INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Evansville Courier & Press. Dec. 16, 2013.
Speaker Boehner finally takes on meddling groups
Finally, House Speaker John Boehner has stood up against hard-right groups, many of them financial backers of the tea party, who seem less interested in taking in the Democrats than thwarting the speaker's agenda and purging Congress of Republicans members they consider too willing to compromise.
The position of groups such as the deep-pocketed Heritage Action, the Club for Growth, the Senate Conservatives Fund, Americans for Prosperity and other groups backed by shadowy billionaires is simple: No compromise.
Tea party-backed groups are arguably responsible for the GOP winning control of the House in 2010 and have been living off that victory ever since.
But they also were instrumental in keeping the Senate Democratic by fielding extremist candidates unacceptable to the mainstream. And now, for reasons that seem like pure cussedness, these same groups are seeking to dethrone the top Senate Republican, GOP leader Mitch McConnell.
What angers mainstream Republicans is that these groups provoke intraparty feuds and use them to raise money.
"They're misleading their followers," Boehner said. "I just think they've lost all credibility."
Boehner said these groups pushed the House GOP into a fight to defund Obamacare that shut down the government for 16 days and badly damaged the party's image and standings in the polls.
The speaker said, "But if you recall, the day before the government reopened, one of these groups stood up and said, 'Well, we never really thought it would work,'" sarcastically adding, "Are you kidding me?"
The speaker was perhaps feeling extra confident because Thursday the House handed him a big victory by overwhelmingly approving, 332-94, a bipartisan budget pact that eases the harshest of the across-the-board spending cuts called for in the sequester and insures that there will be no government shutdown for the next two years, at least not for budgetary reasons.
Rather than departing for Christmas recess on Friday as planned, the Senate will stay in town to vote on the budget agreement. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid will need at least five Republican votes to overcome the expected filibuster.
The usual suspects already have announced their opposition, but the lopsided House vote, plus Boehner's strong defense of the bill, gives political cover to Senate Republicans who vote for it.
It took Boehner long enough to come down hard on outside political groups messing with his caucus. Let's hope he takes that fighting spirit into the new year, because the alternative is simply more deadlock.
South Bend Tribune. Dec. 15, 2013.
Special needs subsidies should top pro-adoption agenda
It is curious that Gov. Mike Pence earlier this month talked about his pro-adoption agenda for Indiana without mentioning the state's suspension of subsidies for special needs children.
This assistance to help families with the additional expenses of therapies and special equipment that boost the quality of life for children with physical disabilities, cognitive and emotional impairment, in 2009, became one of the casualties of then-Gov. Mitch Daniels' budget surplus building.
South Bend's Democratic state Sen. John Broden has been fighting for its reinstatement ever since.
The problem came about when the increase in sales tax and other changes to the state tax system shifted the adoption subsidies from county to state control and left the program unfunded. Indiana ingloriously became the only state in the nation not to offer such support.
A separate federal program subsidizes about half of special needs adoptees, and is expected to expand to include all special needs children by 2018. In the meantime, more 1,400 Hoosier children who meet the eligibility requirements and whose adoptions had been finalized were on the waiting list for subsidies as of July 2013, double the number waiting just two years earlier.
No doubt the state income tax credit that Pence currently is proposing for adoptive families is a cheaper deal than the special needs subsidies. But it's no bargain considering the moral cost and the high price for long-term public services it may trigger.
For one thing, continuing per diem foster care payments for children passed over by adoption is more expensive. For another, a lot of research shows that when youngsters are adopted into permanent homes they are more likely to complete high school, attend college, be employed and earn decent incomes and less likely to become teen parents, abuse drugs and alcohol, have mental health problems and get arrested.
A 2008 report from the North American Council on Adoptable Children found that 58 percent of parents said they could not have adopted their special needs children without the additional resources these subsidies provide. Another 23 percent said the subsidies encouraged their decision. This may be at least part of the reason that adoptions dropped more than 35 percent between 2011 and 2013.
With low- and middle-class parents increasingly struggling to make ends meet, why refuse to reinstate help for those committed to caring for a child who will need more support than most parents can even imagine?
Certainly all children deserve to be in a home with parents who love and nurture them. The governor's idea of providing all adoptive families a state credit equal to that of the federal tax credit is commendable. But, providing for impaired children through adoption subsidies that align with their needs is more urgent.
Broden has filed a bill to reinstate adoption subsidies every year since they disappeared and has gotten no further than a committee hearing. He'll bring it up again in the upcoming General Assembly, encouraged by the appointment last spring of Mary Beth Bonaventura as director of the Department of Child Services. In her previous job as juvenile court judge in Lake County, Broden says, Bonaventura took exceptional interest in investigating state support available for adoptions.
And now that Pence has opened the door on the discussion, Broden intends to address the governor, as well. If Pence is serious about making Indiana a pro-adoption state, he should start by championing adoption subsidies.
Tribune-Star. Dec. 14, 2013.
Negatives outweigh positives of business property tax cut
A tax cut benefits the payer of that tax.
People relying on the services provided by the tax feel the negative impact of the cut.
In Indiana, the first result routinely trumps the latter whenever a tax cut gets proposed. That priority has given the state its low-tax, business-friendly reputation and fits appropriately in America's economic system. But who gets top consideration when a proposed tax cut simply shifts the burden for public services from one group of taxpayers to another?
If you guessed "corporations," don't punish yourself for thinking cynically. Hoosiers soon may see an example of that perception become a reality.
Gov. Mike Pence and Republican legislative leaders want to eliminate the business personal property tax. It's a tax on business equipment, everything from office desks and chairs to large manufacturing machinery. The governor and fellow conservatives say the equipment tax scares away businesses that might otherwise locate in Indiana. In Pence's view, border states have an edge; Michigan may end its business personal property tax, Kentucky's is lower, and Ohio and Illinois don't have such a tax.
It's been awhile since beleaguered Illinois' tax policies were characterized as an economic threat to Indiana, a state billed as a fiscal oasis.
After rolling out the business equipment tax-cut plan, Pence and House Speaker Brian Bosma heard an outcry from Hoosier mayors — many from their own Republican Party — as well as school superintendents and library administrators. Why? This reduction, the latest in a long series of tax cuts, would in turn reduce revenue to cities, counties, school districts and libraries by a cumulative $1 billion. All of those entities have already been living leaner from property-tax caps enacted in 2008 and the elimination of the business inventory tax a decade ago.
Vigo County now collects 26 percent of its property tax from business equipment. Elimination of the tax would reduce revenue to the county by $3.2 million, the city by $4.5 million, the Terre Haute Sanitary District by $935,838, Vigo County schools by $3.2 million and the Vigo County Public Library by $636,475. People who lead and use those services must wonder how closely state officials considered the local ramifications.
If the powers that be didn't recognize the consequences before the backlash, they do now.
Pence and Bosma have not backed away from the tax cut, but acknowledged that a replacement source must be found for funding local services, just as Indiana's neighbor states have done. Pence and Bosma don't have a definite source planned. The governor told the Times of Northwest Indiana he won't "prejudge that debate" and is leaving the solution to state legislators, who convene next month. Maybe the tax could be phased out gradually, he speculated, or maybe counties could be given the option of eliminating it individually. Still, how will the state replace the funding for towns, and libraries and other recipients?
The Times reported Pence deflected follow-up questions about whether he would accept a plan to hike local income taxes to offset funding lost from the equipment-tax cut for corporations and businesses. The burden is "going to be pushed onto local homeowners," Terry Goodin, a Democrat state representative and superintendent of schools in Crothersville, predicted in a Kokomo Tribune interview. "It's a shift from the corporations to local communities, and that's going to have a huge impact."
Indiana has already cleared a wide path for business growth. The business personal property tax should be moved farther down the highway, until a more reasonable alternative is found.
The Indianapolis Star. Dec. 13, 2013.
State needs to more aggressively confront Hoosiers' poor health
The abysmal condition of Hoosiers' overall health is a statewide embarrassment, one that ought to prompt Gov. Mike Pence and other state leaders to take stronger action to change long-term trends.
How out of shape and sickly are we? Indiana ranks a lowly 41st in the nation again this year in the United Health Foundation's annual rankings of states' overall health. We're stuck in the same bad spot as last year in the rankings, and the only thing more disturbing than the low marks is the fact that no one is the least bit surprised by such discouraging data.
Hoosiers have known for a long time that Indiana's health trends are among the worst in the nation. Yet, we still haven't done nearly enough as a state to change that reality.
It's not just the overall ranking that is low. Indiana is in the bottom 10 in the nation in obesity, diabetes, smoking, cancer deaths, air pollution, infant mortality, child immunization and heart disease. In fact, of the 53 individual measurements in the United Health report, Indiana ranks among the bottom half of states in 42 categories.
Those facts should set off alarms in the governor's office and the rest of the Statehouse. That's foremost because the poor health measures translate into a lower quality of life for millions of Hoosiers.
But it's also because economic development suffers (workers' health problems reduce productivity and increase employers' health insurance costs). That means fewer jobs and smaller paychecks in the state to go along with our poor health.
What can the state do to turn things around? Part of the answer is to double down on addressing two other core needs -- education and income growth. There's strong evidence that better-educated and higher-paid people tend to take better care of their health. An aggressive state government role is needed to improve health measurements, but the more Hoosiers who have the knowledge and the financial ability to take care of their own needs the better for everyone.
The Pence administration, with State Health Commissioner Dr. William VanNess in the lead, has emphasized reducing obesity, cutting smoking rates and improving the infant mortality rate. Those are certainly the right priorities, but the scale of the efforts, from state government as well as community organizations, needs to be ramped up.
There also needs to be a rethinking of how the state tries to address the population's health needs. For instance, a lot of money has been invested in the past in public service campaigns aimed at reducing smoking and promoting exercise. A hard look at the effectiveness of such efforts is needed to ensure that limited resources are used where they're most effective.
The governor and legislators also need to dispassionately assess how state laws and policies affect Hoosiers' health. For example, Indiana's tax on cigarettes is well below the national average ($1.53 across all states vs. $0.995 here). Research indicates a connection between higher cigarette taxes and reduced smoking rates.
And more revenue from cigarette taxes could be used to expand the Healthy Indiana Plan. Former Gov. Mitch Daniels launched the health insurance plan for low-income residents in 2007 on the back of a 44-cent per pack increase in the cigarette tax. Nearly seven years later, it's time to revisit that approach.
Such ideas at least need to be a part of the discussion about how to change our health trends. As it stands, far too many Hoosiers are suffering from illnesses that are entirely preventable. Far too many lives are lost prematurely. And we've been far too complacent as a state about changing those facts.