By Scott Pelath
House Minority Leader
House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City
As we begin the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly, rest assured that House Democrats will battle to fulfill the unrealized potential of our great state. And if it means speaking truth to the powers in Indianapolis, we will relish the task even more.
Our challenges begin with raising the expectations of our economic performance, and bridging the deep canyons between Indiana’s most powerful and our dwindling middle class.
Far too many of Indiana’s jobs pay low wages and salaries. According to the Census Bureau, our average household income was over $53,000 in 2002. By the end of 2013, it had dipped under $47,000. Another recent Census Bureau report showed that Indiana was one of only 15 states where income inequality was on the rise.
Low wages and incomes are bad for business. Consumers have less to spend in the marketplace. Workers cannot afford to acquire the new skills employers demand. Families cannot save what they need for times of trouble.
Fighting this problem starts with investing in our workforce. We have done plenty to invest in investors. Now our focus must change.
The frenzy of tax cuts that benefit a few must end. We already have one of the nation’s best corporate tax climates, but the life of the average citizen has not improved, and our cities and towns continue to suffer.
There is one tax cut that would characterize a new direction of investing in the Middle Class: getting rid of the tax on textbooks that our kids need to learn. Let the parents of both public and private school kids reallocate the money they spend on textbooks toward tutoring, school supplies, or taking a child to the doctor.
But our most daunting problems are seldom solved by tax changes alone. Every citizen from pre-school through retirement deserves a fair opportunity to reach his or her potential through hard work. And that means funding a world class education system of lifelong learning that begins in pre-school and finishes when a worker acquires the skills for his or her final job.
That is why we must pursue every last available resource for preschoolers to begin learning. We must make kindergarten mandatory for all children. Full-day kindergarten should be available in every public school and funded through a simpler way of distributing school resources that folks understand.
We also can end the misleading practice of funding traditional public schools, charter schools, and private school vouchers out of the same pot of money. Let them be separate, and let our budget reflect that we are funding them separately, cutting them separately, or reviewing them separately.
Then we can take steps to end years of indentured servitude to educational debts. For both younger and older adults, the price of acquiring world class skills at our institutions of higher learning must become more affordable and predictable. When a Hoosier begins paying for an adult education, let the price remain the same until the degree is finished or the skills are earned.
It also is important to recognize that we must change a political system that brings to the surface the fallen angels of our nature. I look forward to working with Speaker Bosma to improve ethical standards and correct the shortcomings in the expectations we have of ourselves.
Such things are symptoms of a sick electoral system that we all decry, and from which no one can unilaterally disarm. This past election, some reputable measures showed Indiana was last in voter turnout. You can try to rationalize that exact measure if you choose, but it was a disgrace.
The problem is not who represents us, but how our representatives capture their positions. The people deserve more choices and more competition in elections. Fewer politicians and more citizens should determine electoral outcomes. Voters are entitled to less fundraising and more thinking.
We start by getting party leaders out of the business of gerrymandering, and committing to a system of non-partisan redistricting.
And we can demonstrate that we want big money out of politics. I will ask every member to help petition our federal government to make campaign finance reform legal and constitutional. If it takes an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, so be it.
These are daunting tasks, but we have shown in the last couple of years that Indianapolis does not have to operate like Washington.
We have achieved bipartisan accomplishments in sentencing reform, child protection, and the way the Legislature acquires information. Most hearteningly, both sides in our chamber played a significant role in ending the seemingly endless debate over who can marry whom in Indiana. I hope such sentiments hold true before we embark on any discussions over wrong-headed proposals that fans the flames of this issue are pointless and irrelevant.
House Democrats have been able to thrive as participants in these discussions, and we want to continue that role into 2015. We will help to turn good policies into great ones, questionable policies into less worrisome ones, and hopefully help set terrible policies aside for the good of us all.
We are ready to get to work.
House Minority Leader Scott Pelath is a Democrat from Michigan City.