INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Herald-Times, Bloomington. April 27, 2013.
'Largest' tax cut a victory for Pence but will it actually help Hoosiers?
So, are you excited Gov. Mike Pence and the Indiana General Assembly has passed a 5 percent cut in your state income tax? Good for you if you are.
But don't spend it all in one place.
Its legislative supporters hope this political morsel will be gobbled up by Hoosier voters.
"Hey, they cut our taxes!"
And indeed they did. Let's do the math.
Indiana's current income tax rate of 3.4 percent will be cut to 3.3 percent in 2015 and then to 3.23 percent in 2017. The tax burden on Hoosiers this year would be $340 on each $10,000 of taxable income. In 2015, that will drop to $330 (a cut of $10-per-$10,000). Finally, in 2017, it will settle at $323 ($17-per-$10,000).
For those with a family income of, say, $50,000, the savings two years from now will be $50, or 96 cents a week. The more well off who make $150,000 will save $150, or $2.88 a week.
The complete impact would come two years later, when the same $50,000 family income would be cut by $87 and the $150,000 family would retain $255 in lower taxes.
The impact for the first family will be $1.67 a week (about the same as a "tall" coffee at Starbucks, which is that company's name for a small), and for the other family $4.90 a week (two cups of coffee, or a coffee and a muffin).
For those who like averages, the "average" Hoosier would realize $114 in annual tax savings, or $2.19 a week.
It's a symbolic gesture, meant to show the governor and lawmakers are on Hoosiers' side by throwing them a few bucks that could have totaled something of significance if channeled to programs designed to improve education, help senior citizens or shore up the safety net for people living in poverty.
"Today Hoosier taxpayers won a great victory. The agreement reached between our administration and legislative leaders will be the largest state tax cut in Indiana history," Pence said after legislators agreed on this action.
It's a political victory for Pence, one even the Republican-dominated Legislature found difficult to stomach. The governor wanted a 10 percent tax cut (twice as symbolic?) but legislative leaders from his own party thought for a long while it would be better to continue to capture the $520 million in tax money for the state budget. The agreement cut that amount in half.
The governor deserves an A for effort and persistence. He campaigned on cutting income taxes, and he kept his promise.
He's maintained it can be done without harming any programs operated by state government.
Now we'll find out, with the means to grab an extra coffee or soft drink a week.
Tribune-Star, Terre Haute. April 26, 2013.
The lessons of organ donation
The range of emotion surrounding life-saving transplantation of a vital organ is extreme. It is the ultimate "good news-bad news" scenario.
First, there is the bad news. Someone, somewhere, has lost his or her life. Tragedy and heartache are overwhelming for the immediate survivors. In the midst of indescribable sorrow, a life-changing decision is made. Although a treasured loved one has slipped away, an organ, perhaps more than one, is donated to an anonymous recipient. The only thing known is that someone, somewhere will live a better, longer life because of this precious gift. Perhaps this knowledge will bring a shred of comfort to the survivors amid their sorrow.
And then, there is the good news. An anxious, gravely ill patient who has been hoping a long time for the opportunity to become healthy again suddenly gets her wish. The agonizing wait is over, and the promise of a better life takes hold.
Today, the "good news" has a name. It's Katelyn Newell, a Terre Haute second-grader who has been hospitalized since early January. The 8-year-old Deming Elementary student was born with a heart defect, but previous surgeries were unable to correct the problem. A heart transplant was her only remaining option.
On Wednesday, Katelyn got her new heart, and her new life. She is recovering from transplant surgery at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis. With her mother constantly by her side since she was hospitalized, they dreamed about this day. All the while, they knew the joy of a life-saving transplant would be the result of another family's sorrow.
The Wabash Valley community can share in both the joy and sorrow of this inspiring story. While feeling great relief and happiness that young Katelyn now has a fighting chance to rejoin her Deming classmates and live a more normal life, we can all temper our enthusiasm for the outcome with the understanding that an anonymous family and an unknown community are mourning a terrific loss. We join their grieving and offer prayers of sympathy and comfort.
The lessons of organ donation are like that.
Now, we urge others to apply those lessons. There cannot be a better time for individuals and families to talk about pledging themselves to becoming organ donors should circumstances arise. Make your intentions known. Put them in writing. Be prepared. Doing so may someday even save a life.
The Times, Munster. April 25, 2013.
Grease the wheels of rail expansion
The path to extension of commuter rail service to south Lake County has been stalled for years, but not derailed. The Indiana General Assembly's study of the issue this summer could finally grease the wheels of progress.
Legislation requiring that review by the General Assembly's transportation and infrastructure study committee was signed into law last week by Gov. Mike Pence.
In looking at the South Shore extension options, the committee will also consider whether Lake County should have a majority of seats on the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District Board. The majority of the South Shore's riders are from Lake County.
There have been studies in the past that looked at the South Shore's expansion options, but those have been on the shelf awhile. It's time to update the numbers.
A study done for NICTD showed Chicago salaries were higher than their Northwest Indiana counterparts in every sector except manufacturing. In some case, the salaries were substantially higher.
It shouldn't be difficult to update those figures, nor to look at the costs for stations and routes, nor funding alternatives.
Economic development normally centers on bringing jobs here, but it also can include improving commuting options for high wages elsewhere.
Eventually, development along commuter rail lines should be expected, as has happened in the Illinois suburbs where commuter rail is more prevalent. Unlike buses, whose routes can be changed quickly, rails show a permanent commitment to providing public transportation. That encourages development near train stops.
Extending South Shore service is about jobs -- not just construction jobs to build the line and train jobs to transport people, but also to provide amenities to commuters near the stations and to gain access to existing Chicago jobs that pay well.
It is also about the environment. Cleaner air results from having fewer cars on the road.
The primary stumbling block to extending South Shore service has been to identify the local match necessary to fund the expansion and to subsidize the resulting operations.
Federal money is still available, although the competition is fierce. But the longer the region waits to develop this rail spur, the more the competition for federal funds will grow.
The Indiana agreement to study funding for a passenger rail line extension to south Lake County is a smart move. It's time to firm up a proposal so the project can go forward.
The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne. April 22, 2013.
Stronger rules for revealing potential conflicts of interest
Indiana Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, The Associated Press reports, has spent the 2013 session of the General Assembly "quietly pushing a measure that would allow Insure-Rite to win a multimillion-dollar contract screening uninsured motorists for the state." The company hired Turner's daughter, Jessica Turner Stults, to lobby lawmakers on its behalf.
That's what we out in voterland would call "a conflict of interest." House Speaker Brian Bosma had the right reaction when he heard of it: "I think anytime that you have a potential conflict like this, of course there are concerns. But again, the key is disclosure. This obviously became disclosed, so we appreciate that. We may have to consider some alteration to our disclosure rules here so that becomes more apparent to folks."
Bosma said changes are needed to the rules governing what lawmakers must disclose about their personal and financial ties. With the end of this session nearing, he said he would likely look at any changes over the summer.
There is no rule against a member of the General Assembly pushing legislation to benefit a family member. Turner's support of his daughter's endeavors is not against the law. He was perfectly free to do what he did. But now we know about it, and that makes all the difference. Voters can decide if they think such behavior warrants their support in the voting booth.
Such conflicts of interest are not rare in the General Assembly. The chairman of the Senate Committee on Financial Institutions, for example, owns a consulting agency that solicits business from the banking industry his committee oversees. Two other lawmakers have spent this session watering down opposition to a $2.8 billion coal-gasification plant that would likely benefit their employers.
The list of examples could go on. Indianapolis Star political columnist Matthew Tully writes about the "culture of coziness" permeating the General Assembly. Lobbyists "wine and dine" legislators regularly with a generosity legislators are not inclined to resist. It can make the ordinary taxpayer feel left out.
But that is the price we pay for having a General Assembly full of part-time legislators who must depend on other jobs to make a living. They are going to constantly run into situations involving their jobs or their family members' jobs.
The benefit of having part-time legislators who must also live in the real world their rules govern is obvious. No one should want to remedy the "coziness" problem by going to full-time legislators. Look at what a mess that can bring to states — just consider Illinois and New York.