When President Obama visited Elkhart, Ind., on Monday to flog his economic stimulus plan (aka more government spending), he saw a struggling town in the midst of a relatively prosperous state. Had he taken the time to visit Indianapolis and met with Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, he would have seen a different picture.
Indiana has a $1.3 billion surplus and a "rainy day fund" made up of contributions that come from a unique concept these days: government spending less than it receives from taxpayers, without raiding its cash reserves.
Among several things that troubled me about President Obama's appearance in Elkhart and his news conference that night was the absence of any call for individual initiative to help get us out of our economic funk. The president and the congressional majority party appear to believe that when one gets a job, he should hold that job all his life and retire with a good pension. Furthermore, that person should never be expected to move (migrate) in the pursuit of better opportunities-and the federal government must address anything that interferes with that scenario.
Opportunities remain in Indiana, despite the difficulties in Elkhart, for those with the vision and initiative to seize them. According to the governor's office, since January 2005, 647 businesses have committed to creating 80,043 jobs and to investing $18.8 billion in their Indiana operations. In an online search of the Indianapolis Star newspaper on Tuesday, I found links to 2,398 jobs in or within a 30-mile radius of Indianapolis. There are even help wanted postings in the Elkhart newspaper.
Have we become so indolent, so used to others doing for us, that we have lost the initiative so many of our forebears had, initiative that built and sustained this country through much harder times than this? I suspect many of them would have gladly traded their real hard times for what we have now, which is prosperity squared compared to apple selling, dust bowls, and the shanties in which many of them lived.
Because Gov. Daniels doesn't see government as a first resource, he has enough revenue to do what government should do-build and repair roads, encourage telecommunication reform, promote research and development, stimulate the manufacture of goods that others outside the state and country wish to buy. (In 2007, Indiana exported to foreign countries a record $25.9 billion worth of goods, up more than 14 percent from the previous year.)
The state ranks first in the Midwest for its business climate (and fifth in the nation), reports Site Selection magazine, Nov. 2008. According to Forbes magazine, Indiana has the lowest business cost index in the Midwest and sixth lowest in the country. And most important of all in this "government knows best" climate, Indiana ranks first in the Midwest and 14th nationally in the Tax Foundation's 2009 Business Tax Climate Index. Other states, like New York, New Jersey, California, and Michigan are driving businesses away because of heavy taxation to support expanding government and increasingly oppressive and counterproductive regulations.
Indiana can balance its budget without tax hikes because Governor Daniels doesn't see government as primary, but somewhere down the list behind initiative, risk-taking, personal responsibility, and accountability. While all may not start out the same in life, many can overcome whatever handicaps they might have, if they subscribe to certain principles known to every generation. Politicians that tell us we can't succeed without them and, if we do, they will grab increasing amounts of our prosperity, have replaced the stories of those who have overcome.
One of the questioners at the president's press conference expressed concern that he might be "talking down" the economy and causing people to lose faith in themselves and the country. The president brushed off the question, repeating that these are, in fact, tough times.
Where is the "we can do this together" spirit of yesteryear? Maybe everyone should be required to watch the film Hoosiers about a high school basketball team beset by conflict on and off the court. With a new coach, the players catch the vision, start to believe in themselves, and manage to win the state championship. Where's our Hoosier spirit?
© 2009 Tribune Media Services Inc.
Editor's note: This article has been corrected to reflect that Indiana's surplus is $1.3 billion.