It is certainly instructive to compare and contrast the two budget battles currently going on, one in Washington and the other in Indianapolis. One is pure folly, an exercise in excess and waste, the other a model of sober fiscal restraint.
The folly is federal, of course. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are in a frothing-at-the-mouth panic over the “sequestration” that could result in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts of $85 billion. But the cuts that would take effect this year would amount to just $44 billion. We’re supposed to believe that the country will be devastated by taking less than 2 percent out of the $3.8 trillion budget? The only debate seems to be over how fast the national debt should be allowed to grow.
The responsible process is the one going on in Indiana. Here we’re not talking about growing government at all, but whether to preserve it at the present level or shrink it even more than we have in the last eight years.
The debate – with Republican Gov. Mike Pence on one side and legislative Republicans on the other – is whether to give Hoosiers a modest cut in their income taxes or keep the rate the same and use the money for modest increases in education and transportation spending. It’s a measure of how maturely our politicians are behaving that it’s agreed they might change their minds one way or the other depending on what the revenue forecast due in April has to say.
We can afford to have that debate in Indiana – essentially determining what kind of government we want and what it should do – because our elected officials have been, for the most part, fiscally prudent. Notice there has been no public outcry demanding that the income tax cut go through. If voters sense their money has not been wasted, they will be more satisfied with how much of it they give up. If they can see that some spending has been cut to the bone, they will be more supportive of increasing it.
There is no such faith in Washington – in fact, we pretty much accept that they will tax too much, spend too much and waste too much, giving us a government much too big in the process. And the federal wastrels are quickly spending themselves out of options. A crushing debt and unsustainable entitlements will leave no action possible except coping with what has already been done.
The lesson is that voters aren’t necessarily looking for the smallest or cheapest government. All they want is real value for their money. In Indiana, we’re getting it. From Washington, we’re not.