- Associated Press - Thursday, January 30, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - South Bend Tribune. Jan. 17, 2014.

Extend jobless aid; talk about funding

If you are among the 19,000 Hoosiers who’ve been jobless more than 26 weeks, it may be impossible to appreciate the ideological battle over the long-term extension of unemployment benefits that was shut down in the Senate last week. All your focus might be on keeping your cellphone connected and gasoline in the car to hunt for work.

It’s a shame the casualties of this first big fight of the 2014 election over domestic priorities are the unemployed.

What started out as a disagreement over spending turned into a debate over rights of the minority party, with each side blaming the other.

After the extension of aid for some 1.3 million long-term unemployed expired on Dec. 28, Democrats took the stand that renewing the benefits was an emergency; budgeting the expense was not. Republicans countered that the urgency had waned. They said renewing the aid should be paid for; deficit spending has spiraled for too long.

There is merit in both camps. Unemployment is still an emergency in the nation. One new job is available today for every three people who need work. Indiana’s average jobless rate is 7.3 percent. The national rate is 7 percent. The deficit, though, is so threatening to the nation’s long-term vitality that reducing it ought to be a part of any spending equation. Reconciling these two positions just doesn’t seem that difficult - at least to those of us outside of Congress.

Indiana Republican Sen. Dan Coats, we were glad to note, was one of six GOP members who voted along with 52 Democrats on Jan. 7 to overcome a key procedural hurdle to allow debate on unemployment compensation to proceed.

Optimism that a deal might be struck, however, was short-lived.

Coats was among those who proposed paying the costs through such means as prohibiting simultaneous collection of Social Security Disability Insurance and unemployment insurance; addressing abuse of the federal child tax credit; delaying the Affordable Care Act mandates; and reforming unemployment insurance programs to require those receiving benefits to demonstrate that they are making a sustained job search.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, called the Republicans’ effort a thinly veiled filibuster. For their part, Republicans complained Reid shut them out of decision-making. Good points, again, on both sides.

But Republicans really can’t claim this umpteenth attempt at scuttling the Affordable Care Act as a sincere attempt at compromise. And Democrats must honestly come to grips with the reality that our downsized nation can’t afford the government it has.

Many experts say long-term unemployment assistance is necessary both for the good of those receiving it and to sustain the country’s recovery from recession. Congress should renew the benefits and agree on how to budget the cost.

The $1.1 trillion spending bill Congress hammered out last week is reason to hope a deal on unemployment can be made soon. Both parties surely remember that the unemployed will vote this fall, too.

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Tribune-Star, Terre Haute. Jan. 25, 2014.

Strategic incentives can help keep Indiana grads in state

Envision this group of people. Smart, top-of-their-class graduates of Indiana colleges and universities, with newly bestowed degrees in science, technology, engineering or math. They’ve got standing job offers from employers in bustling places such as San Jose, Calif.; Austin, Texas; Seattle, Wash.; Boston; Chicago; Atlanta and New York.

The grads ponder and thoroughly analyze those options, and instead decide to find a job and begin a career in Indiana.

Now, answering honestly, would you say they made the wisest choice?

The Hoosier state is a wonderful place to live, work, play and raise a family. Still, Indiana must address some lingering issues to reach the point where the response to the aforementioned question is an unequivocal “yes.”

Thousands of graduates have already answered with their feet. Each year, more than 300,000 students study at public and private institutions of higher learning in Indiana, and after commencement day, one of every three leaves the state, many for good. Those receiving graduate degrees depart more frequently. Why? The lure of bigger salaries is one obvious reason. Household incomes in 47 other states have grown at a faster rate than those in Indiana during the past decade. Yet, even if those dean’s list collegians receive a hefty offer from a steady Hoosier company, the towns and cities around those employers lack the activity and progressive lifestyle the graduates desire. Highways are bumpy. Some school districts are so strapped they’re cutting or curtailing bus service.

A sharp young woman or man with a fresh bachelor’s or master’s degree cares about such things. That’s why so many don’t stick around.

Now, imagine that somehow, some way, a thousand of the very best science, technology, engineering and math (or STEM) students stayed after graduating this coming May. And the same thing happened every May, from 2015 to 2016 and beyond. Hoosier incomes would rise. More diversified employers would set up shop here. According to trends in regions with large percentages of highly educated residents, improvement also would occur in public health, crime rates and leisure opportunities.

That “somehow, some way” needs a starting point. Michigan City’s Scott Pelath, leader of the minority Democratic Party in the Indiana House of Representatives, has offered a proposal to help keep 1,000 of the best STEM graduates in the state. It’s a small step, but a good one.

Though the supermajority Republicans rarely forward Democrat-initiated bills in the General Assembly, Pelath’s idea comes straight from the conservative playbook; it features a tax break. He wants Indiana to let those talented products of its colleges live and work here without having to pay any state income tax. In return, they must continue to work and live here for five years.

Of course, as the grads are mulling their possible post-college destinations, a state’s income tax level probably ranks well below potential salary, access to trails and parks, nightlife, and the vitality of local schools. Still, the tax break would show these folks the state wants them to be Hoosiers and is committed to upgrading its communities.

In time, more will want to be Hoosiers, and Indiana will be their wisest choice.

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The Indianapolis Star. Jan. 24, 2014.

Forget distractions, state needs to focus on jobs and education

With high-profile issues such as the same-sex marriage debate dominating the public’s attention, it would be easy to overlook other important discussions that are unfolding quietly behind the scenes. But one crucial discussion, which took place this past week in the nation’s capital, deserves the full attention of state leaders and ordinary Hoosiers.

It centered on the critical challenges of improving student achievement and building a more skilled workforce, and it was led by John Lechleiter, chairman, president and CEO of Eli Lilly and Co.

Lechleiter, at a forum in Washington on Wednesday, detailed the growing shortage of STEM graduates in Indiana and the nation. STEM is shorthand for science, technology, engineering and math - skills crucial not only for Lilly employees and other workers in the life sciences but also for a growing number of jobs in other fields.

“I think many people would be surprised if they saw the high-tech nature of manufacturing in our industry and other industries today,” Lechleiter said at the forum.

In fact, about one-third of jobs in the pharmaceutical industry require STEM-related skills. Other growing industries need workers with similar abilities. But, as a new study commissioned by the pharmaceutical industry noted, the U.S. now ranks only 20th in the world in the proportion of STEM degrees rewarded.

That gap translates into lost opportunities for businesses and individuals. John Castellani, who leads the drug industry’s trade organization, said that an estimated 600,000 jobs in the nation’s manufacturing sector go unfilled because employers can’t find qualified workers. In Indiana, the most manufacturing-intensive state in the nation, that’s especially bad news.

Lilly isn’t waiting for state and national governments to act. It’s forged local partnerships to steer more students into STEM studies, and the Lilly Foundation has donated $1.5 million to the Indiana Science Initiative to create a challenging science curriculum for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

But state leaders need to hear Lechleiter’s message - and similar messages sent by other top business executives - loud and clear. It’s essential that Indiana build a better-educated workforce, and, in an increasingly competitive global economy, it’s essential that we make that goal our highest priority.

The state has taken important steps forward in recent years by building a community college network, adding full-day kindergarten and, under Gov. Mike Pence, re-emphasizing vocational training.

But the General Assembly lacks a sense of urgency. Lawmakers insist on wasting time and energy on distractions such as the same-sex marriage amendment. And an overly cautious, go-slow attitude tends to permeate legislative chambers.

Businesses such as Lilly, however, can’t afford to go slow. Neither can thousands of Hoosiers who are looking for better livelihoods and a higher quality of life today.

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Journal & Courier, Lafayette. Jan. 22, 2014.

Shock, rage and the Purdue family

Maybe it was a bit of distance that helped put into swift context this week’s shooting at Purdue University, that left one student dead and another awaiting charges for homicide.

But Purdue President Mitch Daniels, away from campus on a university-related trip to Colombia, sized up the fear and anger as he addressed campus from afar Tuesday.

“Violent crime, whenever and wherever it occurs, shocks our conscience and incites our rage,” Daniels wrote in a statement for crowds gathered for a Tuesday night vigil. “When it happens in our home, to a family member - and as a Boilermaker, Andrew Boldt was family to us - those emotions are more powerful still.”

Purdue, closed Wednesday, was still searching for an explanation in the death of Boldt, who was shot in a basement classroom of Purdue’s Electrical Engineering building. Fellow engineering student Cody Cousins was being held, accused of the crime.

And there will be lessons to take from Tuesday in how Purdue handled the situation, Provost Tim Sands said.

But one lasting memory of a violent day that will mark the college careers of 40,000 students, not to mention the life on campus for those who work and live near there, is how quickly students rallied. A hastily assembled vigil Tuesday night gave campus a united front - one Daniels must have anticipated from a distance.

“In our grief, we pause to thank this event’s organizers, but equally each person in attendance,” Daniels note to the thousands who filled the Purdue Mall outside Hovde Hall. “Through your caring witness, you are demonstrating your love for the Boldts and for each other in the very special community we call ‘Boilermakers.’”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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