Recently I had the honor of addressing the Indiana House committee on roads and transportation. One would think such a distinguished group would not want to hear from a long-term critic of the General Assembly. But they merely laughed when I was introduced.
My purpose on this rare occasion was to support the naming of a bridge on Interstate 69 for David Graham and James Newland. Both men were leaders in the long struggle to build I-69, not just from Indianapolis, via Bloomington, to Evansville, but from Canada to Mexico.
Newland, in particular, was a friend who taught me much about civility and persistence in the pursuit of desirable objectives. He and Graham, with many others from southwest Indiana, patiently and persuasively lobbied for I-69. They recognized its importance and feasibility long before it was politically popular. Despite often irrational opposition, they pressed to bring facts and cogent argument to the heated discussion that still smolders today.
As I waited for my turn to speak, I reflected on the name of the committee: roads and transportation. Why not just transportation? Alas, in Indiana, all forms of transportation, other than roads, are not taken seriously.
Most Hoosiers don’t know we have ports on the Ohio River and Lake Michigan. Most Hoosiers think of Indianapolis as having an airport and forget about the 60-plus other airfields in the state. Except when stopped at or jarred by a rough rail crossing, Hoosiers are indifferent to the tracks crossing our state. Pipelines? Here? Where and why?
Roads. That’s what we think about, and that’s what we complain about as the snow falls and as it melts. We have regular fantasies that we experience congestion because most of us have never been in truly congested traffic. Some of us consider speed limits, traffic lights, parking regulations and stop signs as examples of unconstitutional infringements by government on our liberties.
Next, I thought about the $200 million the state Senate cut from the highways appropriation for the coming fiscal year. As ever, fear of insufficient revenues shades the judgment of several legislative leaders. They have so little confidence in our state’s economy, and the tax structure they have developed, that they anticipate fiscal collapse at any moment.
Then my thoughts turned to the room itself and the misconceptions many Hoosiers have about state government. There was no sense of grandeur or power in this room. Many meeting rooms in city and town halls across the state are more impressive.
Here, not a penny was spent to suggest the dignity of democratic processes. The people’s representatives asked meaningful questions when appropriate and were at ease with each other.
Finally, I contemplated the real business of legislation as conducted away from view by the press and the public. An opaque film covers what is really happening. Powerful men (this is still Indiana), acting on behalf of powerful interests, manipulate the legislative process to produce results that amaze us if they correspond to the public’s well-being.
Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.