Having recently attended the Fall 2012 session of the Indiana Economic Development Conference, I had the chance to hear Sue Ellspermann (Mike Pence's (R) running mate) and John Gregg (D) give their thoughts regarding how to improve Indiana's economy. Below I will outline what I heard, and give my opinion on who has the better direction:
Highlights from Sue Ellspermann for Mike Pence:
In regards to labor force and education, Ellspermann indicated that the Pence campaign wants to strengthen vocational and technical schools by working with high school and employers throughout the State. They want to eliminate the stigma of these schools and slowly get people to realize that 4-year colleges aren't for everyone and not necessary for many high-paying careers. While I don't think this focus would work for every State, I do think it's the right one for Indiana given the kind of labor pool and demand we have. This is in some sense an extension of the what the Daniel's administration has already started, so no marks for originality. Unlike the Gregg campaign, the Pence campaign wants to reduce education costs mostly by incentivizing students to graduate early or at least on-time by basically paying them to do so. I don't know how I feel about that. To me, there's usually a good reason students don't graduate on time. I'd rather see some of that money being spent on high schools to do a better job of helping students figure out their likes, dislikes, strengths etc.... Grade: B-
In regards to government operations, the campaign wants to have a "moratorium on regulations." Sue (I'm tired of typing her complicated last name) didn't give any specifics on this, and I consider this to be a throw away item that every politician says.... Grade: F
And of course the Pence campaign wants to support Veterans. Sue mentioned that the existing unemployment rate is about 15% for Veterans (twice the national average nearly). She gave no specifics other than wanting to put a Veteran on the IEDC Board. All in all, I don't see the point of that and consider this to be another throw-away political stance:... Grade: F
Of course, Sue wouldn't be a Republican if the main part of the platform weren't about cutting taxes. So, the Pence group wants to cut income taxes over 2 years by 10%. And again, like most Republicans, there was no mention of how this would be paid for (see regulations above). So, Grade: D
Sue talked about the need to increase exports, particularly with ag. She went on to talk entrepreneurship and partnering with universities, creating an Indiana jobs cabinet that can be movers and shakers that can spread the word about Indiana's strong business climate, and also talked about hosting a national site selector conference. Some of this seems like it might be beneficial, but she was a bit vague on specifics, so I'll go with a B-
Regarding energy, the Pence campaign supports an all-the-above strategy - which is the best any politician can do in coal country....no grade on this.
Overall, I was impressed with Sue Ellspermann's presentation (if not a majority of the content) and it is refreshing that she actually has an econ dev background (which I'm sure is why Pence sent her) but it's also disheartening that Pence didn't show up himself - just further exemplifies the fact that he is all social-issues, which is concerning to me. I think there were a couple good ideas, a lot of old ideas, and some throw-away vagueness. So, overall grade is a C-
Highlights from John Gregg:
John Gregg showed up on Friday to speak and I was struck my many similarities to the Pence campaign's ideas. First, some democrats don't realize, but John Gregg is just as (if not more so) conservative when it comes to social issues (which is part of the reason why he chose Vi Simpson as his running mate - to mask that). But also, on econ dev, there are more similarities than differences with Pence.
The first point he made was about energy - Gregg wants to eliminate the sales tax (not the use tax) on gasoline. He tried to persuade the audience that the amount of money saved per family is significant, but that is laughable for all but the poorest of families. Also, while I don't support tax increases on gas like many economists do, I certainly don't support eliminating taxes on them. This seemed more to me to be a political populist ploy more than anything else, though perhaps he has his heart in the right place, we are never going to close the gap on the clean/coal cost differential if we cut the cost of gas. Like Pence he claims to have an all-the-above strategy and mentioned something about making more wind turbines here....Grade: D-
Like the Pence camp, he wants to have an 'efficiency audit' which just means he wants to spend a lot of time looking at the regs to see if we can save money. Given that the Daniel's administration spent 8 years doing that, I don't see the value. Also, he gave the same talk about Veterans although he didn't mention anything about putting one on the IEDC board. I'll give this the same grade I gave Sue: F
Regarding specific econ dev stuff, Gregg wants to cut the corporate income tax (with a credit) particularly on HQ relocation to Indiana. I see two difficulties: one is that we just don't see that many HQs relocating anywhere except for Indianapolis metro or Fort Wayne (so it's hardly a big benefit Statewide), and two is we already have tax credits to do this! He went on to talk about how he wants to target specific industries like life science and advanced mfg. but again, these are targets the State already has. He mentioned a tax credit also for companies that relocate jobs from overseas (I think Obama had a similar idea?) Again, while the IEDC doesn't have a credit specific to that, we already have credits we can give companies to relocate back home. It's REDUNDANT. My biggest disappointment is he made no mention of his recently announced idea to create a midwest econ dev cooperative (which I love) - so I can't factor that into his grade. Grade: F
Regarding international trade, again like Pence, he wants to increase exports. Gregg says he'll accomplish this by creating a new office at IEDC devoted to international strategic exports. He was very vague on this, but I imagine this might involve expanding our already-existing international office. He also wants to fight unfair trade practices abroad. While I applaud that sentiment, that seems like a federal issue. The US can't get China to change, how in the world is Indiana? Finally, he wants to create a 'heritage to home' program essentially turning foreign students into ambassadors for the state. I suppose the idea being he wants all this foreign talent to earn degrees here, then leave, and spread the word about Indiana in India, China....I would rather the focus be on keeping them HERE. Grade: D-
Unlike Sue's speech (actually the two were very different deliveries, Sue's was polished and professional and Gregg's was very off the cuff and folksy to the point of being obnoxious), Gregg kept preaching to the crowd (of mostly local econ dev officials) that he wants the State to better engage the localities on how to do econ dev. He gave no specifics and I mostly thought he was just trying to push his populist preaching, but I DO wish the State were more collaborative with local officials. So, I'll grade that a C.
He ended on education. His plan to cut costs is to look at our schools and ask the question, 'is that building needed?' 'Is that program redundant with this program?' Again...fluff. He wants to give a tax credit or other incentive to keep kids in Indiana after graduation (which to me seems counter to his plan for a foreign ambassador program). Perhaps his biggest difference with Pence is that he seemed largely resigned to the fact that kids take more than 4 years to graduate these days - it's the new normal. As such, he has no plans to incentivize on-time graduation. Grade: C-
Overall, while funny, his speech was a lot like his campaign: lacking a clear direction or focus and overly folksy. He actually made a point of not asking for anyone's vote, which I found odd to say the least. Another oddity was that (and yes, I was keeping track), he not only said "IEDC operates good (folksy grammar)" but he also credited Mitch Daniels with 4 things: Indiana Buy-IN program, BMV makeover, strategic overseas focus, and community college focus. Gregg kept his best econ dev idea off the table for this group and largely either has a copy of the Pence campaign or imop has some really uninformed ideas. So, his grade is a D.
So, it's Pence/Sue by a nose - but certainly nothing to write home about.