- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The (Munster) Times. October 7, 2016

Make NWI symphony part of venue plan.

Few Regionites who’ve experienced the live sounds of the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra would argue about its contribution to our quality of life.

Its 75-year history of enchanting community concerts have enhanced a dimension of arts and entertainment unmatched by anything locally available.

That’s why it’s so important for Region development and tourism planners to keep a future home venue in mind for the symphony when considering the evolving landscape of Northwest Indiana’s entertainment industry.

For years, the symphony has called Merrillville’s Star Plaza Theatre its home performance base.

More than 7,500 people collectively attend the symphony’s three major annual concerts at Merrillville’s Star Plaza Theatre, orchestra officials report.

Last month, we learned the theater and it’s attached Radisson hotel will be razed, making way for a smaller hotel and no theater.

We’ve written more than once since then that the announcement creates great opportunity for evolution. Ideas are being shopped around throughout the Region, including a new convention center or an events arena.

Wherever studies and sound business plans lead this process, planners should consider a future venue for the symphony at the top of their priorities list.

We believe the symphony will find its place in these changes. Region planners should ensure this jewel remains part of the crown for future generations.

In addition to the Star Plaza shows, the symphony also has performances at Crown Point’s Bethel Church. But what site will continue to provide capacity for the popular Holiday Pops show, which alone draws about 3,000 attendees every year to the Star Plaza?

What better time to begin considering a new symphony venue master plan than during its 75th anniversary year and at a time when development evolution is imminent?


South Bend Tribune. October 6, 2016

A small step toward growing teacher ranks.

It may be a small step, but the decision by local school districts to boost teachers’ salaries is a sign local school corporations are trying to attract and retain good teachers.

On Friday, the Penn-Harris-Madison school board voted unanimously to approve a contract giving teachers a $1,000 pay raise this school year, retroactive to July 1.

Entry level teachers in P-H-M schools are the highest paid in the county with a base salary of $37,500. First-year teachers in the South Bend Community School Corp. make $35,250 annually and received a $1,250 raise this year. School City of Mishawaka teachers are paid $36,000 and are still in the process of negotiating a pay increase for this school year.

The teacher shortage is real and it’s impacting local school districts. Last year P-H-M school officials reported feeling the pinch, especially in areas of math, science and the performing arts. And although Mishawaka did not report a dramatic drop in teacher applications, South Bend reported receiving only five to 10 applicants for elementary teaching jobs, fewer compared with previous years.

More money certainly helps to attract young teachers starting out in the profession, but that’s not the only incentive. There are other ways to attract and retain teachers.

South Bend Superintendent Kenneth Spells told The Tribune’s Editorial Board recently that he wants teachers who have gone through the South Bend school system and have a stake in seeing students today succeed. Spells calls it team building.

But there also has to be a change in culture. Longtime public school teachers who know how difficult the job can be may not be as encouraging to young people considering a teaching career. More training and autonomy in the classroom have been cited as other ways to boost retention and recruitment.

The Indiana Department of Education received a $5 million federal grant to establish the Indiana Center on Teacher Quality at Indiana University to address the teacher shortage, especially in the area of special education.

There are lots of challenges facing those wanting to be teachers. Paying a good wage is one way to attract the best and brightest, but it’s only part of the equation. The state and local school corporations must be persistent and creative if they’re to meet their goal of growing the ranks of quality teachers.


(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star. October 6, 2016

Pence politics hurts Indiana.

Federal court ruling shows latest waste of money in ideological war

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a message to Indiana’s absentee governor on Monday, and it did so in forceful terms, saying that the state can’t discriminate against individuals or groups based on their religion, ethnicity or national origin.

The three-judge panel dismissed Gov. Mike Pence’s fears that Syrian refugees immigrating to the U.S. pose a threat to the safety and security of the state. The ruling blocks his attempt to prevent state agencies from helping the immigrants resettle here.

The ruling affirmed a previous preliminary injunction by a federal judge against Pence that ruled his policy “clearly discriminates” against Syrian refugees.

Pence, of course, was one of a number of governors from mostly Republican states who resisted allowing in Syrian refugees following the terrorist attacks last November in Paris, France. Most of those other efforts have also been struck down by the courts.

Pence’s stance was largely considered to be a political maneuver in resistance to the Obama administration’s policy of allowing some Syrian refugees from the war-torn country to immigrate to America, as long as they are properly screened for potential national security threats. The appeals court ruled Pence’s position was not based on any significant evidence and amounted to “nightmare speculation.”

The ruling is no surprise and should have been anticipated by the Pence administration and the Indiana attorney general’s office, which argued the state’s case to the court. But it was another in a line of Pence-supported policies or legislation that have not passed constitutional muster. And it added one more item to the litany of disturbing strikes against the state for being an unwelcoming place that is willing to make discrimination a part of public policy.

Pence’s strict adherence to his conservative religious ideology is well-known to Hoosiers and is now being witnessed on a national scale as he campaigns full-time as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s VP running mate.

While we understand Pence’s need to stick to his principles, we question his insistence at spending millions of dollars in taxpayer funds to wage his largely ideological battle for what many perceive to be political purposes. These efforts have characterized his administration and do not serve his constituents well. What’s more, they continue to show a pattern of willingness to violate constitutional principles in order to advance his ideology.

Pence’s ideologically based method of governing has tarnished Indiana’s image. The good news is that his administration will end later this year and a new governor will take over. Hoosier voters should take stock of the candidates to replace Pence and make sure they choose a new governor who will cast aside those damaging policies.


The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. October 6, 2016

One-time windfall: State cashes in with tax amnesty program.

Donald Trump’s federal tax obligations might be consuming voters’ interest this week, but Hoosiers should also consider a just-released report on Indiana’s tax amnesty program. It closed out with a collection of $188.5 million. That’s a real success, if you can overlook that 77,000 delinquent taxpayers got a pass on late fees, interest and penalties, or that the source of Regional Cities program funds is now exhausted.

The Indiana Department of Revenue released the report Wednesday with final figures from the eight-week amnesty program, approved by the General Assembly last year as a source of revenue for Regional Cities. The total was more than double the $90 million expected. The state collected 34 percent of amnesty-eligible liabilities - almost twice the percentage cleared by the state’s last amnesty period in 2005.

Higher-than-expected revenue allowed the legislature this year to - reluctantly - expand the Regional Cities initiative from $84 million to $126 million. Northeast Indiana, South Bend and Evansville each now have $42 million available for regional development programs. About $30 million will go to the state pension fund; $6 million to support Amtrak service between Indianapolis and Chicago. About $26 million is unappropriated.

The amnesty program didn’t come without its own costs, however. The state hired Navient Corp., the nation’s largest student loan collector, to run the program in exchange for a share of the take.

Navient, created from Sallie Mae’s split, last year topped the list of private companies named in complaints lodged with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Navient’s tactics in collecting delinquent Indiana taxes certainly were troubling. Late last year, about 150,000 individuals received letters suggesting they might have “under reported taxable income.” Most did not. The company simply cast a wide net to drum up response for the amnesty program,

Responding to calls from worried taxpayers and accountants, the Department of Revenue said the letters were all “an unintended consequence” and asked Navient to send those taxpayers a second letter apologizing for the first one. A department spokeswoman said the loan collector didn’t follow protocol and failed to have its mailing lists approved by the state.

The tax amnesty report doesn’t mention Navient’s ill-advised fishing expedition, but an executive summary by Department of Revenue Commissioner Andrew Kossack hails the “dedication, commitment, and professionalism of state employees” in successfully planning and effectively executing the program, which cost about $6.6 million to administer, including payment to Navient of at least $4 million.

The $188.5 million collected still leaves almost $356 million in estimated outstanding tax liabilities, however. “The department is vigorously pursuing 850,000 tax bills, totaling more than $1 billion in unpaid taxes, penalty and interest,” according to the report. The revenue department’s collections, audit and enforcement divisions “continue pursuit of unpaid taxes through normal department procedures.”

Collection prospects don’t look strong, however. If tax scofflaws didn’t take advantage of an amnesty program, they likely aren’t prepared to step up now and meet their obligations, especially with penalties attached. The state also has exhausted the tax amnesty route, at least for another decade, as a source of Regional Cities money.

Going forward, stepped-up efforts on tax collection will give Indiana more money to support development across the state. It might be “smart” for taxpayers to find ways to avoid paying, but smart government demands all pay their fair share.


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