There’s nothing wrong with small steps on the way to ‘big victories.’
If we were grading the just-ended session of the Indiana General Assembly, we’d give it a solid B. It improved our lives a little in a few areas and did no real lasting harm. And it cut taxes a tad – never a bad thing. “A little” and “a tad” perfectly describe this session – however big the issue tackled, legislators took only small steps.
This approach doesn’t please everyone, of course. An Indianapolis Star editorial, for example, lamented the General Assembly’s “inability to see the big picture, to move the state forward swiftly when necessary,” resulting in a session of “modest achievements” in a state “that desperately needs big victories.”
But how certain can legislators be of what is needed for those “big victories”? What if they’re wrong? Isn’t a modest achievement better so the effects can be studied before going big and grand?
To cite a couple of examples:
Gov. Mike Pence wanted a complete phase-out of the state’s corporate income tax. Instead, legislators voted to reduce it to 4.9 percent over six years. Further, they gave counties the option of exempting equipment from the business personal property tax. Counties can now make their choices based on how much or how little they are dependent on manufacturing. And lawmakers can study the state’s overall tax structure.
The state has always resisted funding preschool education, but this year decided to jump in, modestly. A $10 million, five-county pilot program will serve 4,000 children of low-income families. It is claimed that preschool education makes a real difference in academic achievement. Let’s check the actual results.
The one big step taken by legislators is the decision about which there is the most contentious debate – the decision to eliminate the “civil unions sentence” from the proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Since the proposal much pass two General Assembly sessions with no wording changes, the essential effect of the change is to put off a voter referendum for at least two years.
This greatly angers conservatives who wanted the issue decided in favor of traditional marriage this year. It greatly pleases gay-marriage advocates, who see public support for their cause growing ever stronger and hope that courts might scuttle the law.
That could happen. Judges are overturning gay-marriage bans in state after state, and four lawsuits are already pending here. The Legislature may have given an issue that should be decided by all Hoosier voters over to a handful of jurists. Such a punt is neither a “modest achievement” nor a “big victory.” It is an abdication of responsibility.