Jason Arp represents the 4th District on the Fort Wayne City Council.
Labels are not always indicative of the contents. My stint on City Council has been enlightening. I serve on a body that consists of seven Republicans and two Democrats. Looking at the track record of this body over the last few years, you would never know it.
Generally, when people think of political parties, they think of the Republicans being “conservative” and Democrats being “liberal.” Those terms may mean different things to different folks, but it is usually conceded that the size and scope of government, particularly in domestic affairs, is a primary element in that formulation. In other words, people don't usually associate increases in taxes and spending as a Republican theme.
Additionally, there are social and property rights issues that, rhetorically anyway, break along party lines, such as guns and zoning issues. The reality is there aren't any party lines, at least not in practice.
A growing factor, and perhaps the most important issue of the day, is the dominance of rent-seeking in economic development. The city has succumbed to the influence of the cottage industry of commercial real estate development.
A well-organized lobby, partly funded by the city and county government, pushes for tax expenditures on private projects to benefit its constituency of lawyers, architects, construction managers and real estate developers. This is a national trend in its second decade of this iteration in second- and third-tier cities eager to be more like Chicago or San Francisco. The first go-round bankrupted places such as Detroit and Flint, Michigan, in the early 1980s.
A recent white paper by Matthew Mitchell of George Mason University's Mercatus Center describes how government interference in markets creates shortages, monopolies and malinvestment that all result in the destruction of capital and the loss of productivity, lowering standards of living.
One would think Republicans would be opposed to growing government influence over the economy, but that is not what the voting records in Indiana show over the last few years. We have seen a growth of the administrative state with the creation and funding of regional development authorities, expansion of government workforce development and the enabling of a statewide economic development behemoth (the Indiana Economic Development Corp.). These moves at the Statehouse have been ratified at the convention in Evansville, where Republicans made this expansive role of government a plank in the platform.
Local Republicans are not immune to this lurch to a government-run economy. Local businesses are required to stop by City Hall, hat in hand, to get their equipment taxes abated in order to compete. Between the city and county, there are hundreds of tax abatements to track and monitor for compliance with employment mandates. The Republican-dominated council has voted to approve every tax increase proposed in recent years, while simultaneously voting to use tax money on private developments. When offered a plan to reverse all this by simply removing business equipment taxes, they decidedly voted it down.
A fellow councilman often says anything worth doing is worth measuring. In that spirit, I have created a scorecard of the votes that I think reflect whether a councilman favors more government interference or less.
There are two nodes, those lower than 50 percent, and those higher. One hundred percent would be a perfect “liberty” score; 0 percent reflects an authoritarian. It turns out we have two councilmen who reflect a fondness for liberty and seven who don't. Party appears to be irrelevant.
The question becomes, where do those who actually desire smaller, less-intrusive government turn? The answer is to make informed decisions in primary elections, look past the promoters in plaid pants pushing shiny edifices and follow the money. While there are attractive alternatives, the reality is we live in a two-party system and those who desire liberty are going to have to gain control of one them. Might I suggest the one that until recently had a platform that reflected many of our values.