The Times, Munster. March 9, 2014.
Make sure neither Purdue campus is stinted
Merging the Purdue North Central and Purdue University Calumet administrations makes sense, in that the campuses are so close together.
The plan is to keep the two campuses — in Westville and Hammond — operational but consolidate administrative and academic leadership.
This is much like what Ivy Tech did in consolidating the Northwest and North Central regions.
Purdue University Calumet Chancellor Thomas Keon and Purdue North Central Chancellor James Dworkin are working on the details. When all the dust settles, there will be one chancellor overseeing both campuses.
Dworkin expects the merger to take about two years to complete, with the administrative change completed in 12 to 15 months.
Much of the work involves streamlining services and eliminating duplication.
While cutting costs, focus on the students' needs.
Sophomore Rachel McCooley, a nursing student, said some classes aren't offered each semester. She wants more class options.
"That affects the students and our lectures, especially in the science department," McCooley said. "Most of the time our teachers are hurrying to get through the material without any time to ask questions."
Increasing the availability of classes, especially the more popular and required courses, would help students complete their degrees sooner. That's an important mission.
The two campuses are close together, just about 35 miles apart. If Purdue were creating a Northwest Indiana presence now, instead of then, it's highly unlikely both sites would be created. But they're here now, serving students from a broad area. It's important to keep both sites open.
Make sure in the future neither campus gets stinted, that investments and course offerings are fairly distributed to continue to serve the region's students well.
The Herald-Times. March 9, 2014.
Edwardsport project requires hard look its opponents are clamoring for
In 2007, when the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission approved construction of Duke's huge new generating plant at Edwardsport, the commission put a cap on building costs that could be passed on to ratepayers of $1.985 billion.
Today, the cost of the still-not-quite-right plant hovers at about $3.5 billion — most of which may or may not be the responsibility of ratepayers — with the company seeking permission to add another $180 million to the expense line for a plant that is years behind its projected completion date.
The case, as are most that involve huge public utility building projects where the utility wants its customers to pay, is very complex. This one is even more complex because the plant itself is using technology never before tested at the scale of the Edwardsport plant, and one that appears to have a serious case of the hiccups in attempts to make the plant fully operational.
The plant's opponents, which include environmental and citizens groups, last week filed a motion with the commission seeking a formal investigation into delays and cost overruns at the plant before the commission acts on Duke's most recent request for cost reimbursement. The motion is the latest in a series of battles with the company, the largest utility company in the U.S., with national headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina
The commission, often criticized for being too utility-friendly, has already placed a hard cap on the amount of costs that can be added to the rates at $2.6 billion, but Duke has attempted in various ways to shift new costs to ratepayers, which the company hopes is allowed for with this most recent $180 million request.
The fight will go on long after the plant is up and running — or is converted to burn suddenly plentiful natural gas as large reservoirs of it are tapped with new "fracking" technology — but one thing is clear. Duke already has told us that we can expect to see an eventual 16 percent rate increase to pay consumers' share of costs. That doesn't include this latest almost $200 million.
Where is all this going? We really need to know that and if what's been sold as an investment in our collective future might turn into a very bad investment. The investigation sought by opponents, with contractors and the company already slinging accusations at each other and with a still uncertain and balky technology, should be undertaken.
When the plant was conceived in the middle of the last decade, it was seen as a way to produce vastly cleaner energy from coal, thus allowing retirement of the much dirtier coal-fired plants that dot the landscape of southern Indiana. So far, it hasn't produced that, and given the fast-changing energy landscape, Edwardsport may become a very expensive white elephant.
Tribune-Star, Terre Haute. March 8, 2014.
Get your austerity here
Ads on the sides of school buses do not constitute a sign of the apocalypse. Western civilization will survive.
The reason such a once-unthinkable concept may soon become a reality in Indiana does represent a big problem, though.
State government leaders have failed to properly fund something as basic and important as public-school transportation. They have taken fiscal austerity and conservatism to a pathetic extreme.
Those "reformers" — dominant for the past decade — effectively choked off adequate funding for school districts to operate their buses. Caps on property taxes, enacted by an understandably popular referendum in 2010, saved Indiana property owners $704 million on tax bills last year, but also drained $245 million in funds that Hoosier schools relied upon for buses and other high-cost items.
As a result, cash-strapped Muncie schools tried a local referendum to help pay for their buses, but voters said no.
So the Muncie district asked the state Department of Education for permission to end the school bus service it could no longer afford. The state said no.
Has anyone in the Statehouse read "Catch 22"?
With no alternatives, school districts came up with the idea to allow advertisements on their buses. Creative? Yes. Desperate? Yes.
After losing a half-million dollars in bus funds last year because of property tax caps, Zionsville school administrators pushed their local legislators to craft a bill to allow the ads. House Bill 1062, alive in the current General Assembly, would create a pilot program granting three school districts the rights to splash ads on buses next school year. Zionsville officials have no idea how much money the ads will generate, but they need any and all new revenue. If it works, schools around Indiana may join in.
Is this what we've come to as a state?
"We need to find a solution other than having schools have to rely on selling advertising to keep their buses running," state Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, an Anderson Democrat, told CNHI's Maureen Hayden. At least one member of the super-majority Republican Party sees the incongruity of the situation. "If it's something a local community wants, I think the state should provide the option to do (the school bus ads)," said Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, author of a transportation bill that includes the bus-ad pilot program. "It's not deemed as something that solves the larger problem, but it can be used as a complementary revenue source."
The "larger problem" is exactly that. The tax reformers spawned it, sold it to the public and pipelined it into reality. They lack the courage to repair its unintended consequences and, barring a stunning sea change in voting trends, have no visible political incentive to do so.
So let the school bus ads roll. If you're wondering what these promotions might entail, fear not. Lawmakers do care about the ads' content. Alcohol, tobacco and other products forbidden to minors are restricted by the bill.
So are political ads, which is probably in the legislators' best interests. They've likely imagined possible challengers buying space on school bus fenders to ask passers-by, "Like this ad? Re-elect my opponent and you'll see more."
The Indianapolis Star. March 7, 2014.
Disappointing legislative session grinding to a halt
As the Indiana General Assembly heads into the final days of its 2014 session, it's not too early to lament the sadly discouraging lack of leadership and vision shown by lawmakers this winter.
Legislative leaders began the session insisting that HJR-3, the proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, would not distract them from higher priorities such as education and economic development. That proved not to be case.
The long, emotional debate over HJR-3 drained far too much attention, energy and political good will from the short session. Although lawmakers ultimately had the good sense to keep the amendment off the ballot in November, the contentious debate is now set to return to next year's legislative agenda. The last thing Indiana needs is another year of distraction caused by this issue.
With the session scheduled to end Friday, lawmakers will leave the Statehouse this week having punted on the opportunity to take a modest step forward on early childhood education. Gov. Mike Pence proposed creation of a pilot preschool program designed to help children from low-income families. The House passed the measure with strong support, but the plan crashed in the Senate, where Noblesville Republican Luke Kenley led the opposition.
Despite strong research that's documented the importance of early childhood education, Kenley and others continue to question whether even a modest state investment in preschool is worthwhile.
The Pence plan now is likely to head to a summer study committee, a move that would put Indiana in the peculiar position of continuing to discuss the value of early childhood programs that most other states long ago implemented, and from which competitors are reaping the benefits.
The overly cautious stance on preschool is a symptom of what has long ailed the General Assembly: the inability to see the big picture, to move the state forward swiftly when necessary, to understand that Indiana is losing the race to attract and retain a highly talented workforce and the same-old approaches won't change that reality.
The 2014 session will grind to a halt in a few days. The achievements will be modest in a state that desperately needs big victories. Let's hope lawmakers spend the offseason re-evaluating their approach.