Commentary, Andrew Steele: State government looks for something to do
By Andrew Steele email@example.com March 12, 2013 12:10PM
As this year’s session of the state General Assembly chugs along it’s become more clear that the Republican Party wants to do something with its “super majority” but can’t quite decide what.
The governor, Republican Mike Pence, seems focused on solidifying his bona fides in the anti-government populist wing of his party, but running a state government on the heels of eight years of Mitch Daniels makes that a tough trick.
Despite the current grumbling among tea party activisits, there’s not a lot of cutting left to do, and the leaders in the House and Senate are very reluctant to consider Pence’s call for an income tax cut. The revenue situation can vary so greatly, and borrowing and accounting gimmickry have become so unacceptable, that they fear a future budget strait-jacket they want to avoid.
That could be seen as a conservative position. Likewise, a pause in the school reform process might be seen as prudent.
“Reform” seems to be working in places that didn’t need it: budget cuts are absorbed to the extent they can be, then referenda approve tax hikes; vouchers allow families with particular interests in a private school to do so and take some tax money with them.
Meanwhile, reform’s not working so well in places that did need it: public school budget cuts are deeper and replacement funding is impossible; new private schools, or charters, struggle to succeed in many of the same ways the public schools they’re meant to replace struggle.
The administration, left without much in the way of new things to do, instead pushes for more of the old things — tax cuts and school reform.
What seems likely to happen is some tinkering around the edges. It’s tough to imagine the legislature shutting a new governor out on his most public proposal, the income tax cut.
And schools in struggling areas will likely continue to lurch along, some failing, some surviving, some public some private. More voucher money might increase the churning, but just incrementally.
A state government without many ideas and with no crises to address is generally going to fall back on ideology, and in addition to a tax cut and school voucher expansion, that’s meant an apparent refusal to participate in the Medicaid expansion that’s part of the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
This might, for better or worse, be the biggest of the choices made this spring. The main point of the ACA, after most of the political back-and-forth is stripped away, is providing health care coverage to as many people as possible. The ramifications of standing outside the Medicaid expansion, which is funded almost entirely at the federal level, are impossible to predict, but I’ve yet to find the argument that it will be beneficial.