- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Star Press, Muncie. April 5, 2014.

FEMA seems to be no friend to hardship

Many government officials … across the state are likely asking themselves if the winter of 2014 will ever end. Sure, the snow has long since melted, but the bills from plowing snow, treating roads and hauling away the white stuff remain.

Don’t count on federal help to pay a portion of the tab. Last week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency notified officials in 49 Indiana counties that a request for assistance was denied for a snowstorm in early January that dumped 10 inches of snow, resulted in seven deaths and was followed by days of sub-zero cold.

The storm, because of its size and intensity, was not one typically encountered during an Indiana winter. That’s why FEMA’s rules regarding assistance ought to be reviewed and changed, because the agency does not seem to be following its core mission of helping states recover from disasters.

FEMA should be ashamed,” tweeted Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler about the decision. Indeed, it should be. Delaware County has about $813,000 in weather-related expenses. Allen County (Fort Wayne) had $885,000. All told, local governments had requested $14.5 million in assistance. That’s a large expense that local governments will have to absorb. That’s money that can’t be spent on repairing roads and other infrastructure, or replacing worn-out equipment.

One has to wonder why FEMA is so stingy when it comes to helping cities and towns recover from severe hardships. FEMA also denied assistance for Howard County (Kokomo) and five other counties last year after a series of flood and tornado damages.

Maine was denied disaster funds after an ice storm last December caused millions in expenses. FEMA also denied disaster assistance for the town of West, Texas, after a fertilizer plant there exploded and killed 15 people. The decision was later reversed.

We get that winter means there will be cold and snow will fly. Local governments budget a reasonable amount to pay for salt, equipment and overtime to keep roads clear, but it would not be fiscally prudent for them to budget for extraordinary storms or an extraordinary winter, which is exactly what happened.

And we get that not every big snow demands a handout from the federal government. But this is different. This was not a small storm. It impacted everybody in central and northern Indiana well beyond 48 hours, the cutoff that FEMA looks at when evaluating snowstorm costs.

Although Indiana will appeal FEMA’s decision, it’s uncertain whether FEMA will change its mind.

Going forward, it’s clear the rules that determine disaster eligibility for winter weather need to be re-evaluated and changed to make a federal agency that is supposed to help communities recover, do exactly that.

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Journal & Courier, Lafayette. April 5, 2014.

Doubts about Indiana’s Common Core doubts

It wasn’t the most solid week in the movement to swap out the school standards known as Common Core for a homegrown set of measures in Indiana.

Sure, the General Assembly was able to get a bill to Gov. Mike Pence last month to scrap the set of college-readiness standards introduced during former Gov. Mitch Daniels’ administration and incorporated in federal education policy championed by President Barack Obama.

That bill was born out of growing distrust of the federal reach into state education policy, which eventually overtook the initial grumbling from teachers about Common Core’s makeup. Pence promised to create new Indiana standards that were “uncommonly high.”

But on the sidelines, where governors across the nation are watching to see how the Common Core story plays out here, Indiana’s defiance was getting the once over.

First, stories came about how Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said he’d spoken with Pence about the school standards philosophy: “In essence, they’re saying they’re creating what’s called the Indiana Core. It’s not the Common Core … but their standards are almost mirroring exactly what is commonly referred to as the Common Core standards.”

Pence’s folks quickly tried to walk that back, saying Herbert didn’t get the essence or the facts of the conversation correct. Pence reassured everyone that he wasn’t into simply rebranding Common Core and calling it a day.

Then came this, from Tony Bennett, Indiana’s former superintendent of public instruction. In an interview with Chalkbeat Colorado, Bennett seemed to call the entire anti-Common Core movement into question. If only, he said, he’d called the standards something different.

“I always told my staff, it was one of my greatest mistakes in office: I should have re-branded those things as the Hoosier Standards for College and Career Readiness,” Bennett said.

As for Common Core opponents at the Statehouse, Bennett told Chalkbeat: “I am not certain some of the legislators I’ve dealt with who are opposed to Common Core could stand up and tell you why they’re against Common Core.”

That’s been the political, out-of-classroom angle of the Common Core debate: Are the standards poor because they don’t make sense academically or are they poor because the Obama administration likes them.

Pence and the State Board of Education will be on the spot to show how these new, “uncommonly high” standards are different and better. Otherwise, Indiana’s simply playing with food on the educational plate.

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Evansville Courier & Press. April 4, 2014.

Big money may not guarantee election success

The Supreme Court has taken the predictable next step in the wake of its 2010 Citizens United decision in which it lifted the limit on donations wealthy donors can make to certain political entities.

These entities, like super political action committees and 501(c)(4) nonprofits - the kind favored by the uber-rich Koch brothers and others because the contributions can remain secret - had to operate independently of the candidate, their campaign committees and the political parties. The candidates and the parties complained, rightly, that the ruling took too much control of the candidates’ message and image out of the candidates’ hands.

Last week, the court rectified that decision in part but at the cost of expanding the role of big money in electoral politics.

Whether the 5-4 decision in McCutcheon v. FEC will be ultimately good or bad for American politics is a subject of heated argument.

The instant judgment was the decision was better for Republicans than Democrats, but witnesses to the humiliating spectacle of GOP candidates trooping to Las Vegas to tempt donations from billionaire Macau casino magnate Sheldon Adelson may want to withhold a final opinion.

In McCutcheon, the court ruled that campaign contributors may donate to as many political candidates and campaigns as they wish, eliminating a cap of $48,600 on contributions by one donor in any two-year federal election cycle.

Donors are still subject to the limit of $2,600 for a primary and $2,600 for the general election to each candidate for president and Congress. There is no longer a limit on the aggregate amount.

Big money has always been a part of American politics. George Washington plied the voters with 144 gallons of rum, punch, hard cider and beer - back when that represented a sizable outlay - to win election to a state office. Big money has always eluded, to a greater or lesser degree, meaningful attempts to limit it or control it.

With the possible exception of the ability to buy unlimited local TV time, big money may not be the determining factor in campaigns it once was.

The ability to hire unlimited consultants, image molders and campaign strategists is probably also overrated. Just ask presidents Al Gore and Mitt Romney. Oh, wait.

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The Times, Munster. April 4, 2014.

Aggressively market Indiana’s attributes

Indiana has been focused on improving the state’s business climate, which now gives the state’s economic development recruiters plenty of selling points.

“We’re leading the nation in private sector job growth,” Gov. Mike Pence said last week in Valparaiso.

Indiana also has the lowest unemployment rate in the Midwest, he said.

Even so, when it comes to creating jobs in Indiana, the more the merrier.

So the Indiana Economic Development Corp. is revving up its effort to draw businesses from Illinois with the “Stillinoyed” advertising campaign, a sequel of the 2011 “Illinoyed” campaign. That effort began after Illinois raised its corporate income tax by 30 percent and its individual income tax rate by 67 percent in response to a gigantic budget deficit.

The Illinois corporate income tax rate is 9.5 percent. It’s far lower in Indiana already, and a new law will drop that rate to 4.9 percent in 2021.

Indiana has succeeded in recruiting some operations to Northwest Indiana from southern Cook County in recent years.

But Illinois attracted more than three times as many significant business investments as Indiana, according to Site Selection Magazine.

It’s not good enough to have the best climate for business. Indiana has to spread the word in the business community, and do so often enough to get the attention of business executives when they’re open to the idea of moving their business or a significant part of its operations.

The IEDC must aggressively market Indiana’s attributes with this “Stillinoyed” campaign.

And follow up when businesses expand in Illinois to see why they didn’t choose Indiana.

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