Rep. Stutzman and the Farm Bill

Derek Pillie, writing at Hoosier Access (a conservative blog on Indiana politics for those who are unfamiliar), has an entry on Rep. Marlin Stutzman’s activity with respect to the federal Farm Bill. The blog post cites an article by Gary Truitt in Hoosier Agriculture.

Two main parts of the Farm Bill typically get a lot of attention: the food stamp program and the subsidies and payments to farmers and agricultural interests. Pillie has an interesting construct in describing an amendment proposed by Stutzman. “Yesterday he filed amendments with the House Rules Committee that would split off entitlement programs from the agriculture programs.”

I presume “entitlement” programs are those with money for Them while “agriculture” programs are those with money for Us. Stutzman is certainly one of the “Us,” having received about $200,000 in farm welfare assistance for his own agricultural interests. Farmers are hard working and good whereas food stamp recipients are lazy and bad. That’s the economic morality play narrative that underlies the politics of this thing anyway. In my mind, the distinction between government money given to agricultural interests and government money given to feed people is tenuous and largely artificial. If you want to insist that non-farmers earn their own way or starve, then you probably ought to insist that agricultural interests profit or perish.

As I understand the conjoined history of the farm subsidies and food stamp program, it was a fairly simple proposition at first. We have farmers who can’t make money, and we have hungry people who need food. Lets give farmers money for their food and give food to hungry people. Divide that house, and both sides will probably fall. And, if you’re a small government purist, that’s probably a good thing. Otherwise, it probably looks like a recipe for unnecessary suffering all around.

But Everyone Else Was Doing It!

As a parent, I expect to deal with the “but everyone else was doing it” defense. As a citizen of Indiana, I’m not sure that’s what I expect out of my Secretary of State.

Charlie White’s accusations against Evan Bayh remind me a little bit of the old joke where the motorist gets pulled over and protests to the officer, “I wasn’t speeding. But, I passed a few guys who were.” If I’m reading the news reports correctly, White is essentially saying, “these charges against me are bullshit, but Evan Bayh should be prosecuted for the same thing.”

This is probably one of those deals where you need to pick one strategy or another. Either say that the charges are frivolous or that everyone similarly situated should go down with you. Saying that frivolous charges should be made against everyone just doesn’t work so well.

Speaking of Green Space

StAllio! posts on Indianapolis Mayor Ballard’s proposal to sell off the city’s “pocket parks.” Apparently Ballard has hired a firm to analyze potential sales where the firm doesn’t get paid unless some of the parks are sold. As stAllio! points out, far from being a good deal for the city, this creates an enormous incentive for the firm to try to get as many of the parks sold as possible and, accordingly, renders suspect any analysis from the firm.

Pence Against Fairness

(H/t Muncie Free Press) Rep. Mike Pence (IN-06) has introduced H.R. 2905 which seeks to prohibit imposition of the Fairness Doctrine by the FCC. Specifically it prohibits the Commission from prescribing a rule requiring “that broadcasters present opposing viewpoints on controversial issues of public importance.” Pence is calling it the “Broadcaster Freedom Act,” but it should probably be called the “Rightwing Radio Protection Act.”

(Unrelated side note – I went to the Google and searched for IN-06 Pence – and a Barry Welsh diary on Kos showed up. Apparently Pence’s brother ran those sad Tobacco Road convenience stores before they filed bankruptcy and getting appointed by Gov. Daniels to a position in IDEM.)

Local Government: Budgetary Whipping Boy

I ran across a couple of items that, in juxtaposition, highlighted the difficulties of local government officials nicely.

Justice & Fortitude has a post that suggests runaway local government spending as the cause of our property tax woes:

“If we don’t do something about local government, putting caps on property taxes will be like slapping a Band-Aid on a more serious wound–or rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.”

(There is additional language in the post speaking of the need to engage repeal property taxes entirely to prevent the “enslavement” of Hoosiers through property taxes.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Indiana Court of Appeals rejected a claim by local government that the State ought to have to pay for detention expenses of the juvenile offenders sentenced by State judges. The General Assembly has since taken action to relieve local government of those expenses. But, as a general proposition, it isn’t really appropriate to criticize those expenditures of local government where local government is simply mandated to pay the bill without being given control of the amount of the expenditure.

The Governor, in particular, has let loose a drum beat of rhetoric criticizing local government officials for out of control spending without acknowledging the significant role played by the State in the matter or the fact that he “balanced” the State’s budget on the backs of local government.

Grumblings about the DLGF

(H/t Indiana Law Blog) Karen Francisco, writing for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, has a good column about some of the strife between local governments and the Department of Local Government Finance. The DLGF used to be viewed as a partner to local government. Now it has taken on a confrontational tone that is exacerbated by the seemingly constant flux of Indiana’s tax system as well as delays and contradictory information that seems to come out of the DLGF.

Not in the column, but worth mentioning is the Governor’s drumbeat of blame for local government when he was pushing his tax restructuring plan last year. That certainly couldn’t have helped relations between local government officials and the Daniels administration.

Supreme Court to Consider Robocall Statute

Lesley Stedman Weidenbener reports that the Indiana Supreme Court will consider the robo-call statute. At issue is whether the ban on robocalls should apply to political messages.

I’ve actually written quite a bit about this issue as it turns out. With respect to the decision on appeal, I posted this back in February:

I haven’t read the judge’s opinion, but as described, I don’t think it holds water. The statute does a few things — it specifies types of messages to which the statute does not apply — e.g. messages from schools to students or parents. Significantly, political messages are not in this list of exempt messages. Secondly, it defines commercial telephone solicitations and imposes restrictions on commercial telephone solicitations above and beyond the restrictions it places on solicitations via robocall generally. There is nothing in the text of the law itself that strongly suggests an allowance for robocalls to be used to spread political messages. There are at least two provisions that suggest that the regulation extends beyond commercial messages. So, unless there is something a bit more nuanced than reported about the judge’s decision, I’m going to predict this one gets overturned on appeal.

The State Republican and Democratic Parties are urging an interpretation that allows the automated phone calls. The Attorney General is trying to make sure a live person is involved when any of these calls are made to citizens. A recorded message is actually permitted under the statute, but it must be preceded by a live phone call and agreement by the recipient to receive the recorded message. (Or a recipient must have previously “opted-in” to receive such phone calls.)

Microvote sanctioned for 2006 violations

Niki Kelly, writing for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, reports that Microvote will be sanctioned for failing to provide certified software on its voting machines. As I read the article, with a lot of the sanction suspended, the upshot of Microvote’s punishment is that it won’t be able to sell or lease its machines through 2009 to new buyers in Indiana. It will still be able to market the machines, and there are no elections in 2009.

The Indianapolis-based company was cited for providing 47 counties with electronic voting machines that did not meet all certification requirements at the time of the 2006 primary election.

I’m Shocked, Shocked to Find Gambling in Indiana

Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Captain Renault: I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much.
[aloud]
Captain Renault: Everybody out at once!

—Casablanca (1942)

Indiana – 2008: The Associated Press has a story on how the promised crackdown on illegal gambling has fallen well short of expectations. Some lawmakers promised thousands of slot machines and poker machines would be seized. Meanwhile, lawmakers authorized 4,000 new machines at Indiana’s horse tracks. So, it looks like we have a substantial increase in gambling.

I don’t have strong feelings either way. I don’t have any moral opposition to gambling, but I don’t have a strong desire to have gambling facilities in close proximity. I think we really need to figure out a rational system for gambling in the state. This patchwork of grudging expansions while pretending to oppose the practice is silly.

Likely delay on property tax rule

The Associated Press has a story on a new property tax rule that is probably going to be delayed. The rule change would be to go from a “market value in use” system to a “market value in exchange” system. The latter is the predominant valuation in 48 other states.

“Market value in use” means that a property is assessed according to the value it has with its current, specific use whereas “market value in exchange” means assessing the property’s value based on its potential use. According to the article, the latter method of valuation would result in a substantial reduction in value for older industrial properties. If that happened, the tax burden would shift to the rest of the tax base — including residential property owners. Cheryl Musgrave, commissioner of the Department of Local Government Financing has announced her opinion that now might not be time for the change.