By Scott Pelath
House Minority Leader
House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City
After nearly four years of one-party rule in Indiana, it seems only fair to examine how the Statehouse club management is doing.
For the folks in my beloved home of LaPorte County, its impact is being felt with the anxiety over Camp Summit, a tough-love boot camp that has put many wayward teens on the right track. With families waiting for them at home, 70 employees work long hours to save angry kids from hopeless lives of crime.
But to some bean counters in state government, none of that was very interesting. Instead, what got them excited was the $3 million they could roll into the state’s $2 billion reserves by closing the place. So the balance sheet artists decided to shutter the camp, shuttle the kids elsewhere, and tell the workers good luck.
The public announcement came when many sheepishly embarrassing decisions are dribbled out: in the hours just before the Labor Day weekend, when people are climbing into their cars.
When people did start paying attention, though, a few were gripped by second thoughts. From the governor and others, we heard that more time was needed to review the matter. Camp Summit has been saved… for how long remains to be seen. One worries that the headsman’s axe still may fall when no one is paying attention.
What stands out about this situation, though, is that soul-searching is not part of the usual decision-making ritual. More often, dissenting views in this brave new world are given short shrift.
In this new world order, the election of a superintendent of public instruction from the opposing party spurs the creation of a shadowy bureaucracy populated with well-paid “experts” – better known as the Center for Education and Career Innovation (CECI) – who audition for even better jobs by dismantling our state’s public school classrooms.
The new order means a constant clarion call of jobs that “could” come to Indiana. The trumpeters, of course, are usually long gone by the time we notice the jobs never came.
It means gloating over a falling unemployment rate without mentioning that our state’s average household income has steadily dropped from nearly $53,500 in 2002 to just under $47,000 in 2013. We may be creating jobs, but the new jobs sure aren’t paying much.
It means defining tax relief in terms of benefiting the very rich and the guys in out-of-state corporate boardrooms. In recent years, one-party state government has systematically done everything in its power to reduce the burdens on the upper one-percent, while the tab is paid with a whole lot of shrinking paychecks.
And it means continuously dragging the people of this state through an ugly debate over who can marry whom in Indiana.
I believe we can do better. And in the past couple of years, the Indiana House Democrats I am proud to lead have demanded better.
We fought to honor and reward hard work through an increase in the state’s minimum wage and the earned income tax credit. We battled to help businesses hire more Hoosiers now…particularly those folks who run our state’s small businesses. We tried to invest more in our infrastructure, and more to help the men and women who keep our communities safe. We sought greater accountability from state government, and tried to get rid of government waste like the CECI.
While none of these ideas found traction among leaders who enjoy the comforts of single-party rule, we march on to attack Indiana’s horrific record of protecting teen girls from sexual abuse. We lead the charge to recapture our best and brightest young people from the lures of other states.
But these will be the goals we will pursue into the future. Not only more jobs, but better jobs. Putting our middle class first – and not last – in line when cutting taxes. Insisting that public schools still matter. Staying away from divisive debates on issues that serve only to inflame and divide us. Neither accepting defeat nor shrugging with indifference at Indiana’s frightening infant mortality rate.
And maybe we can think about being governed by those who understand what really matters. It is not the ingenuity of our accountants. It is the prosperity of our people.
Scott Pelath is a Democrat from Michigan City and serves as the leader of the chamber’s Democratic caucus.