INDIANAPOLIS – You may be hearing a lot more about the “American dream” from Republicans in the Indiana Statehouse in coming months.
Last week, Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma – confident that the GOP will continue to control the Statehouse after the November election – called a press conference to announce his caucus’ legislative agenda for 2013.
He gave the plan a theme: “Own Your American Dream.”
It’s about jobs and education and a balanced state budget. It lacks legislative detail, but it’s aspirational.
“It is every parent’s hope that their children will be better off than their own generation,” Bosma said, after telling a story about his immigrant ancestors who came to the U.S. in 1908 with little more than a dream.
“But for the first time in history,” he continued, “the majority of Americans believe that the next generation will not enjoy a quality of life better than their parents.”
His lofty words were mostly lost on his immediate audience. Reporters who covered the event, myself included, latched on instead to his comments about social issues that may crowd the GOP agenda, including a pending constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage and civil unions. (No American dream for same-sex couples?)
That, and the declaration of independence he made on behalf of the Legislature when he questioned whether a big tax cut promised by his own party’s front-running candidate for governor, Mike Pence, would make it through the legislative budget process. (Ditto for Democrat John Gregg’s tax-cut plan.)
“Our team has a long-term vision, not a campaign-oriented vision, for how we budget,” Bosma said.
Bosma wanted us to pay more attention to the plan, which pledges action to create better-paying jobs and expand and improve educational opportunities for Hoosiers.
Those are good goals. Because while Bosma called Indiana the “envy of every state in the nation” for ending up with a state budget surplus after some tough budget-cutting years, he knows that envy has a limit.
In per capita personal income – a measure that reflects the average income of state residents and is used to measure prosperity – Indiana ranks in the bottom 10 of all states. We’ve slid down there in the last decade. Collectively, we Hoosiers have less of the American dream than we once did.
What does it take to reverse the slide? The answer is simple: A better-educated work force, which leads to better-paying jobs.
Getting to that answer is the hard part, of course. Indiana ranks in the bottom 10 states for college attainment. We’re also in the bottom 10 states for the number of children attending early education programs.
The Republicans’ American-dream plan calls for, among other things, promoting early childhood education and increasing accessibility to higher education.
The devil will be in the details. What does “promote” mean? No definitive word yet on that. It could mean expanding the state’s controversial voucher program that uses tax dollars to pay for tuition in private schools. And how do you increase access to higher education when the high cost of college these days means massive student loan debt? Indiana’s public universities have bitterly resisted efforts to tie more of their state subsidies to getting more of their students through college and out on time.
I like the American dream. I’m here because my starving Irish Catholic ancestors and my oppressed Russian Jewish ancestors were offered access to it. And jobs and education were their tickets to realizing it.
• Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana, including the Kokomo Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.