The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne. Feb. 18, 2014.
The fight goes on
Start with the good news. The effort to put HJR 3, the anti-gay-marriage amendment proposal, on this year's ballot appears to have failed.
This will spare Indiana the ignominy of becoming the national crossroads of the gay-marriage debate in the fall election season.
Information and enlightenment are more accessible than ever, but troglodytical ideas can still find a toehold almost anywhere. With luck, the spotlight will soon land on some other struggle in some far-away state.
That doesn't mean the rainbow coalition of people, companies and institutions to fight this can rest on its laurels. There is important work yet to be done if Indiana is to permanently avoid, and not just delay, this assault on the basic rights of some of its citizens.
We have to build on the positives.
Last week, in the Rules and Legislative Procedure Committee, Senate President Pro Tem David Long presided over an impassioned but civil discussion of the marriage amendment. Long treated proponents and opponents with dignity and respect, gently reminding speakers from both sides to finish if they ran past their five-minute limit and thanking them all for their testimony.
The high point of that debate came when Jennifer Fisher of Fort Wayne ascended the podium to make two points, one professional, the other personal.
Fisher, who works as a recruiter for a northeastern Indiana company, first reiterated the pragmatic point that spokespeople from Lilly and Indiana University, among others, also made: HJR 3, in whatever form it's voted on, sends a message of exclusion at a time when our state should be doing all it can to be attractive and welcoming to businesses and workers.
But Fisher told the legislators that she had a personal reason, as well, for fearing the amendment. Fisher is gay and she and her partner, who is a police officer, want to start a family. As all with family members in law enforcement do, Fisher worries that her partner could go to work some day and never come back. "If she is killed in the line of duty," she told the legislature, "someone could take my family." Fisher told the legislators that, to her, the marriage amendment held "the potential to take away everything that I love."
Looking around the Senate chamber, Fisher noted the irony that many of those who were speaking in favor of HJR 3 were members of minority groups that in the past had benefited from government protection of their rights.
"I'm not asking you to believe that my love and my life are right or wrong," she told the group. "I'm just asking you to protect my rights."
After her testimony, Fisher said she had been courteously treated by the committee and that she hoped that legislators who hear directly from people with her point of view would modify their views.
That didn't happen this time around. The Senate committee passed HJR 3 to the full Senate, though without reinserting the infamous "second sentence" that could have placed the measure on this year's election ballot. Monday, the Senate voted 32-17 to pass the altered amendment bill.
And despite Fisher's heartfelt testimony, despite the onrush of change, the legislators who voted for HJR 3 will be ready to start the process again next year. Even worse, the courageous handful of House Republicans who voted to take the second sentence out of the amendment are already facing challenges from the righteous right.
Indeed, Freedom Indiana, which did such a good job of bringing opponents of the amendment together statewide, issued a statement giving opponents permission to "breathe a collective sigh of relief."
It's a moment not for complacency, but for those who value the American tradition of freedom and respect for diversity to fight back at the ballot box - or resign themselves to years more of self-righteous intolerance at the state legislature.
Tribune-Star, Terre Haute. Feb. 16, 2014.
Just a few hours after "Honest to Goodness Indiana" was announced on Wednesday as our state's new tourism brand, it was already being pummeled by social media pundits for being too hokey, hicky and, well, Hoosiery.
"Golly gee-wilikers Pa! Can we really go to Indiana? It's so WHOLESOME," said one person who wrote on The Indianapolis Star's Facebook page in derision of the brand.
And our newspapering colleagues at The News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne headlined their editorial on the brand: "This is, honest to goodness, the best they could do?"
Even the website of the Indiana Department of Tourism Development, the very office that announced the brand, carried comments from critics who asked how the brand squares with a state whose governor and Republican leaders in both houses of the Legislature persisted in their desire to have a ban on gay marriage cemented into the state constitution. How, those critics asked, could that Indiana be seen as welcoming to all who might want to visit to explore the Wabash River, the verdant hills and gullies, the musical festivals, the community celebrations, the sports and entertainment events, and the offerings at our great colleges and universities?
Perhaps it was bad timing by the state to have launched the brand change amid the torrent of a divisive same-sex marriage debate. But even absent that fractious debate, the brand — perhaps any brand — was sure to draw potshots at the outset, and it did. No brand pleases everyone, including the brand that is being replaced: "Restart Your Engines."
Slower to speak out will be those who support the brand's embrace of traditional Hoosier values of hospitality, honesty and essential goodness. (Cynics, though, will find reasons to deny that Hoosiers actually demonstrate those values to outsiders or those who don't conform to the majority view.)
Lost in translation may be the difference, in the arcane world of marketing, between a brand and a slogan. A marketing professional explained it to us this way: Nike's swoosh represents the brand. "Just Do It" is the slogan. And the brand encompasses everything about the commodity being promoted, including the audience's desired reactions to it. In this case, the brand is that which attracts people to Indiana for a visit or vacation.
While many, including us, would have preferred something more assertive, less folksy than "Honest to Goodness Indiana," the sound of that brand may grow on Hoosiers — and others — as they see and hear messages built around the brand in ads and promotions in print, on the Web and on TV and radio. Those ads aren't apparent yet, even on the tourism development department's website.
A long-standing Terre Haute company, Williams Randall, was deeply involved in developing the brand as part of what has been reported to be a $100,000 contract with the state. So owners and staff at the company are seeing this debate up close — and personal. And not flinching. "We are confident in the new brand," McKenze Rogers of Williams Randall's Indianapolis office told The Star. "We are focused solely on moving forward."
And, according to the Indianapolis Business Journal, the brand arose from a collaborative and progressive process that involved nearly three dozen people who work in travel, tourism, hospitality industries and government. Then, about 8,000 consumers took part in surveys and focus groups to test brand ideas. So "Honest to Goodness Indiana" wasn't the first or only brand idea considered. Nor was it frivolously arrived at.
How much the brand matters remains to be seen, given the paltry amount of money Indiana budgets for promoting tourism. That amount was cut by a third to $2.3 million in 2013. Meantime, states surrounding Indiana spend far more to promote their virtues to attract visitors. According to IBJ, tourism budgets for Kentucky and Ohio range from two to four times that of Indiana's. The tourism budget for Michigan has risen to $27 million, and Illinois spends more than twice what Michigan spends, IBJ reported. And all of those states advertise within our media markets to entice our residents.
So, that funding shortage may be the biggest test of the new brand's effectiveness, or ineffectiveness.
Honest to goodness.
Evansville Courier & Press. Feb. 14, 2014.
Teaching students cursive should stay a local decision
Just how far should the Indiana Legislature go in dictating to Indiana schools what they must teach? The Legislature has been trying for several years to convince a majority of members to require all school districts to teach cursive wiring, once a stable of public education. But so dominant has keyboard writing become in Indiana classrooms — and really, to our personal lives — that strict cursive handwriting for most has become a secondary thought.
Most of us who do handwriting use a combination of printing and cursive, as do our children, thanks to our use of digital writing devices such as computers and smartphones. That is why, in 2010 the Indiana State Board of Education made cursive writing optional for most districts. And no, this has nothing to do with the controversial Common Core. The state board decided simply to leave it up to local school districts to decide whether or not to teach cursive writing in their classrooms. That is as it should be.
Alas, some lawmakers again this year are attempting to make it mandatory that cursive be taught in all Indiana schools, whether or not local officials believe they needed it. Allow local school officials to best use their classroom time.
The legislation has passed the Indiana Senate and is now with the House, where it should stay.
The Herald-Times, Bloomington. Feb. 12, 2014.
Local government endangered if business personal property tax lost
Indiana Legislators face a tough challenge as they attempt to deliver a knockout blow to the state's business personal property tax.
And a lot of the problem can be laid at their own feet, according to a recently released study by the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute.
The goal of the group, a private nonprofit governmental research group, is to enhance government effectiveness and accountability by educating Indiana's business, labor and government leaders on fiscal policy issues.
The business tax is one of those issues.
Gov. Mike Pence has said abolition of the tax is high on his priority list, and with a strong majority in both houses, Republicans see their way clear to doing just that.
But even the governor has said he doesn't want to hurt local government or schools, which depend on the tax for a large chunk of revenue.
Most of the discussion has revolved around how to replace any loss rather than simply forcing educators, cities and towns to further tighten their already tight belts.
The problem, as the 36-page institute paper points out, is that the state's property tax cap, first a law and now a constitutional amendment, immensely complicates the chore.
The paper's authors point out that Indiana is almost surrounded by states that have already eliminated the tax, levied on property such as heavy machinery and equipment, that businesses use to make things.
Kentucky is the only neighboring state that still has the tax, and it's lower than Indiana's.
They also point out that Indiana has the highest percentage of manufacturing jobs of all the states, and it is heavy manufacturing — where the best-paying jobs are usually found — that has the highest tax liability. Taxes don't attract new industry, they point out, but add that recent studies also don't show it is a major factor in plant location.
A goal in killing the tax is tax equity, not imposition of a squeeze on local government and education, both of which are still adapting to the tax caps that limit actual tax dollars collected from most homeowners to no more than 1 percent of their home's value.
Ways to make up the revenue lost with elimination of the business tax are limited.
One, a state tax increase, hasn't even made it to the table.
Another would be to allow local taxing units to raise local taxes or fees to make up the losses.
That would not be a good choice for local government officials who would be faced with raising taxes to finance a problem the state laid at their feet.
A third, and the one most discussed, is to shift that loss onto other property taxes.
And that's the bind.
If a homeowner has reached the cap, that home's tax bill is frozen, only going up if the home's assessed value increases.
The law shifts the burden of those lost dollars to other property owners, at least until those owners hit the cap.
Even worse than the inequity of that is its snowball effect, forcing up taxes on uncapped property until all property in a taxing unit reaches the cap.
When that happens, shifting stops and no additional money comes in to local government.
In some Indiana counties, often the largest and/or poorest, all or most property is already at the cap. For those counties, killing the business personal property tax would reduce income to local government units by the amount that had been raised by the business tax. This is not a spending freeze, but a cut in real dollars.
Monroe County Assessor Judy Sharp estimates that while this county is still far from its cap, the loss to local government units and schools would be about eight to 10 percent of income if it does.
We urge extreme caution — and even a rethink — before adopting a plan that could seriously hamstring local government and schools in many Hoosier counties. Those local governments and schools provide services and training critically important to us all, including businesses looking for new locations.