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Excerpts from editorials published recently in Indiana newspapers

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The Journal Gazette. April 15, 2014.

State continues its struggle with tax-burden balance

If you're mailing a check to the Indiana Department of Revenue today, you might already have pondered the disconnect between how much you're paying in state and local taxes and the tax-cut boasting you hear from state officials. It's not your imagination: Hoosiers' tax bill as a share of income grew from 8.4 percent to 9.5 percent over the past decade.

All of the tax cuts pushed by the Indiana General Assembly can't keep up with residents' stagnant incomes. A new study by the Tax Foundation places Indiana 22nd for the highest state and local tax burden based on 2011 Census data. The state was ranked 43rd in 2001.

The last 10 years have seen monumental changes in state tax policy, particularly in business and property taxes. The business-friendly Tax Foundation, in another recent report, calls Indiana's tax reforms "impressive."

"This year, policymakers have continued the Hoosier trend toward better tax laws, as the governor signed a major tax package on March 25 that will improve the state's business tax climate further," writes economist Scott Drenkard.

Gov. Mike Pence's office acknowledged the disconnect between the two reports.

"The Tax Foundation findings show that, while we have a competitive tax system, our overall tax burden is still too high," Kara Brooks, the governor's spokeswoman, told The Indianapolis Star. "That's why Gov. Pence has been pleased to sign over $600 million in annual tax relief into law in the past two sessions of the General Assembly."

That relief wouldn't be reflected in the tax burden report, but an automatic taxpayer refund - triggered by a budget surplus - amounted to a $111 tax credit for individual filers in 2013. Legislators tightened requirements for the automatic refund, so it's not available this year.

Automatic refunds won't solve the dilemma posed by Hoosiers' declining income, even if they return. The state ranked 41st in per-capita income in 2011, at $35,592. That's fallen from a peak of $38,252 in 2007.

At some point, state policymakers must consider whether the rush to cut taxes isn't having a perverse effect on quality of life in Indiana. As the General Assembly has cut taxes at the state level or restricted ability to collect them at the local level, city and county officials have been forced to eliminate services or raise taxes locally. Those decisions inevitably affect the ability to attract new and better-paying jobs to a community. Employers looking to attract talented, well-paid employees know that they must offer an environment with more than low taxes.

Until lawmakers get the right mix, Indiana's tax burden might well continue to grow.


The Times, Munster. April 14, 2014.

Hemp could be serious cash crop for Hoosier state

Forget what you think you know about the utility of the marijuana plant. If we can all stop snickering for a moment and clear our heads of the visions of smoke-clouded VW vans or dorm rooms, the industrial hemp from marijuana plants is looking more and more like a viable cash crop for the Hoosier state.

Indiana's Seed Commissioner Robert Waltz certainly sees the potential value. He's pushing the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for federal approval to grow hemp in Indiana, offering Hoosier farmers another crop alternative for the state's fertile soils.

State and local authorities should join with Waltz in pushing for this approval, which could lead to the feedstock for rope, clothing, linen and fuel production made possible by the hemp crop.

We're not talking about the leafy green stuff some folks illegally smoke to get high. Though industrial hemp comes from the same plant, it contains only low levels of the psychoactive drug that gives marijuana its kick.

The Indiana Legislature already has tilled the field in preparation for hemp production in the state.

State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, co-sponsored the law permitting hemp cultivation under the guidance of the seed commissioner's office.

History is on the Hoosier state's side. Indiana was a key hemp production state during World War II, Tallian argues, especially in rural Newton and Jasper counties.

Tallian sees the potential for jobs and commerce that could follow. So do we.

Now it's a waiting game.

Hemp growth is subject to federal regulation beyond the state law permitting its industrial cultivation.

We strongly urge local farmers, agricultural organizations and state and federal lawmakers join in the request to the federal agriculture department and DEA for approval of hemp growth in Indiana.

New industries offering a chance at growing jobs and commerce are hard to come by. Here is an opportunity the Hoosier state should be harvesting.


South Bend Tribune, April 11, 2014

Indiana's new teacher ratings aren't making the grade

Imagine a student receiving a report card that indicated that there was no room for improvement.

And practically all of the other students in the class? Ditto.

It would be hard not to be a bit skeptical of a system that produced such results, wouldn't it?

In some quarters, that's the sort of reaction greeting the results of Indiana's first teacher evaluations. According to data released this week, about 88 percent of teachers and administrators statewide were rated as effective or highly effective, with only about 2 percent reported needing improvement.

That's "needs improvement," not "ineffective" -- which less than half a percent were found to be.

It should also be noted that some schools didn't rank any of their teachers as "highly effective."

There's understandable concern that these ratings -- which are tied to salary increases -- may not paint an accurate picture of how educators are performing.

Aside from doing a disservice to students, this is unfair to teachers -- the ones who excel as well as the ones who need improvement and would benefit from a fair assessment.

On Wednesday, members of the Indiana State Board of Education called the new evaluation system a failure. Some said tying the evaluations to pay, which could encourage less than honest answers, is one problem.

It was state lawmakers who, in 2011, passed a law mandating that each district conduct an annual review for all teachers and administrators, So it's only right that they bear responsibility for fixing a system that clearly "needs improvement."


The Herald Bulletin, Anderson. April 11, 2014.

District consolidation could benefit local schools

Whenever school consolidation is broached, many folks immediately bristle. That's a natural reaction. In many communities, the schools are the meeting places, the centers of community pride and common ground.

But consolidation doesn't necessarily mean that local schools have to sacrifice their identities to be swallowed by a new regional school corporation.

The Frankton-Lapel school district consolidation, which took place in 1972, demonstrates how the process can work for better economic efficiency and better educational offerings while communities retain their school affiliation.

Frankton High School still exists. The Eagles still wear red and white, and the folks in Frankton still hold allegiance to their school. Same thing with Lapel High School, which has an impressive, shiny new facility, as well as a sparkling academic reputation.

So, the emotional reaction against consolidation, while understandable, can be somewhat misguided.

A recent article in The Herald Bulletin revisited the possibility of consolidation for small local districts. In particular, the article dealt with a policy brief released by Ball State University's Center for Business and Economic Research.

The brief concluded that mergers of the state's smallest school districts would be economically necessary to reduce overhead and management expenses.

"Many of Indiana's school districts are facing dwindling enrollment at a time when costs of providing a quality education are increasing," CBER Director and brief co-author Michael Hicks explained.

"As some point, we are going to have to look at ways to reduce the school districts' overhead while maintaining the ability to provide quality education in each community, a key to developing the state's economy."

Locally, the Daleville and Cowan school districts informally discussed the possibility of consolidation a few years ago. The districts, both in Delaware County, are among the smallest in the state.

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