By John Krull TheStatehouseFile.com INDIANAPOLIS – Things cost. That’s a fundamental truth, one we ignore at our peril. The reality, though, is that there is one area of American life in which we routinely ignore this truth. In fact, we take pride in ignoring it. And it’s costing us. That area is government. A few […]
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That’s a fundamental truth, one we ignore at our peril.
The reality, though, is that there is one area of American life in which we routinely ignore this truth. In fact, we take pride in ignoring it. That area is government.
A few days ago, I sat in a studio and talked with Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Joe McGuinness, Indianapolis Department of Public Works Director Dan Parker and Indianapolis City-County Council Member Jared Evans about potholes and deteriorating infrastructure.
They talked about all the efforts being made to make driving in Indiana a less jarring experience. They described how hard road crews worked and how the nature of Indiana seasons makes maintaining good roads a challenge.
They said, accurately, that a lot of money — $126 million — would be spent in Indianapolis this year to plug the potholes and smooth over roads. That’s more than has been spent on Indianapolis roads in years.
It sounds impressive, until one hears that experts estimate the city should be devoting $178 million every year just to maintain the roads in their current condition. So, even in a year when we’re spending more money than we have in recent memory, we’re still going to be falling farther behind and making the problem bigger and costlier to fix.
I ask McGuinness, Parker and Evans if we ever can solve the road/pothole problem if we don’t confront the fact that good roads cost money and people will have to pay for them.
That means paying more taxes.
They all, politely, either evaded the question or changed the subject.
A couple of days later, teachers from all over Indiana showed up at the Statehouse to rally. The educators came to demand better pay. Their wages have stagnated for years.
Just about every elected official in Indiana loves to bloviate about how important education is to the state’s future. If we don’t invest in good schools, we can’t build a better future for Indiana and its people.
There’s little evidence, though, that most of these public officials mean what they say.
Much of the maneuvering in the state legislature now to find funds to give teachers modest raises is focused on trying to find ways to rob Peter to pay Paul.
To avoid telling taxpayers that, if they want good schools and good teachers, they will have to pay for them.
The buzz phrase for corporate chieftains across the state and country is talent recruitment. To attract good, skilled workers, we need to do many things.
We need to invest in making communities walkable. We need to build mass transit systems. We need to have a meaningful hate crimes law.
Oddly, though, we don’t talk that way about teachers.
We don’t ask what we need to attract top-flight teachers and what we must do to retain them once we do have them.
We don’t talk about how we can make their work more alluring, their lives more satisfying. We don’t ask how we can show that we value them.
So, in similar fashion to the way our roads have developed potholes the size of craters because we didn’t pay enough to maintain them, our years-long practice of shorting educators has left us battling teacher shortages and dealing with struggling schools and students.
Somewhere along the way, we succumbed to the fantasy that good government was the equivalent of a free lunch. We could have great roads, great services, great schools and a great state and country without paying for those things.
As fantasies go, that’s a pleasant one.
Reality, though, offers us jarring reminders every time we hit an axle-breaking chunk of missing pavement.
This is real life.
And, in real life, things cost.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College students. Send comments to [email protected].