In the finicky sport of politics, assigning blame is the easy game called. Anger and fear grab headlines and votes. Complex proposals, long-term thinking, candor, audacity and risk-taking are punished, not rewarded. With this in mind, questions about how to improve the lives of the Hoosiers we serve through public policy are sometimes twisted into the safe or easy decision path. Let’s put politics aside for a moment and discuss the state of our state.
Indiana lags the nation in per capita income, education, health, and environmental conditions. It’s also true that Indiana ranks fifth in the United States for business, first in the Midwest, and is on solid financial footing, with low tax rates and record budget surpluses. .
Recent opinion pieces and debates about the direction of our state take an incomplete view. Twenty years ago, Indiana also fared poorly on measures of health, environment, and educational attainment. But the financial health of our state was dismal. Cash balances had been depleted as state expenditures exceeded annual revenues.
At the time, the state was unable to invest in Hoosiers. Today, thanks to sound fiscal policies, effective government and economic growth, we are able to meet our challenges with sufficient resources to invest in important areas.
The next decade of action – or inaction – will decide our state’s ultimate trajectory for the next 50 years. Let’s seize the opportunity. We must be bold, honest and take the appropriate risks to solve the complex problems that are the daily reality of Hoosiers. There are several ways in which investments and government policies can improve Hoosiers’ outcomes to reach their true potential. Ultimately, Hoosiers must have the desire and hope to strive for a better life.
The level of education is essential for the well-being of our residents. Investments in existing pre-K programs to increase access for all would begin to close the achievement gap while providing financial relief to families. For decades we have been discussing the lack of university graduates in our state. Why can’t we offer post-graduation scholarships or loan forgiveness in the form of income tax credits to any Hoosier student who graduates from an institution of higher learning and remains employed in our state for a specific period? Let’s look at the policies that put our young people on the right path while incentivizing them to build the talent pool we need to grow.
We are racing to the bottom when it comes to our health outcomes, and that has to change. To address skyrocketing health care costs, policies that introduce competition and discourage monopolistic behavior can make preventative care accessible to more Hoosiers. Our mental health system has never been adequate. The current system is fragmented and bureaucratic; dictated by the requirements set out in the funding streams and not by those in urgent need of services. We should harness the incredible data the state has on health care consumption and start incubating preventative pilot programs to intervene in health issues before they become acute.
No matter where you land on the political spectrum, most of us want to live and raise our children in an environment with clean air and water and a healthy ecosystem. This result can occur, not at the expense of the economy, but rather to its advantage. I believe it is possible.
There is an intellectual gold rush in the next generation of energy, technology, manufacturing and agriculture. We have to decide if we will be a state that just executes downstream orders or if we are a state that innovates, creates and generates real wealth. If we harness the power of our higher education institutions and set an ambitious goal to lead innovation in carbon sequestration, battery power, pharmaceutical manufacturing, precision agriculture, from environmental remediation and data analytics, we can generate an innovation-driven economy that will propel our state into decades to come and provide meaningful, quality jobs for generations to come.
A close friend of mine and serial entrepreneur once told me that the difference in the mindset of entrepreneurs is that they see opportunities where others see obstacles and risks. In the years to come, I hope we can collectively find our entrepreneurial spirit – to lead boldly, with candor and risk, and to seize the opportunities that come our way by investing in what matters most to us. ‘Indiana, its people.
Scott Fadness is mayor of Fishers.