Taxation without representation

Friday, July 19, 2013

Taxation without representation

If I had a nickel for every time I have to preface the answer to a question about Indiana law with the phrase “It’s actually quite complicated,” I would be a rich man indeed. This is particularly true for questions pertaining to the many programs that have been created by the federal government but then crammed down to the states for administration.

For decades, our federal government has considered it a standard, indeed desired, practice to pass new programs and then have the states administer them. Education programs, highway funding, various welfare programs and worker training are among the many areas that have heavy federal components.

This unfortunate situation demonstrates a lack of respect for local control and our Constitution’s 10th Amendment. Our state can essentially be punished if we do not operate exactly the way people in Washington D.C. would have us operate, or if we desire to change the rules to reflect Hoosier values. Washington is showing no regard for the possibility that Hoosiers know best how to attend to their own issues. It also divides taxpayers between the people taxing and creating programs, the federal government, and the folks charged with carrying them out, the state governments.

This confusion is all too common. Currently, the federal government sends about $9.66 billion to Indiana state agencies each year so that they can be distributed on down to citizens that qualify for various programs. Some may be legitimate; however, many of these programs are ones that I seriously doubt the State of Indiana would have ever enacted in the first place, but are essentially forced to administer if Indiana taxpayers are to see a return on what they pay to Washington.

For me, as a State Representative, this means that I am routinely asked by taxpayers about programs that the State of Indiana administers, and thus has some responsibility for, but has very little actual say in the matter given they are created by federal law. This puts taxpayers in a tough spot.

If a taxpayer asks the folks serving in state government about some problem or inefficiency in a government program, a very true answer can be: “Indiana does not set the rules.” However, if the taxpayer complains to the federal government in Washington about the same issues, the response is far too often: “We don’t administer the program.”

In earlier times in our country, we may have referred to this situation as “taxation without representation.” Now that may be a little harsh, but it does speak to a certain truth: Our American government was designed to have a centralized federal government responsible for certain, well-defined items listed in our Constitution; local issues were left to the states, counties and citizens to sort out.

We could have a very interesting discussion about how our current convolution came about, but regardless of its origins, it is clearly time to push the other direction. Our federal government is broke. It does not have the resources to pay for its debt, let alone the programs it creates and expects Indiana to administer for them.

One part of moving toward financial health would be for the federal government to start, once again, focusing on federal issues and leaving Indiana to focus on Indiana issues. Our current system of near taxation without representation is simply no way to run a government, nor is it what our Founders intended.


State Rep. Tom Washburne serves as Vice Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He also serves on the Financial Institutions Committee and the Select Committee on Government Reduction. Rep. Washburne represents the entirety of Gibson County and portions of Knox, Pike, Vanderburgh and Posey counties.