by Tim Lanane
Hoosiers expect their elected representatives to tackle the most pressing policy issues facing our state. An exhaustive study from Gallup Healthways revealed how acute those issues are. More Hoosiers than ever feel unsafe in their communities, feel like the economic deck is stacked against them and their kids are destined to earn less than previous generations. The result of this pessimism? Indiana ranked 48th in self-assessed overall state well-being.
With that knowledge, how has the General Assembly, dominated by Republican supermajorities, faired in advancing policy to raise incomes, provide a quality education to every Hoosier student and improve health indicators? In a word, poorly.
The fallout from a decade of Republicans’ top-down economic approach is devastating. Hoosier incomes are among the slowest-growing in the country. There are areas of the state stuck at the same incomes on average their parents earned in the 1970s. At the same time, Indiana CEOs made nearly 100 times more than their average employee in 2013. Plain to see; Republicans’ economic approach is fueling income inequality and threatening the middle class.
There’s no silver bullet but standing idly by isn’t the answer. In the second half of the 2015 legislative session our caucus will give Senate Republicans a number of opportunities to do the right thing starting with a hike in the minimum wage. I’m hopeful senators traditionally allergic to the idea will recognize Hoosiers of every political stripe consider raising the minimum wage a no-brainer. Even Wal-Mart deemed it good for business. It’s time doubtful Republicans drop the anti-business attack and side with everyday Hoosiers.
It can be done. Consider the progress the legislature made last year on key education issues. Led by the governor, both parties rallied around the importance of quality early childhood education as it relates to future educational and economic success. The governor made a preschool pilot program the cornerstone of his legislative agenda and signed a bipartisan bill into law. Common sense in action.
Fast forward to today and whatever hope of continuing that headway has long since vanished. Senate Republicans instead bought into Governor Pence’s desire to engage in partisan politics, sidelining any shred of bipartisanship. With the governor’s backing, they fired the first salvo by fast-tracking legislation to remove Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz as chair of the State Board of Education. Intentional or not, the optics alone should have given Republicans pause. Instead, they moved forward with wrestling control from the only statewide-elected Democrat and silencing the 1.3 million Hoosiers who rejected snake-oil corporate education reforms.
We’ll offer a way forward on education in the coming weeks by expanding quality early childhood educational opportunities to the 13 counties the governor’s pilot affirmed were ready to offer services to students. The perception that budget writers have no choice but to pit urban, rural and suburban schools against one another for additional funding is markedly false and downright deceptive. We’ll advocate for pumping more dollars into every classroom. Senate Republicans would be wise to grab onto these lifelines and pull themselves out of the muck over battling Superintendent Ritz.
Hoosiers send us to Indianapolis with a mandate to build stronger communities. They are right to doubt our progress because too often the only results they see are a congratulatory press release and glossy campaign literature. We can do better. Instead of advancing divisive, hot-button social causes tailored for narrow far-right wing interests, impactful middle-ground issues exist and must be addressed. We can make raising wages and setting more students up for success our priorities.
There is no time to lose. Now, the beginning of the second half session, would be a prime time to send a strong signal to skeptical Hoosiers that we can and will work to turn around the well-being of our state.
Sen. Lanane represents Indiana Senate District 25 includes the portions of Madison and Delaware counties, including the City of Muncie and the southeastern portion of the City of Anderson.