David Hoppe

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:: There's a tea party in my head

Call it a crisis

By David Hoppe

There's a tea party in my head.

I just heard that Indiana was $86 million short of what the bean counters expected to take in during February. That makes 17 months in a row that state revenue has been less than projected.

Gov. Daniels is understandably loath to raise taxes. That's because workers in Indiana tend to make less money than workers in other states. Our average income lags behind the rest of the country. Low wages, like adopting daylight savings time, is supposed to attract new businesses here. Tell that to the ten percent of us who don't have jobs.

Since raising taxes is out, more cuts in government services are likely. This is going to get interesting.

State services have already suffered worker layoffs. And education in the state has been particularly hard hit. Public schools are being ordered to cut $300 million from their budgets; state colleges and universities are losing $150 million.

For all of you out there who think we need less government, you're going to get to find out what that feels like.

Meanwhile, please note: The Education Trust, a national advocacy group that researches performance in schools found that between 2004 and 2008 -- before the economy went south -- Indiana students were flatlining in terms of reading skills and math proficiency. Twenty-five percent of students in the lowest performing schools actually lost ground over this period. We'll see how those budget cuts affect them.

IPS, by the way, plans on cutting 100 teaching positions.

I was talking to a friend who lost his job at the end of last year. He said it seemed like something fundamental has changed. That, for the first time in his life, he felt stuck, out of options.

No wonder. While we've been told that the Recession is over, recovery seems a long way off. Businesses are showing improved bottom lines, but those profits aren't coming from increased sales so much as from reductions in the cost of production. Employers, in other words, are learning to do more with fewer people. Or they're paying less for more hours of work.

While everyone, from state legislators to the President of the United States, keeps saying their most important priority is jobs, it's hard to see where those jobs will be. We don't make things any more. It's not as if the land is filled with factories poised to swing into high gear.

And though we keep hearing about how green jobs can bring manufacturing back, the fact is that a lot of that work is already being taken by Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese workers. The same people who make our clothes and tools and TV sets have started making solar panels.

Like I said, I have a tea party in my head. But it's not like those middle-aged vent-fests you see on the news. Those people are angry and frightened; I can relate to that. But those folks seem to think that if they dig in their heels and yell loud enough they can stop history in its tracks.

It's like they want a do-over. They hate Obama but they can't stand Bush. They want jobs, but they're against the deficit. They're against the government because it's sold itself to corporate interests. But if government goes away, what, aside from corporate interests, will be left?

What seems clear from where I sit is that all of us are having one hell of a hard time dealing with change. For a middle-age guy with a tea party in his head like me, this is a little embarrassing. I mean, of all generations, mine was supposed to be the one who had change nailed. We took the middle class values our parents helped create - job security, marriage for the sake of the kids, the idea that our kids would have it better than we did - and traded them for easy credit and no money down.

It was quite a party - tea was the last thing any of us thought about drinking.

Stands to reason we're upset. We have cause. Change has been thrust upon us. The folks at tea party rallies seem to think they can make it stop by stopping government.

The trouble is, we've been trying this in Indiana for generations now and the results haven't been encouraging. It's gotten us an I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine crony economy, dysfunctional schools, third rate governmental agencies and politically interchangeable public officials who only want to talk about religion and sports. We brag about the affordability of our housing as if this was a public policy strategy instead of a sign of how little money we make.

At least the tea party folks have taken to the streets. We owe them a certain, if wary, debt for at least calling attention to this fact: whatever else it might be called, what's happening here is a crisis.

If you've got a tea party in your head, too, we need to figure out how to deal this.