INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — South Bend Tribune. May 6, 2013.
RIP, Dr. Bowen
Even in our era of divisive politics, Hoosiers found common ground in their respect for former Gov. Otis Bowen, who died Saturday at 95.
We look back with nostalgia at his two terms as governor, 1973-81, not just for what he accomplished, but for how he accomplished it.
His signal achievement as governor was getting property tax relief through the Indiana Legislature. The goal sounded benign, but the deal also required an increase in the sales tax. That proposal passed the Senate by only one vote, but it showed Bowen's extraordinary ability to persuade and lead.
After his service in Indianapolis, Bowen went to Washington, to serve with distinction as Health and Human Services director under Ronald Reagan. It fell to Bowen and Surgeon General Everett Koop to help Americans understand and respond to a health crisis that had no precedent: the AIDs epidemic.
How did this mild-mannered, northern Indiana family doctor manage such effective state and national leadership? It's no great mystery. He approached government the same way he approached medicine — as a way to serve and help people. And he stuck with his principles, whether he was delivering babies in Bremen, pleading his case for tax reform in Indianapolis, or crusading for decent health coverage for seniors in Washington.
Perhaps the best description of Bowen's simple magic comes in his own words, from his 2000 autobiography, "Doc: Memories from a Life in Public Service, by Otis R. Bowen, M.D.":
"Hindsight tells me that a governor must be a decisive problem-solver, have good character, and be willing to lead politically, governmentally, and symbolically. A public official's most important traits are honesty and integrity. These are the foundation of credibility, a public leader's most precious commodity. A governor cannot lead by trying to please everyone, straddling the fence, or trying to come down on both sides of it. He must lead by making decisions based on common sense and tempered by compassion."
Dr. Bowen's long life of service has ended, but he leaves a legacy of wisdom.
Journal & Courier. April 30, 2013.
These ISTEP glitches won't cut it
The frustration registered at Greater Lafayette schools and across the state was real and understandable after computers froze and students tried to take standardized ISTEP tests in stop-and-go mode Monday.
The ISTEP tests, given to Hoosier third- through eighth-graders, not only measure student progress, but also go a long way to grade schools and factor into teacher performance evaluations. In other words, money, prep work and reputations are on the line.
Statewide, some 27,000 kids experienced glitches that interrupted the ISTEP testing process.
Locally, superintendents at Tippecanoe School Corp. and West Lafayette Community School Corp. pulled the plug on Monday's schedule.
"In fairness to my students, staff and school district, in order for my students to do well, they need the opportunity to take this 'high stakes test' without interruptions," West Side Superintendent Rocky Killion told the J&C.
As more delays stacked up Tuesday, the Indiana Department of Education was moving to extend the ISTEP testing window deeper into May to accommodate districts that have to carefully arrange schedules to fit their computer resources to the number of students they have. That's a start.
But since testing went online in 2011, ISTEP time has been marred by instances of computer downtime. That's not going to cut it.
Indiana has a four-year, $95 million with CTB/McGraw Hill to administer the tests through 2014. The contract includes a clause that requires the company to provide uninterrupted computer availability every school day during the testing window, plus the two weeks leading up to it.
In a school reform climate that puts a premium on accountability and measurable results, the state's testing methods aren't stacking up.
This has to be fixed.
The Indianapolis Star. April 29, 2013.
General Assembly focused on small issues, delivered small results
One word best describes the Indiana General Assembly's just concluded 2013 session — small. As in small issues, small ideas, small vision for how to propel our state forward.
A prime example of that unfolded Thursday night in the House chamber, where lawmakers argued, on and on, about legislation that by design will affect only one of 92 counties in the state. That legislation, Senate Bill 621, eliminates the four at-large seats on the Indianapolis City-County Council and shifts power from county elected officials to Indy's mayor. Although the bill generated passion among political insiders on the local level, it didn't deserve the prime -time attention it received from the state legislature on the day before adjournment for the year.
The focus on minor matters, while major issues were pushed aside, was a common problem throughout the four-month session. Lawmakers, for example, spent weeks working on legislation that would have made it a criminal act to secretly videotape inhumane treatment of animals on farms or illegal actions at other workplaces. They debated for months whether to allow another expansion of gambling at Indiana casinos. They kept alive endless arguments over new academic standards that Indiana and 45 other states already have adopted.
But what truly significant measure was adopted to improve student achievement in a state that ranks 40th in the nation in the educational attainment of its workforce? What did lawmakers do to dramatically reshape public health in a state with higher-than-average obesity and smoking rates? Which new laws have a strong chance of helping to increase incomes in a state that badly trails most of the nation in per capita income?
Many advocates for early childhood education were optimistic at the start of the session in January that our state would finally move forward on that critical issue. The session ends with Indiana still one of only 11 states that don't invest any public dollars in preschool. A proposal to take a modest step forward — a pilot program that might serve as a model for an eventual statewide roll out — was blocked.
Proponents of a regional transit system in Central Indiana also were optimistic that a plan finally would advance out of the Statehouse would finally pass legislation to let voters decide transit's fate. Once again, they were disappointed. Instead, lawmakers took the peculiar step of sending a proposal that has been studied and debated for decades to a summer committee for more study.
In their defense, legislators point to passage of an honestly balanced two-year state budget as evidence that they successfully completed their most important obligation this year. And as far as that goes, they're right. But passing a balanced budget should be Hoosiers' minimum expectation of the General Assembly, not cause for accolades.
Who's at fault for the legislature's decision to play small ball? Senate President Pro Tempore David Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma certainly helped set that tone in their Republican caucuses, both of which enjoy supermajorities in the House and Senate.
New Gov. Mike Pence also was content to settle for a modest legislative agenda. Much of his administration's energy was poured into the push for a 10 percent reduction in the state's already low income tax. The governor also sought -- and won — passage of a noteworthy vocational education bill that should help many Indiana students gain important job skills. On his tax cut, he got half of what he wanted with a 5 percent reduction — but at what cost in political capital, and, more important, at what expense to more ambitious goals?
Here's the thing when state leaders decide to concentrate on smaller matters of government: They're apt to deliver small results.
That's precisely what the Indiana General Assembly gave Hoosiers this year.
Tribune-Star, Terre Haute. April 28, 2013.
Overall, state budget step in the right direction
For average Hoosiers uninterested in political point-scoring, the budget crafted by the Indiana Legislature inspires only muted, if any, fanfare.
The extra $114 will help. Every dollar counts in a household living on $48,393 a year — the median household income in Indiana. ... The $114 roughly represents the amount an average family will get from the 5-percent cut in the state's individual income tax built into the General Assembly's budget deal reached last week in Indianapolis. It might cover the cost to replace a blown-out tire on their car, for instance. (Towing not included.)
The paycheck-to-paycheck population — the majority of Hoosiers — could find other positive developments in the budget process. The lawmakers compromised — a rare legislative art these days — to reach the agreement. Of course, that compromise came within the ranks of the super-majority party, the Republicans, between GOP members of the House, Senate and Gov. Mike Pence, so their differences weren't mountainous. (Negotiating with the more divergent minority Democrats is unnecessary, given that party's minimal presence.) Still, a healthy give-and-take occurred. Pence's victorious 2012 election campaign featured a vow to cut the individual income tax by 10 percent. Thank goodness, Statehouse Republican leaders saw that as unsustainable and unwise, and instead made their priority a restoration of recession-era cuts in education funding and upgrading the neglected Indiana highways and roads.
In the end, lawmakers gave Pence half of his tax-cut demand, still a political plus if he runs in the 2016 GOP presidential primaries. Legislators paired that cut with others in the budget, by continuing a phase-out of corporate and inheritance taxes. The tax reductions total $1.1 billion over four years.
The governor told The Associated Press the cuts were "the right tax relief at the right time and will give a much-needed boost to working families, small businesses and family farms." The individual income tax cut will drop from 3.4 percent in 2015 to 3.23 percent in 2017. A Hoosier with a $50,000 salary would save $85, the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reported. "I don't see that as being a huge stimulator of the economy," Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, told the Indianapolis Star. "My initial reaction is the bulk of the tax relief is going to corporations and, I suppose, the well-to-do."
The size of the tax cuts dictated the amount of funding for schools, highways, vocational training, and child services. The Legislature wound up committing to a 2-percent increase in K-12 education in 2014 and 1 percent in 2015. Transportation funding increased by $215 million a year, along with a $400-million savings account for future road needs. Another $35 million will add caseworkers for child services.
The boosts in each area are much needed; more was possible.
Another upside of the deliberation on this budget was the enlightenment factor. Republican leaders opposing Pence's 10-percent tax cut found themselves in the unfamiliar position of being targeted in attack ads by a right-wing super PAC, Americans for Prosperity, fueled by the billionaire Koch brothers. The conservative lawmakers got painted as "big spenders" and complained the ads "distorted" their actual records. Sounds familiar. "Overall (the AFP ad campaign) didn't help," Rep. Tim Brown, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman told CNHI's Maureen Hayden. "It made some people dig in on both sides." Again, sounds familiar.
The end result is a budget that makes proper steps in the right direction but falls short of the "great victory" declared by those in power.