12/20/11 You may have heard the news that the governor’s people “found” $320 million of your tax dollars the other day.
You also may have noticed that the governor greeted this news with little more than a shrug of his shoulders, an “Oops,” and a promise to do better next time. One wonders how $320 million simply disappears. Is it gross negligence? Incompetence? Criminal misconduct?
This kind of mistake would not be tolerated in the private sector, and I don’t believe it should be shrugged aside when it’s your tax dollars that went missing.
Look at it this way. How many state programs would have survived this administration’s knife had this mistake been found earlier? Now that we have $320 million more in our state’s coffers, will those funds be invested in getting people back to work, providing targeted tax relief, and giving our children the quality education they deserve?
Let’s talk about that last point.
I cannot help but reflect that $320 million nearly matches the amount of state support that this governor took away from our public schools in each of the past two years. That doesn’t even include the funding diverted toward privately-run programs designed to help only a privileged few.
I wonder how many programs and services could have been saved if the administration had checked the cushions on the couch a little more thoroughly and a little bit earlier?
But we have the chance to make up for this administration’s mistake. Thanks to the Helping Hoosiers Now plan offered by Indiana House Democrats, there are ways to make modest, targeted investments right now that can pay greater benefits down the road. These investments are certainly better options than hoarding another one-third of a billion dollars to an already bloated state treasury.
One good place to start would be living up to the commitment of providing full-day kindergarten free of charge to every child in Indiana. A lot of people think that’s already the case, but the fact is our state only funds an inadequate portion of the costs of full-day K. Most of the burden – as much as 90 percent of the total cost in some cases – falls upon local taxpayers.
Fully funding full-day K would be a giant step toward making up our state’s huge shortfall in early education. Indiana is one of only 10 states in the country with no pre-school program. Early learning is statistically proven to be a better economic investment than almost all business tax incentives.
Another step would be providing vouchers that would enable families on lower incomes to enter their children in pre-school educational programs. While we’re at it, why not give every Hoosier family the tax deduction for education expenses that currently goes only to students who are home schooled or attend private schools? Or even provide a sales tax holiday that can help parents purchase school supplies?
A renewed commitment to our schools also can mean a return to education reforms that have been proven to work. Let us consider re-affirming our support for smaller class sizes by enacting a graduated cap for kindergarten through sixth grade. Let’s offer scholarships that encourage our best students to pursue teaching degrees in return for staying in Indiana to pursue their profession.
Finally, let us recognize that the people in our communities – parents, teachers, administrators and students – are the best judges of how to best educate the children under their charge, rather than state officials sitting in Indianapolis.
Local people dedicated to quality schools deserve better from a state government that seems intent upon constantly criticizing their efforts and forcing them to operate under an unrealistic assumption that one educational policy can fit all children.
The ideas I’ve outlined are designed to help Hoosier families struggling to make ends meet. I believe they are sound, reasonable investments in the future of our children that should be above political infighting and partisan gridlock. Best of all, they provide an easy way to make something good come from the administration’s mess.
As the 2012 session draws near, here are the best ways to contact me about the issues I’ve discussed here, as well as any other comments or concerns you have:
Call the toll-free Statehouse telephone number of 1-800-382-9842;
Write to me in care of the Indiana House of Representatives, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46204; or
E-mail me at H17@in.gov.