GUEST COMMENTARY: Let's move beyond knee-jerk ideology to improve Indiana

2014-01-17T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Let's move beyond knee-jerk ideology to improve IndianaBy Scott Pelath nwitimes.com
January 17, 2014 12:00 am  • 

What Hoosiers demand from their government is a frank and honest assessment of problems, some common-sense solutions and a credible effort to make their lives better.

They expect us to give everyone a fair shake, promote the general welfare and make the difficult lives of our constituents a little less so. Whether that means government should get more involved or simply get out of the way, most citizens assess the desired scope of government involvement on a case-by-case basis.

Today, we must face Indiana’s real problems. We love our state. But we can do much, much better.

Over the past decade, Hoosiers' household incomes have declined by a greater percentage than 47 other states. The income of the average Hoosier is more than 10 percent lower than his or her fellow Americans.

More than 28 percent of Americans have at least a bachelor's degree. Less than 23 percent of Hoosiers have one. Our best and brightest are leaving the state and not coming back.

One in six Hoosier girls has been raped or sexually assaulted. We have one of the nation's very highest infant mortality rates. More than one in five of our school-age girls are living below the poverty line.

Seven in 10 jobs do not pay enough to allow one parent to stay at home with the kids.

I describe these troubles not to diminish our beloved state, but to begin a dialogue that will lead to real solutions for real problems.

Likewise, we must reject solutions in search of problems.

The proposed amendment to our constitution banning marriage equality achieves nothing other than dividing our people, diverting our energies, singling out a group of our friends and neighbors, and sending a message to America's best and brightest that Indiana is not the most forward-looking place to be.

Another problem we do not have is our business tax climate. We already have a top-10 business tax structure. Whatever ails us, business taxes are not the problem.

What is a problem are local communities struggling to maintain streets, keep enough police on the beats and pay enough firefighters to get to the blaze on time.

An ongoing quandary for Indiana businesses — particularly our small businesses — is there are too many struggling workers and consumers to buy enough of their stuff. Let us not shift more of the tax burden on to the people who actually create profits for business.

But as we move beyond knee-jerk ideology, I want to take a Republican idea and build on it. Republicans often assert that tax structure is a key to economic prosperity. So let us apply that principle to retaining one of our state's greatest resources and a powerful lure to employers in search of a skilled workforce: our recent college graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Every year, let us identify our top college graduates in these fields and commit ourselves to keeping 1,000 of them in Indiana. If they remain Hoosiers, they will not pay one dime of state income tax for their first five years as Hoosier profit creators.

For Indiana to prosper, for our wages to rise, for our earnings to improve, our state must be a place where our best talent from all walks of life wants to remain.

Let's keep listening to each other as we tackle Indiana's real challenges with ingenuity and optimism.

State Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, is the Democratic leader in the Indiana House. The opinions are the writer's.

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