- Associated Press - Monday, January 4, 2016

The Munster Times. Dec. 31, 2015

Good way to expand Dunes Lakeshore.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is growing, thanks to the acquisition of 100 acres of land in Hobart. Even better is that Save the Dunes acquired it without requiring federal tax money and from a willing landowner.

The three parcels feature a dramatic overlook on Lake George, parts of Deep River, undulating forested ravines, wetlands and floodplain, Save the Dunes Executive Director Nicole Barker said.

Her organization purchased the land from a single seller after more than a year of negotiations. Save the Dunes intends to give it to the National Park Service.

The property is the last remaining sizeable tract with high resource value inside Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore’s 15,000-acre boundary, Barker said. About 35 acres of the newly acquired land is within the park’s boundary.

The National Park Service owns about 90 percent of the land within its boundaries. Congress set the boundaries through several bits of legislation, but it didn’t always provide the money to purchase that property.

“We’re going to apply for grant funds to put in a trail and potentially an overlook, so people can more readily access the site,” Barker said.

It will be protected from development that would jeopardize water quality and fuel erosion.

The benefit to the park is obvious. We especially appreciate the cooperation between Save the Dunes and the National Park Service to make this happen.


The Bloomington Herald-Times. Dec. 31, 2015

Items waiting for new mayor as his time arrives.

On his final day in office, here’s a last salute to Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan. Hard to believe it’s been 12 years.

As John Hamilton prepares to take the executive leadership of the city, he and the new city council will face some pressing issues.

Completion of the Growth Policies Plan: This document will guide the city’s growth over the next decade or so. Previous plans have been responsible for moving development to the west side of the city, where the big box stores are now, and creating a lot more housing in the downtown area. A couple of key areas for this one: development along the interchanges with I-69, preventing over-development of downtown, and making sure enough commercial/industrial land is available for badly needed jobs.

The Trades District: What used to be called the Bloomington Technology Park became a campaign issue when Hamilton expressed concerns over a plan the Kruzan Administration supported for developing half of the 12 acres in the park. The issue needs to be back on the agenda early, and we urge Hamilton to help craft a development plan that will attract and retain technology jobs and all the benefits they would leverage. That can be done side-by-side with affordable housing options and even some market-priced housing. The opportunity is there and should not be squandered.

Continued focus on helping those who need it most: As we’ve written before, the community has a strong social service network, which perhaps is a reason the downtown area has so many people asking passers-by for a handout. That makes poverty visible, though the people seen on the streets are just a fraction of those who need low-cost housing and food security. Attracting jobs that pay a decent wage would go a long way toward addressing the issue. So would continued support for social services and creativity in low-cost housing, an area in which the Hamilton campaign had many good ideas.

Those are three to get started.

Hamilton went through two campaigns this year - a contested primary and the general election - and besides those issues he talked about ideas for environmental protection, transportation, public safety, quality of life initiatives, economic development, education, public safety and much, much more. His time has arrived. We wish him well.


The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Dec. 29, 2015


“Who Represents Us?” is a fascinating survey that shows state legislatures, including Indiana’s, are far less diverse than the people they represent.

The study, by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline and the National Conference of State Legislators, confirms that women and minorities are underrepresented.

Nationwide, 25 percent of state legislators are women. That percentage has risen sharply since the 1970s, but it hasn’t gone up for the last two decades, according to the survey. In Indiana, just 21 percent of legislators are female.

“It may not take a woman to speak up on issues that are important to women,” says the report, “but state legislators and researchers who have studied the issue say regardless of party, women often bring a different working style and more varied life perspectives to the legislative arena, in addition to a stronger focus on women, children and family issues.”

Blacks and Hispanics are also underrepresented. The U.S. is 13 percent African-American and 17 percent Hispanic. But nationally, just 9 percent of legislators are black, and 5 percent are Hispanic.

Though Indiana is 6 percent Hispanic, only 1 percent of legislators in this state are. Eight percent of legislators are black, which is more proportionate to the state’s 9 percent African-American population.

But surprisingly, the biggest imbalance in America’s state legislatures is not race or gender, but on age. In every state, the survey found, the age of legislators is higher than the age of the average voter. That differential varies widely, but nationally the average legislator is a 56-year-old baby boomer; the average voter is 47. In Indiana, the average legislator is 60.

Millennials - those born after 1980 - now are the largest group of voting age. Yet only 5 percent of legislators are that young.

In Indiana’s legislature, it’s 3 percent - though 30 percent of the voting-age population is in that age group.

Older legislators bring more life experience to their roles. But younger people could bring a valuable perspective to the Indiana legislature on a range of economic concerns and help their older colleagues understand changing social issues.

Discussing the national disparity, the Stateline/NCSL report noted that “Older legislators - who also tend to be wealthier - may be less likely to focus on issues such as school spending and student loan debt.

“Too much gray hair in a legislative body also leaves some younger voters feeling disconnected from the political process.”

And that, in turn, may help to explain why fewer young people are turning out to vote these days.


The Anderson Herlad Bulletin. Dec. 29, 2015

Tax caps continue to hurt cities.

When it comes to tax revenue, Anderson is a poor city - and the state’s property tax caps implemented in 2009 are largely to blame.

When Indiana capped taxes on property at 1 percent, 2 percent and 3 percent of assessed value for homes, property and businesses, respectively, the state also gave counties the option of imposing or increasing local option income taxes.

Madison and many other counties across the state have done so. But, in the case of local municipalities, it’s often generated far too little revenue to make up for losses caused by property tax caps.

According to a recently released study by the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, in 2014, Anderson generated $10 million less in tax revenue than it would have had if property tax caps weren’t set in 2009.

That’s $10 million less for police and fire protection and other important government services. And that would hurt any city, particularly one as small as Anderson (population about 56,000).

While the property tax caps have forced streamlining of local government and caused public officials to be better stewards of taxpayer money, there’s no doubt that Anderson is less safe, less modern and generally a less appealing community because of property tax caps.

According to the IFPI study, titled Municipal Fiscal Health, Anderson’s local option income tax draw has increased by less than $2 million since 2008. That ranks the city 12th out of 18 municipalities studied.

South Bend has taken the most advantage of local option income taxes, increasing its draw by more than $13 million.

Madison County has implemented a 1 percent county option income tax and a 0.25 percent public safety county option income tax. Both are the maximums allowable by state statute. The county option income tax will raise about $8.8 million in 2016 to be divided among government units in the county.


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