Keep our best college graduates in Indiana
BY SCOTT PELATH January 10, 2014 12:16PM
Updated: February 13, 2014 6:29AM
What Hoosiers demand from their government is a frank and honest assessment of problems, some common-sense solutions, and a credible effort to make their lives a little better.
They do expect us to give everyone a fair shake, promote the general welfare, and make the difficult lives of our constituents a little less so. Whether that means that government should get more involved or simply get out of the way, most citizens assess the desired scope of government involvement on a case-by-case basis.
Today, we must face Indiana’s real problems. We love our state. But we can do much, much better.
Over the past decade, Hoosiers’ household incomes have declined by a greater percentage than 47 other states. The income of the average Hoosier is more than 10 percent lower than his or her fellow Americans.
More than 28 percent of Americans have at least a bachelor’s degree. Less than 23 percent of Hoosiers have one. Our best and brightest are leaving the state and not coming back.
One in six Hoosier girls has been raped or sexually assaulted. We have one of the nation’s very highest infant mortality rates. More than one in five of our school-age girls are living below the poverty line.
Seven in ten jobs do not pay enough to allow one parent to stay at home with the kids. Women make 73 cents on the dollar for what the average man makes — the sixth-worst wage gap in the country.
I plainly describe these troubles not to diminish our beloved state, but to begin a dialogue that will lead to real solutions for real problems.
Too often, we believe our own rhetoric. We high-five our press statements on the budget surplus. Or we pat ourselves on the back as Indiana tags along behind a national economic recovery. Or we extend symbolic assistance to people while at the same time reducing their resources. Of these activities, we can all live with less.
Likewise, we must reject solutions in search of problems.
The proposed amendment to our constitution banning marriage equality achieves nothing other than dividing our people, diverting our energies, singling out a group of our friends and neighbors, and sending a message to America’s best and brightest that Indiana is not the most forward-looking place to be. Rather than acquiescing to the fate of this national embarrassment, let’s boldly move on to the things that make a difference.
Another problem we do not have is our business tax climate. Both parties have made Indiana a good place to start a business and avoid heavy tax bills. But we already have a top-ten business tax structure. Whatever ails us, business taxes are not the problem. What is a problem are local communities being able to help businesses by maintaining streets, keeping enough police on the beats, and paying enough firefighters to get to the blaze on time.
An ongoing quandary for Indiana businesses — particularly our small businesses — is that there are too many struggling workers and consumers to buy enough of their stuff. Let us not shift more of the tax burden on to the people who actually create profits for business. Given current conditions, let’s have them spend their checks at a local business instead of sending them to their local courthouses.
But as we move beyond knee-jerk ideology, I want to take a Republican idea and build on it. Republicans often assert that tax structure is a key to economic prosperity. So let us apply that principle to retaining one of our state’s greatest resources and a powerful lure to employers in search of a skilled workforce: our recent college graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Every year, let us identify our top college graduates in these fields and commit ourselves to keeping 1,000 of them in Indiana. If they remain Hoosiers, they will not pay one dime of state income tax for their first five years as Hoosier profit creators.
For Indiana to prosper, for our wages to rise, for our earnings to improve, our state must be a place where our best talent from all walks of life wants to remain.
After all, isn’t that what all of us want? For our children to prosper here in Indiana.
It’s not a perfect idea. But it’s a start. And it sets the example of rethinking our philosophical differences in order to solve everyday problems.
Let’s keep listening to each other as we tackle Indiana’s real challenges with ingenuity and optimism.
Rep. Scott Pelath (D-Michigan City) is the leader of the Democratic minority in the Indiana House of Representatives