I HAVEN'T had much to say about Mitch "Booster Seat" Daniels since the day he announced that his wife wouldn't let him run for President, which, oddly, was the same excuse John Wayne gave for staying home and making movies in which he won WWII singlehandedly instead of, you know, actually winning it singlehandedly on the side of the Pacific where it was actually fought. Except Wayne was taller.
Immediately after that touching display of family loyalty taking precedence over the patriotic responsibility to kill Freedom's Enemies he hoped someone who could take the heat would take up, Daniels seemed to me to be sulking. Or gloating. It can be difficult to tell. It can be difficult with him even to know if there's some difference, or some moment in the day when he isn't doing one, or the other, or both.
Who knows what he was doing this summer. (He turned up, as usual, at the State Fair, most memorably around daylight after a storm had toppled the stage at a Sugarland concert, killing and maiming dozens, to announce that the one thing we did know about it already, after a thorough overnight search by flashlight, was that it was an Act of God. God's liability, it turns out, is even more restricted that the state's. After the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that the maximum payout the state was liable for, in total, was $5 million, he turned up again to express his heartfelt opinion that the Legislature oughta make an exception in this case, now that he knew he wouldn't be fighting against one in court.) Daniels has been a full-time campaigner since 2004 (or, rather, had been up until last May), but a part-time governor since the 2006 short legislative session, when he, or his handlers, finally figured out that running around the state mouthing off like a petulant runt wasn't making him many friends. He's been quick to grab at the limelight--turning up last fall, for example, to tout tax breaks for some venture-capitalist/LED sign entrepreneur with a track record of stiffing investors in California--and slow to grab hold of the responsibility stick (he's currently fighting a subpoena from IBM requiring him to testify in the billion-dollar FSSA boondoggle case, on the grounds that He's the Governor, Goddammit, and shouldn't have to take responsibility for his decisions, or be placed under oath).
Daniels did appear last month to announce that the state he manages like a financial wizard had just found $300 million dollars mistakenly put in the wrong account and ignored. This just happens to be roughly--and by "roughly" I mean "precisely identical to", and by "just happens" I mean "bullshit"--the amount Daniels has reluctantly cut from Indiana education over the past seven years. His plan is to give the money back to "its rightful owners, the taxpayers", meaning "figure out some way to base the payments on total declared income, not actual tax payments". The good news there is that it isn't up to the Governor. The bad news is that it's up to the World's Third-Worst State Legislature™. (This has been something of a boon for fans of Daniels' public displays and black comedy; the only thing the Randian Supereconomicbrain could say in response was "Hey, it's found money!" Seriously. He's said it by now to every political reporter in the state, and never been called on it, to my knowledge.)
Mitch also turned in an interesting performance a couple weeks ago, after a brain trust consisting of Homeland Security Duct Tape specialists, plus state and local fire and police forces, which look to Homeland Security the way a piglet looks at a vacant teat, suddenly devised occupancy limits for the Indiana State House, just in time for Right to Work II. After about three days of various doughnut-inflated functionaries solemnly responding how sorry they were to seem like they were restricting Free Speech, and how the whole thing had been under review since last year, making it just a coincidence that it came out just as the Republican legislature hoped to strip unions of their rights, Daniels simply rescinded the new rules, making a mockery of a week's worth of bloated CYAs from bloated officials. Or it would have, if citizens of Indiana understood mockery any better than they do the connection between fried pastries and bloat.
Speaking of good news, this is Daniels' last year in office. Speaking of bad news, we're already announced that "Choirboy Mike" Pence will be his successor, and he's had a year to confer with God on future plans.
And that meant, last night, Mitch's final State of the State address. Making it his first and only as a pure Randian gun for hire, since last year he was still required to watch his step during last year's
And of course neither that oversight nor the cranial-explosiveness of the contradiction kept Daniels from claiming the SupereconomicRandianbrainsuperiority of his every act:
Tonight, while states elsewhere twist in financial agony, Indiana has an honestly balanced budget, a strong, protective reserve in our state savings account, and the first AAA credit rating in state history, one of just a handful left in America. Our credit is better – imagine this – than that of the federal government. Another host of states raised taxes again last year, while Hoosiers are taxed at the lowest levels in a long time, thanks in part to the lowest property taxes in the nation.
By the way, among many other tricks, "honestly balanced budget" means "having promised to push repayment of the principal on the state's $2 billion unemployment fund debt to the Federal government (the same one with a lower credit rating than ours!) onto the administration succeeding the Choirboy's two terms, in 2020, by figuring out how to pay $70 million per annum in interest and penalties, which we'll be bequeathing to future legislatures, as well". Naturally, if we paid off that debt, which was owed in full last year, the way you or I would be hauled into court if we didn't, that "protective reserve in the state savings account" would be a $ one billion hole. Or roughly twice the inflated figure Daniels used when he inherited one. (That inflated figure itself being not Debt, but the difference between the two-year revenue assumptions made in 2002 and the actual figures for 2004, which the long-session 2005 legislature was supposed to address all along, as was the general practice. And as has remained the general practice during the Daniels Miracle. That "debt" was originally reported as $250 million, but growed like Topsy later. So in effect Daniels has quadrupled (at minimum) state debt despite fobbing any number of fiscal responsibilities off on local governments, and slashing state spending, including education, on a series of decreasing Procrustian beds that fit together like those Russian doll-within-a-doll dealies.
As we've been at some pains to note here, what Indiana has done in the Daniels era was shift property taxes to sales taxes by hiking the latter 17%, benefitting (surprising how such things turn out) mostly the owners of commercial property, not homeowners. Indiana's total tax burden is about at the national average, and right in line with all of its neighbors except Ohio. (Illinois was brave enough to enact a temporary income tax surcharge to deal with its debt, something Daniels proposed in 2005 and retracted 20 minutes later in 2005.) Indiana has the highest discrepancy between tax burden and income level in the Midwest, again excepting Ohio (Kentucky's is worse, too). It also manages to be worse than big-tax liberal havens New York and California, and all of New England save Maine and Vermont. This is apparently the sort of thing which greatly pleases a bond-rating service, especially when coupled with an apparently unlimited willingness to replace government services with a thin veneer of service-like substance.
Outside of major urban areas, which add in their own tax rates, it's still cheaper to live or work in Illinois. And somehow they've managed to do that without Miracles.