by Scott Pelath
Late last month, your Indiana General Assembly voted to impose the largest gasoline tax hike in state history, right along with a mishmash of future tolls and license branch fee increases.
On the very same day, a majority of those exact same lawmakers voted to cut taxes for casinos.
Let that fact sink in for second. As you prepared to pay more, casino owners in Las Vegas still figured out how to get a tax cut.
If you think we need a 10-cent gas tax hike for roads, some agree. With over $2 billion of your tax dollars already sitting in the state’s bank, I would have done things differently, especially while big corporations and banks are seeing their taxes go down. But the votes are recorded, and people will judge the outcome. I hope for a good one.
However, many raised taxes with one hand while petting special interests with the other.
Earlier in the session, of course, the very first special interest served their own.
In the age of computerized redistricting, Republican majorities essentially have been choosing their own constituents with the help of tech wizards and political data. A simple and extremely popular bill would have ended the practice of politicians mapping out their own legislative districts.
After hopeful pronouncements and impassioned pleas from common-sense citizens, a single chairman took care of his partners and threw the bill in the trash.
If you think our state legislature is losing its sense of proportion, you might be on to something. Intoxicated with power, too many have grown comfortably numb to how many constituents view their work.
For instance, during a tense few weeks in March and April, the Statehouse was in a tizzy. Closed door meetings ensued. Tempers flared. Pronouncements were shouted.
A casual observer surely would have concluded that a momentous calamity was upon us. Perhaps the health care of our citizens was at stake? Or wages were falling behind inflation? Or Indiana’s counties were losing population at an alarming rate?
Such an onlooker would have been wrong. Instead, it turns out that an unpopular gentleman was caught legally selling cold beer. Not just beer, mind you. Cold beer.
Millionaires on both sides hired other millionaires to make their case. With all that was spent on arm-twisting, one would think they all could have afforded to sue each other in court. Instead, they prodded every lawmaker they could corner between the elevator and the entrance.
There is nothing new about people pressing their case or supporting candidates and politicians who agree with them. It has been going on since elections were held and legislatures were built. More often than not, watchful media and self-policing between the two major parties have kept public decisions close to the public interest.
However, the era of one-party rule in Indianapolis has diminished restraints that once existed. Moreover, electoral successes can create an air of invincibility and selfish justification that leads to sloppy excess.
For instance, much of this session was dedicated to the reform of Indiana’s “vape shop” regulations. Regrettably, this “reform” was necessitated by the previous year’s brazen sneakiness, in which the legislature — without public hearing — created a favored monopoly to lord over the vaping industry.
And once again, monopolies did quite well this session. Seeing a threat to their only-game-in-town status, Indiana’s utilities succeeded in choking off our solar panel industry in its bassinet. I heard from no one who worried that meddlesome solar enthusiasts were threatening Western Civilization, but it seems they upset someone important.
These cookies were baked beneath more transcendent pyramid schemes such as the profiteering of education, fee-raising toll road leases, out-of-state contractors, and private prisons-for-hire. On these matters, we can keep agreeing to disagree.
Context matters. Whenever you are raising people’s taxes, you had better be on your best behavior. The 2017 session of the Indiana General Assembly was not.
Scott Pelath is the House Democratic Leader. He represents Michigan City.