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Commentary: Steele: Regaining balance

Updated: November 27, 2012 12:34PM



One of the main themes of Republican state legislators in recent years has been the idea of “balancing” the source of tax revenue.

That’s had a variety of implications, including the mandate that Lake County adopt an income tax — essentially a Republican mandate, whether or not Republicans here want to believe it; the reluctance to embrace governor-elect Mike Pence’s call for an income tax cut; and the discomfort with the idea of a gambling arms-race with neighboring states that would accentuate our state’s dependence on gambling tax revenue.

That gambling tax revenue is down and under further threat, and that various proposed and enacted tax cuts have the sales tax as the foundation of the tax system, has legislators rethinking the balance among revenues.

On a state level, the good thing that can come from this is a re-linking of taxes to spending. There has developed over the course of time a distinction in the way people and policy-makers look at the two, emplified by the idea that “government must learn to live within its means.”

That begs the question of what government’s means are. It’s too easy to say any spending beyond some arbitrarily determined level of taxation is “waste.” Some of it certainly is, and periodic budget-wringing like Gov. Mitch Daniels’s can be a good corrective, but at some point everyone needs to take a step back from ideology and simply pay for what we’re buying.

My sense is that time has probably come, and whichever canddiate had won the governor’s office would be functioning in a much more pragmatic term than the past eight years. Pence will likely market it as a consolidation and continuation of Daniels’s accomplishments, but either way the election went, a breather is likely in order.

That will likely apply to education, too, where the new superintendent of public instruction, Glenda Ritz, seems to believe she’ll have the power to change some things, but that will likely just be possible in terms of tone and emphasis. Her election, coupled with the election of Pence and a dominantly Republican legislature, indicate a term of letting things settle rather than significant retrenchment.

At the end of all this, the school systems that are struggling (or failing) will probably still be struggling (and failing), while the ones that are succeeding will still be succeeding. The flurry of testing and vouchers and school grades won’t impact that much — the success or failure of schools is largely rooted in things that happen outside the school building.

Perhaps the biggest issue in the coming four years will be a county income tax, which seems more likely as county officials exhaust the cutting and borrowing options available. A county income tax, on a local level, may in the end be the most significant Republican victory of the coming four years.



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