Evansville Courier & Press. Nov. 3, 2014.
Obamacare likely to last
Remember the ugly political battles over the federal deficit at the end of the George W. Bush administration and the beginning of Barack Obama's presidency? The Affordable Care Act shows similar signs of receding as a political issue. Absent Obama's name on it, the act might not be an issue at all.
For years, the Republicans talked about repealing Social Security and later Medicare and Medicaid as big government meddling in the private sector and as harbingers of socialism. But, the programs were so popular with the voters they became the "third rail" of American politics: Touch it and you're dead politically. One day, the same may be true of the Affordable Care Act.
The Associated Press reports, "While Republicans in Congress shout, 'Repeal Obamacare,' GOP governors in many states have quietly accepted the law's major Medicaid expansion. Even if their party wins control of the Senate in the upcoming elections, they just don't see the law going away."
The Republicans hostile to the law are up against the hard political fact that once the government gives the public a popular benefit, it becomes very difficult to take that benefit away: not being denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions; the right of children under 26 to stay on their parents' health plan; the ability of those in states with functioning insurance exchanges to shop for cheaper and better programs.
An enduring political puzzle is why Republicans have failed to take credit for the idea behind Obamacare. It originated in a Republican think tank and, even today, the most successful state health insurance program is in Massachusetts where then-Gov. Mitt Romney instituted a prototype of the Affordable Care Act with the result that only 4.3 percent of the state's residents lack health insurance. But as a presidential candidate, he ran away from his own successful plan as if it were toxic.
The Obama administration badly botched the rollout of Affordable Care, making it difficult to sign up because of poorly designed computer programs and inadequately trained personnel. Those problems have largely been solved, but glitches remain that congressional Republicans refuse to fix for fear the improvements would hand Obama an unalloyed success.
Has the law succeeded? The New York Times unleashed a team of reporters to find out and concluded, "After a year fully in place, the Affordable Care Act has largely succeeded in delivering on President Obama's main promises, even as it has fallen short in some ways and given rise to a powerful conservative backlash."
One reason Obamacare is likely to survive a GOP takeover is the Republicans can't agree on a replacement. Meanwhile, as they wrangle, the Affordable Care Act is becoming ever more deeply rooted in the health care system. And, as Americans increasingly take it for granted, the lawmakers mess with it at their peril.
The Times, Munster. Nov. 3, 2014.
State funding for RDA is top priority
It is telling that ensuring the continued state support of the RDA is the top priority of the community leaders who attended the One Region retreat Oct. 23.
It is through the RDA that the work of transforming the region has begun. The state must ensure this transformation continues by funding the RDA adequately. And by that we mean at least $10 million a year - more, if necessary, to make the South Shore extension happen.
"Without that state funding, we lose leverage and lose a partner in this process," said RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna.
We would lose momentum, too.
The state's $10 million share is over one-third of the RDA's budget.
In its first nine years, the RDA has leveraged state and local funds to bring new businesses to the area, redevelop portions of the Lake Michigan shoreline for improved public access, expand the runway at Gary/Chicago International Airport, purchase new rolling stock for passengers' use on the South Shore Line and more. Thousands of jobs have been generated in the process.
The next big push is expanding South Shore service along the West Lake Corridor. That's a project that will improve access to high-paying jobs in Chicago and, if done right, will bring residents and jobs to Northwest Indiana.
"We're going to be focused on transit-oriented development," Hanna said at the One Region retreat. That means developing housing and retail near train stations so commuters won't need an extra car. The young generation, known as Millennials, has shown to be fond of public transit, and Northwest Indiana needs to cater to that generation to invest in the region's future.
There are other aims for the RDA, of course, but it's vital for the state to continue to pay its share for the ongoing transformation of Northwest Indiana.
The investment pays high dividends, something business-minded leaders in the Statehouse should appreciate.
The RDA's work must continue, and the state must remain a willing partner.
Northwest Indiana's legislative delegation must ensure this funding continues for years to come.
The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne. Nov. 1, 2014.
Cost of state's child neglect mounting
A late fee on a delinquent bill is annoying; $627,000 in late fees is unacceptable - particularly for taxpayers who must cover the cost.
The number is the total for penalties paid by the Indiana Department of Child Services during budget years 2011 to 2013.
A State Board of Accounts audit released this week noted the late fees. The department's chief financial officer, Rick Peterson, responded by pointing to "several challenges" DCS encountered in taking over responsibilities for the Family & Children Fund from local government in 2009. He wrote that measures have been introduced to reduce bill processing time and that late interest payments were reduced to just under $66,000 for the most recent fiscal year.
That's good news, but the figure is still excessive. With the audit disclosure, the growing cost of the child protection agency's missteps becomes clearer. At the same time it was struggling to pay its bills on time, DCS was under fire from local child protection officials and children's advocates for an abysmal performance record. A legislative study committee two years ago spent days listening to testimony about DCS's problem-plagued call center operation, intimidation by DCS personnel and more. One common charge was that the agency put cost containment first in decision-making.
The audit, however, shows that the department wasn't even succeeding at that. DCS Director James Payne resigned in September of 2012, but evidence of his disastrous tenure continues to surface. Hoosiers probably will never know the full cost in terms of how Indiana children were neglected by the agency that was supposed to protect them.
Tribune-Star, Terre Haute. Oct. 29, 2014.
Defending coal jobs worthwhile effort
Deep, rich veins of coal have been the lifeblood of southwest Indiana for more than a century. Mining of the valuable, carbon-rich mineral has supported and sustained the economic well-being of countless individuals, families and communities. Coal extracted from the ground provides electric power for the masses and financial power for mining companies and their employees.
The industry built on coal mining has helped hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers build better lives.
But coal mining and the burning of coal in energy production processes has come with an environmental cost. And it's that cost, and what to do about it, that has generated a long-term political battle. The latest skirmish has been a tough one, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pushing new carbon dioxide regulations that critics say would reduce Indiana mining jobs and raise electrical costs.
There is little doubt that implementation of the new regulations would have a negative impact on the economies of coal-producing states in general and southwest Indiana in particular. Yet there are legitimate doubts about any positive impact the regulations would have on the national or global environment.
Because the issue centers on the EPA and its proposed new regulations, Indiana's congressional delegation has stepped forward to defend the state's economic interests. U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon, who represents southwest Indiana's 8th Congressional District, has taken a lead role in the fight, and while not everyone agrees with his position or approach to the issue, his is a principled stand that embraces the people who depend on the coal industry for their livelihood.
In an effort to generate support for his efforts to fight the EPA proposals, Bucshon recently staged a "coal summit" at the Sunrise Coal Mine near Carlisle in Sullivan County. He explained that more than 80 percent of Indiana's electrical power is generated from coal-fueled power plants, and that coal mining is a strong part of the state's manufacturing base.
"What is at risk here is jobs," Bucshon said during the summit. "Not just coal jobs, which are the direct jobs, but indirect job loss as our manufacturing base looks for other opportunities around the country and the world where the energy costs are lower. This is a very critical issue for the state of Indiana."
Bucshon, a Republican, is not the only Hoosier politician taking up this fight, of course. Sen. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat, is also working to beat back the new regulations. It's not so much a partisan issue for Indiana, as Bucshon and Donnelly demonstrate.
Bucshon is asking for his constituents' help by encouraging people to submit comments to the EPA. The comment period has been extended to Dec. 1. Comments can be made on the EPA's Web site at www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards.
We applaud Bucshon's aggressive and continuing efforts to protect Indiana's coal industry and the jobs associated with it.