest of us to pay higher taxes. So the correct answer to your survey is neither yes or no. It's called straightening out your priorities rather than blaming ordinary taxpayers for the problem.


Indy Rob said...

Answer 1 - No, I would not support “localized” minimum wage. The problem is that it has the effect of encouraging employer's to look at relocating to lower wage areas, leading to a net loss of jobs within the areas with a higher minimum.

Answer 2 -No, I would not support a tuition freeze. I would support efforts to reduce college costs to the point where a 3.0 student can work a minimum wage job part time during the school year and full time during the summer (somewhere around 1400 hours per year) which would be enough to pay for tuition, room, board. This 1400 hours comes from my bills at Purdue 32 years ago, my son's IU costs are about 2500 hours of work at minimum wage.

Answer 3 -No, pensions for 30-year state employees should be guaranteed. The problem is that elected officials should be excluded from state pension plans and health insurance , this includes state legislators, their spouses, local legislators, etc. I would include the state worker bees (like police, fire, teachers, career employees, etc) and exclude school board members, elected township officials, elected local officials, state legislators and so forth from state pension plans.

Answer 4 - Even though I have issues with gay marriage, the legislators need to recognize and codify the legal ramifications of those unions. Apply the same laws about community property, child support, survivorship, and require employers to offer the same benefits, for both hetro and gay couples.

Answer 5 - No, stop the mass-transit game. This is just another way for politically connected firms to obtain tax dollars while providing nothing of value to the general public.

Answer 6 -No, stop the tax credit and property tax abatement games. Outlaw the use of TIF areas and require everyone to pay the same taxes. This is just another way for politically connected firms to obtain tax dollars while providing nothing of value to the general public. Write code standards for better energy efficiency in older buildings.

Answer 7 -No, if anything, require each city to use a set percentage of tax revenues (including TIF funds) for police and fire departments.

Flogger said...

"rebuild the middle class" by "creating stable, good-paying jobs"

I feel fairly certain this a standard Cut and Paste, phrase most elected politicians use. I wish I had a copyright on this phrase.

How they will accomplish creating sustainable Living Wage Jobs, without Government Subsidies is not addressed. (TIFs, etc.)

One question missing from all of these surveys: Do you support the collection of taxes by the Government to build and maintain stadiums or subsidize Professional Sports Teams.