Opinion and Analysis

By: Brian Sikma

What happens when you put a group of interested and engaged citizens in a room with a panel of property tax experts?  A lively discussion ensues with both sides walking away a little more informed than when the event started.  That was the case on Saturday morning when the St. Joseph County GOP headquarters was turned into a sort of local think-tank with a large crowd of interested citizens asking tough questions and offering intriguing insights into one side of the property tax debate while a panel of experts offered up their perspective of the situation.

The diverse panel was made up of Mayor Jeff Rea of Mishawaka, economist Josh Barro of the Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C., state Senator Joe Zakas of Granger, and Juan Manigault representing the South Bend Integrity PAC.  Chris Riley, the St. Joseph County GOP Chairman, served as the able moderator who provided thought provoking questions to start off the morning and kept the discussion on track as the panelists and audience interacted with each other.

Senator Zakas pointed out that property taxes went down by an average of 30% across the state after the passage of HB 1001 in 2008, the bill that included the so-called 1,2,3 plan.  This plan caps residential property taxes at 1% of assessed value, rental property and agricultural property at 2% of assessed value, and commercial and business property at 3% of assessed value.  Debate in the General Assembly this year is expected to include a discussion about placing the tax caps in the state Constitution as a way of protecting taxpayers and landowners against future increases.

All of the panelists agreed that the reforms included in HB 1001 were necessary in light of what Mayor Rea termed “administrative chaos” in the property tax system.  However, views differed according to whether or not the existing caps should be put in the Constitution.  Sen. Zakas appeared to support the idea, but Juan Manigault and Mayor Rea urged caution because the reforms have not had time to generate sufficient data to really consider enshrining them in the state’s highest law.

Josh Barro did not take a strong position either way.  Instead he focused his time on presenting the various pros and cons of the 1,2,3 plan and the placement of those caps in the Constitution.  He noted that with the caps now in place, Indiana’s property tax rate is now more in line with what other states are doing, but the diversity of the caps-essentially three tiers of taxes-was considered to be an unfortunate compromise required by political considerations.  Barro did say that if it is found that the 1,2,3 plan is sound, then placing it the Constitution would not be unusual in light of what other states have done.  However, moving towards that goal too quickly may be regretted if the reforms do not operate as well as intended.

Although it took a little while for the panelists to finally make the point clearly, the bottom line in the property tax debate is not about maximum levies, whether debt is counted towards the allowable levy, the switch from cost-based assessment to market-based assessment, or caps on the tax rate as a percentage of assessed value; instead it is about government spending.  If local governments would cut their budget and chose to allocate resources more efficiently, tax rates could be lowered.

When the discussion turned to the size and scope of local government, Mayor Jeff Rea ably made the case for why citizens need to know what they expect from their government before they seek to lobby for substantial changes in the tax system.  Although he has done an excellent job of growing the city of Mishawaka while controlling the growth of city government, he has had to manage cases of where the public demanded that a particular service or amenity be provided even though it resulted in substantial costs with only limited corresponding benefit to the community.

After nearly two hours of discussion the panel came to a close with interesting ideas being presented and exchanged on all sides.  With events like this the St. Joseph County Republican Party is showing that even though Republicans may be out of power locally, they can certainly develop meaningful policy ideas and shape the direction of public debate.  To Chris Riley, Lindsey Mustard, and the staff, officers and volunteers of the St. Joseph County Republican Party: Carry on, because your example is setting the bar for what must take place to renew our party at the local level all across America.

WPA Poster

WPA Poster

By: Brian Sikma

Over the weekend Larry Summers, President-elect Obama’s director of the National Economic Council, made the claim that the national unemployment rate will not climb above 10% thanks to the stimulus bill that is being negotiated in Congress right now.   Not only will unemployment not climb above 10% according to Summers, but the relief provided by the $825 billion spending bill will be felt immediately as “people see more income in their paychecks.”  These predictions come a little while after it was announced that an early version of the stimulus bill would entail the hiring of 600,000 new government employees.

Congressman Mike Pence pointed out in an interview with the Howey Political Report that he believes government spending will not bring our country out of this economic downturn.  To back up his point Pence cited Amity Shlaes work analyzing the Great Depression, “The Forgotten Man“, where Shlaes makes the case that the Great Depression was prolonged by inconsistent government attempts to lift the economy out of its depressed state.  Government spending that threw money at various problems in an attempt to create employment did not work then and it will not work today.

The greatest legacy of the New Deal programs that were supposed to end the Great Depression is that they outlived their original need and played a major role in inserting the federal government into areas that were formally the realm of states or the private sector.  While many of the alphabet soup agencies and measures have become paragraphs in history books (arguably the programs and their outcomes should be studied on more than a paragraph level), some of them remain with us today.  Social Security is a prime example of a program that was designed for a specific purpose but ended up outliving that purpose and morphing into a general government-run retirement guaranty program.  Suddenly eliminating Social Security is not the point here, the point is that we need to be careful during this extensive economic downturn that we do not create programs that over the long term are unsustainable and very vulnerable to political exploitation.

Back to the present proposal to spend $825 billion of your money and the contention that it will put money in your pocket and save existing jobs and create new ones.   The Government does not have any money of its own.  Yes it has printing presses, but ultimately money comes from one place and has two routes of getting to the government.  First, the government takes it from you by taxation.  Second, the government takes it from you by inflation.  With taxation the money transfer is direct: from your pocket to the government’s pocket.  With inflation the transfer is indirect, but just as effective.  The government prints (or the electronic equivalent thereof) more money and increases the amount of money moving around the economy.  Since this money is not backed up by new productivity or the creation of work, it means that its value must come from something else.  That something else is money in your pocket that got there because of your hard work.  By printing more money the government makes the money you earned as a result of your work literally worth less than it was when you earned it.

Assuming that government spending will jolt the economy out of a downturn fails to consider where the government gets the money from in the first place and what the costs of pursing this course are as compared to a more freedom embracing mode of economic recovery.  If Congress does pass the $825 billion proposal being bantered around right now, it will have effectively doubled the amount of discretionary spending it deals with on a yearly basis.  This is no small thing.  Additionally, it will be spending money it does not have to produce results that cannot be obtained by this activity.

The jobs that are created as a result of this injection of money into the economy will not be more than the jobs that could be created by giving permanency to the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, reducing the corporate tax rate to 25%, and allowing the American people to keep more of their hard-earned money.

Related Reading:

Atlas Shrugged:  From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years

Beware of the Big-Government Tipping Point

Indiana State House

Indiana State House

By: Brian Sikma

Partisanship is sometimes inevitable, and when it comes it isn’t always a bad thing.  Often we are admonished by various pundits, and even some in government, that we should seek bipartisan solutions to the problems that we face.  If a bipartisan solution can be found without sacrificing key principles and tenets, then that is an example of good bipartisanship.  Too often, however, bipartisan is a term used by moderates and liberals when they want conservatives to sacrifice principle for the sake of finding a solution.  It’s not that conservatives don’t have a solution, it is that there is a wide chasm between a solution premised on conservative principles and a solution based on liberal concepts of what is right and what is wrong.  True bipartisanship should be based on a common principle, not a compromise of principle.

One case in which it appears that bipartisanship should be very possible is the recent news that Planned Parenthood of Indiana violated, on at least two occasions, Indiana state law requiring that suspected cases of statutory rape be reported to authorities for investigation.  In choosing to put an abortion agenda ahead of a law abiding agenda, Planned Parenthood’s clinics in Bloomington and Indianapolis failed to serve the woman who came to them for help.  The incidents, which occurred as part of an undercover investigative journalism project conducted by an organization named Live Action, certainly raise questions about Planned Parenthood’s dedication to helping women and their dedication to operating within the bounds of applicable laws.

Sensing that the revelations about the Bloomington and Indianapolis clinics may be indicators of a more widespread malfeasance throughout the Planned Parenthood of Indiana network of clinics, State Representative Jackie Walorski (R-Jimtown) called on the Attorney General and local prosecutors to investigate these two incidents.  Walorski also called on the Family and Social Services Administration, as well as any other state agency that transfers funds to Planned Parenthood, to suspend payments while the outcomes of the investigations are pending.

Rep. Walorski’s goal was to make sure that no organization that breaks state law and jeopardizes the safety of women is allowed to continue unchecked or receive taxpayer dollars unhindered.  One would think that there would perhaps be a common desire among the political parties in Indiana to achieve these relatively basic goals that focus on protecting taxpayers and, more importantly, protecting vulnerable Hoosier women.

This goal must not be bipartisan, unfortunately, because on Friday Dan Parker, the chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, responded to Walorski’s efforts by calling for a House Ethics Committee investigation into her fundraising activities.  At the heart of Parker’s spurious allegations is a blog post written by Rep. Walorski in December asking supporters to contribute to her campaign fund so she can continue to lead the battle against Planned Parenthood’s wrong and inappropriate actions.  In the highly partisan view of Dan Parker, Walorski violated House Ethics Rules-something that she emphatically did not do.

Instead of fabricating and manufacturing charges that have no merit, and recklessly calling for investigations of public officials who are striving to uphold the law and act in accordance to the rules that govern their activities, Dan Parker and the Indiana Democratic Party should take this opportunity to exhibit bipartisanship by joining Rep. Walorski in urging for the suspension of funding to Planned Parenthood and calling for a full investigation of the organization’s activities.  The goals of protecting women and taxpayers flow from the principles that we should protect all citizens, and especially those most vulnerable, from crime and we should make sure that those who receive state funds are acting in a law-abiding manner.

The wrong focus is to use this opportunity for blind partisan gain, the right focus is to stand up for principles and values that make Indiana a better, more prosperous and more moral state.

Over the weekend Sherrod Brown, a Democratic Senator from Ohio, appeared on ABC’s This Week” and appeared to blame President Bush for being partly responsible for the conflict that is taking place between Israel and Hamas right now.

Brown: “But I’m hopeful that with a new president — you know, you look at President Bush is now in a pretty weakened state, and countries around the world know that. I’m hopeful that as this transition comes, as we look to January, that strong presidential leadership can make a difference here.”

Does Senator Brown actually think that the inauguration of Senator Obama on January 20th will lead to a more peaceful and stable situation in the Middle East? Certainly the period surrounding a presidential transition can give rise to a more unrest in certain regions of the world. But I think the world knows by now that President Bush, for whatever other flaws he may have, is not someone who tolerates terrorism by radical Islamic groups.

If anyone is being tested during this transition period it is probably Senator Obama. The incoming Vice President, Joe Biden, declared during the campaign that shortly after taking office a crisis will occur somewhere in the world to test the resolve and strength and skills of the new president. Of course, the current conflict between Israel and Hamas does not have as its focal point the US Presidential transition, there are other political and historical factors far more important than the recent U.S. election at play here. But if the transition has anything to do with the conflict, it seems that Senator Biden, and not Senator Brown, has a more likely explanation.

One wonders what liberals will be able to complain about after January 20th. There will be no more President Bush to blame for the problems of the moment. I’m sure they will think of something, but the “Bush’s fault” line was a nice line for them when they wanted to short-circuit a careful explanation of their opinion.

As for the ongoing developments in the Middle East, I strongly support Israel’s decision to take decisive action against Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organization that has not chosen to adopt peaceful and diplomatic means to resolve the problems that it is facing. It is simply unacceptable for any organization, group, or country to continually assault a neighboring country day after day while violating basic standards of morality and international laws of warfare.

Benjamin Netanyahu makes the case for Israel’s actions much more eloquently here:

By: Brian Sikma

What if we were to learn that in the state of Indiana in 2007, 11,150 avoidable deaths occurred as the result of a very identifiable cause? What if this statistic were not a one-time statistic but instead an annual figure that changes only slightly from year to year? Think of all the potential that these people had but were never able to realize because they died as a result of something that was avoidable. Think of how our communities and neighborhoods were tragically deprived of these people’s full contribution to life.

If these deaths were the result of poorly engineered and unsafe roads, we could probably expect there to be a group of highly frustrated citizens forming a coalition to pressure local and state highway officials to undertake a massive redesign of our transportation infrastructure. Studies would be commissioned, expert engineers sought out for their opinion and government revenues appropriated for the purpose of building newer and safer roads.

What if these deaths were the result of school violence? We would see a public uprising as parents, citizens and school officials rightfully demanded immediate action. School regulations would change, more police officers would be deployed to schools and teachers and students would be trained in how to be alert for imminent attacks and how to respond if the nightmare did become reality.

What would be the result if these deaths occurred because of medical malfeasance? If health care professionals engaged in such egregious carelessness as to cause this many deaths, surely a day of reckoning would be called for them. Prosecutors would review cases to determine if criminal activity took place while grieving loved ones properly brought civil wrongful-death claims against those who so utterly neglected to live up to their professional duty.

Fortunately, none of the preceding three scenarios is true, yet the statistic still stands. You see, every year in Indiana 11,150 people lose their lives as a result of aborted pregnancies. True, these people are unborn, but that does not minimize the fact that every year we lose a resource that has great potential to contribute to the society that we live in. Every year we deprive ourselves of the creativity and ingenuity and joy these people could have brought to our lives. Every year we deny them the same basic, unalienable rights we demand that our government respect.

We cannot ignore the moral, economic and social implications of abortion in our state any longer. Those we are aborting could have been a part of the next generation of problem solvers who develop the vitally important solutions and cures that our society needs.

Identifying the cause of death for these 11,150 people is simple when we look at the statistics and reported data. Doing the right thing to solve this problem, however, is not necessarily easy. Women seeking abortions often do so as they struggle through a period of serious crisis in their lives. Unfortunately, our laws do not mandate that certain safeguards be in place to protect women as they ponder this life-and-death decision.

Our ultimate goal, if we are to protect human life from a legal standpoint, should be to pass legislation prohibiting abortion except in the very rare case in which the life of the mother is at stake. We must look toward that future while working now to make sure that women are given every opportunity to understand that by having abortions they are allowing medical professionals to kill children. Through the use of three-dimension ultrasound technology, the provision of medical services and the sharing of information, advocates of the pro-life position can do much to further the cause of protecting unborn life.

As we consider the human cost of abortion in Indiana, let us commit to graciously and courageously seeking to end this practice that hurts both women and their unborn children.

This column was originally published here and here.

By: Brian Sikma

If you listen to the right combination of pundits and talking heads, you can be forgiven for concluding that the conservative movement is a thing of the past. As a political force it is a dinosaur outsmarted by the concepts that brought us the election of Senator Barack Obama as our next president. Americans are tired of the economic, national security, and social policies that flow from a conservative governing philosophy. They are ready for a change from these policies and they emphatically rejected these ideas at the ballot box. At least that is how the thinking goes.

In one of his more memorable lines, the great American wit Mark Twain declared “reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” when he responded to the New York Journal’s premature publication of his obituary. Reports of the death of the conservative movement are greatly exaggerated. Conservatism is alive and well and thriving despite electoral setbacks that hit Republicans harder than the unhappy election results of 2006.

Conservatism as a philosophy of government is not dead because the American people still refuse to embrace liberal values. Even as the 2008 election unfolded, a mere 22% of Americans described themselves as “liberal.” The dichotomy between this self-described aversion to liberalism and the election of the most liberal, major party presidential candidate in history as well as very liberal majorities in Congress can be explained this way: voters were tired of Republicans’ failure to govern according to their stated principles.

The American people are a generally forgiving electorate. They do not demand that their leaders agree with them on every issue, but they do require that their leaders agree with them on key issues and they do demand that their leaders be honest. A politician can win reelection even if he or she casts a couple of bad votes. But if politician casts a series of votes that go against the values of his or her constituents, or somehow fails the trust of voters, they will be rejected at the next election. This is a good thing, even if Republicans don’t like how it impacted them in November.

Conservatism will survive into the future. The question is will a political party and its leaders will step up and embrace its core values? I don’t believe that we can expect the Democrat Party, with all of its ties to the far left, to be the party of conservatism. If Republicans take up the cause of conservatism, if Republicans make the conservative values of lower taxes, limited regulations, smaller government, stronger national defense, protection of unborn life, preservation of traditional marriage, and a respect for liberty coupled with a respect for ordered society, their values, they will make a strong comeback.

For Republicans, the recipe for victory is simple: believe in conservative principles and then stand up for those principles. The American people will stand with you because the American people are a center-right people and they are simply waiting for leadership that stands where they stand.

By: Brian Sikma

In the wake of November’s disastrous election results, Republicans and conservatives have been pondering their future. Pundits with solutions abound. Going forward, it has been rightly noted, the future of conservatism is not tied to the future of the Republican party. In this time of analysis and internal discussion, the GOP is more in need of rejuvenation than the conservative movement, though work must be done in both camps.

In the conservative movement there are some who are advocating for a new conservatism, one that apparently accepts some of the premises advanced by left-leaning cultural institutions. Some observers argue that conservatives need to move beyond issues like abortion and replace them with issue planks dealing with the need for a green energy future and policies to reduce global warming. It is posited that we must set aside our views on some issues in favor of new causes that supposedly have attracted the public’s attention in ways that now surpass its prior fascination with the issues we have traditionally debated.

Do we really need to accept the underlying left-leaning premises of certain fashionable issues in order to be a relevant philosophy and movement of political, social, and economic thought? In other words, with respect to global warming must we accept the belief that man-generated activity is causing global warming? Must we really accept the “fact” that global warming is occurring beyond the very normal cyclical heating and cooling of the earth as a result of human activity? If conservatism is going to be relevant, it does not mean that we must follow the line of thinking suggested by some writers and confuse expanding our appeal with accepting dubious “facts” promoted by the left.

Do not misunderstand the point in all of this. Conservatives should indeed have views on environmental policy. But just as our position on the environment should not be one of simply dismissing the matter, our position should not be one that accepts fallacies that are untrue and make a genuinely conservative approach to this issue very hard. We cannot risk becoming irrelevant by failing to advocate for conservative, common-sense approaches to new issues, but doing that does not mean that we must accept unfounded claims no matter how popular they may be in some quarters.

But what of those issues that conservatives have long cared about but we are now told do not matter? The sanctity of human life, a debate that has taken on new proportions as the dimensions of science have expanded, and the importance of traditional marriage in a stable and vibrant society are two issues that appear to be “on the ropes” right now. Some contend that the matter of abortion is now too gruesome a subject to talk about. It is an old issue that has been hashed and rehashed and since it is no longer as relevant as other issues (so the argument goes), it should be at best minimized and at worst simply discarded. The same argument is applied to the gay-marriage versus traditional-marriage debate. Can’t we just move beyond these prickly issues that involve important relationship decisions between individuals in their private lives? The dangers inherent in following this wisdom should not be underestimated.

As we look for ways to revive our movement we should not cast aside those moral and social issues that helped lead to the birth of our movement in the first place. For fiscal conservatives and those of libertarian leanings, you should not forget the abortion issue or disregard those who are battling to preserve the definition of traditional marriage. For social conservatives, you should not let your deep commitment to demanding that government respect certain fundamental and basic human rights and institutions carry you to the point of ignoring those who work hard to control the size of government and defend economic freedom.

As a movement, we must broaden our appeal without becoming shallow in our thinking.

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