A key challenge for any leader is to strike the right balance between addressing immediate needs and those of the future. These days, that challenge is made more difficult by a political landscape that highlights partisan rhetoric and devalues long-term thinking and thoughtful debate.
Fortunately, some Indiana leaders are willing to buck this trend. For 18 months, more than 50 of those leaders — from the business, government, academic and nonprofit worlds, and from across the political spectrum — spent time studying issues integral to Indiana’s economic future. Working with the Indiana University Public Policy Institute (PPI), those leaders gathered research, discussed challenges and opportunities, and developed a list of some of the choices Indiana will face in the 21st century.
This month, those leaders and PPI unveiled the results of their work within three in-depth reports designed to spark conversation among elected officials and candidates for state office. As co-chairs of the PPI’s Board of Advisers, we hope the “Policy Choices for Indiana’s Future” reports will drive visionary planning.
Of course, such efforts could address a wide range of issues — from homeland security to arts and culture, and from pre-school education to eldercare. However, as we developed the Policy Choices initiative, we recognized a need to focus, so we turned our gaze to three areas we believe will have a strong impact on our state’s economy: education and workforce; energy and the environment; and tax policy.
As the commissions reviewing these areas began their work, they first considered our challenges. For example, battered by a difficult economy, in the first 10 years of the 21st century Hoosiers’ per capita income experienced its first decline in many decades, putting us behind Midwestern neighbors. In 2010, Indiana’s per capita personal income was only 85.2 percent of the national average, compared to 90.6 percent in 2000 and 92.7 percent in 1980.
As most of us would guess, many of our challenges are tied to jobs: Indiana lost 207,000 of them from 2000 to 2010. A heavy reliance on unskilled manufacturing jobs makes recovering from this deficit more difficult. Employers that demand higher-skilled, knowledge-economy workers are unlikely to be attracted to Indiana, which ranks lowest in the Midwest in terms of the percentage of citizens ages 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree.
With these sobering facts in mind, the Policy Choices commissions sought to identify the key decision points facing our leaders. Following is a summary of key observations.
The Education and Workforce Commission recognized that a top priority must be helping Hoosiers acquire the skills and knowledge required by a 21st century workplace. Achieving this will require greater coordination between the workplace and our education and work force development efforts, as well as better alignment of standards for high school graduation and requirements of postsecondary institutions and employers.
Acknowledging national and statewide goals of energy security, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and job growth, the Energy and the Environment Commission sees promise for Indiana’s future prosperity in four areas: advanced biofuels; electric vehicles and battery technology; energy efficiency; and carbon capture and storage. Indiana has many advantages in these areas thanks to natural resources and existing enterprises, but we must act quickly to capitalize on opportunities.
The State and Local Tax Policy Commission said that to remain competitive, Indiana must find ways to generate the resources required to provide services and to invest in infrastructure through a balanced and broad tax base with low rates. Tax policy should account for regional concerns. The state should create a comprehensive assessment of infrastructure needs, and local and state governments should improve efficiency in delivering services.
In each of these areas, the commissions offer a wide range of options and information, all designed to provoke fruitful conversations. The good news is, the conversations already have begun. When we released the report, more than 100 civic leaders attended a forum in which they offered their reactions to the reports. In addition, we’ve shared our reports with current elected officials as well as those people running for elected office.
We believe that better information and discussion today will lead to better decisions tomorrow. As we continue to share our findings and information with the state’s policy leaders, we hope you will join the conversation as well.
• Randall Shepard, retired Indiana Supreme Court chief justice, and Mark Miles, Central Indiana Corporate Partnership CEO, are co-chairmen of the Indiana University Public Policy Institute Board of Advisers.