News and Tribune

March 12, 2014

THEIR OPINION — For March 12

Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers. Distributed by The Associated Press.

Get your austerity here

Ads on the sides of school buses do not constitute a sign of the apocalypse. Western civilization will survive.

The reason such a once-unthinkable concept may soon become a reality in Indiana does represent a big problem, though.

State government leaders have failed to properly fund something as basic and important as public-school transportation. They have taken fiscal austerity and conservatism to a pathetic extreme.

Those “reformers” — dominant for the past decade — effectively choked off adequate funding for school districts to operate their buses. Caps on property taxes, enacted by an understandably popular referendum in 2010, saved Indiana property owners $704 million on tax bills last year, but also drained $245 million in funds that Hoosier schools relied upon for buses and other high-cost items.

As a result, cash-strapped Muncie schools tried a local referendum to help pay for their buses, but voters said no.

So the Muncie district asked the state Department of Education for permission to end the school bus service it could no longer afford. The state said no.

Has anyone in the Statehouse read “Catch 22”?

With no alternatives, school districts came up with the idea to allow advertisements on their buses. Creative? Yes. Desperate? Yes.

After losing a half-million dollars in bus funds last year because of property tax caps, Zionsville school administrators pushed their local legislators to craft a bill to allow the ads. House Bill 1062, alive in the current General Assembly, would create a pilot program granting three school districts the rights to splash ads on buses next school year. Zionsville officials have no idea how much money the ads will generate, but they need any and all new revenue. If it works, schools around Indiana may join in.

Is this what we’ve come to as a state?

“We need to find a solution other than having schools have to rely on selling advertising to keep their buses running,” state Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, an Anderson Democrat, told CNHI’s Maureen Hayden. At least one member of the super-majority Republican Party sees the incongruity of the situation. “If it’s something a local community wants, I think the state should provide the option to do (the school bus ads),” said Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, author of a transportation bill that includes the bus-ad pilot program. “It’s not deemed as something that solves the larger problem, but it can be used as a complementary revenue source.”

The “larger problem” is exactly that. The tax reformers spawned it, sold it to the public and pipelined it into reality. They lack the courage to repair its unintended consequences and, barring a stunning sea change in voting trends, have no visible political incentive to do so.

So let the school bus ads roll. If you’re wondering what these promotions might entail, fear not. Lawmakers do care about the ads’ content. Alcohol, tobacco and other products forbidden to minors are restricted by the bill.

So are political ads, which is probably in the legislators’ best interests. They’ve likely imagined possible challengers buying space on school bus fenders to ask passers-by, “Like this ad? Re-elect my opponent and you’ll see more.”

— Tribune-Star, Terre Haute

Disappointing legislative session grinding to a halt

As the Indiana General Assembly heads into the final days of its 2014 session, it’s not too early to lament the sadly discouraging lack of leadership and vision shown by lawmakers this winter.

Legislative leaders began the session insisting that HJR-3, the proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, would not distract them from higher priorities such as education and economic development. That proved not to be case.

The long, emotional debate over HJR-3 drained far too much attention, energy and political good will from the short session. Although lawmakers ultimately had the good sense to keep the amendment off the ballot in November, the contentious debate is now set to return to next year’s legislative agenda. The last thing Indiana needs is another year of distraction caused by this issue.

With the session scheduled to end Friday, lawmakers will leave the Statehouse this week having punted on the opportunity to take a modest step forward on early childhood education. Gov. Mike Pence proposed creation of a pilot preschool program designed to help children from low-income families. The House passed the measure with strong support, but the plan crashed in the Senate, where Noblesville Republican Luke Kenley led the opposition.

Despite strong research that’s documented the importance of early childhood education, Kenley and others continue to question whether even a modest state investment in preschool is worthwhile.

The Pence plan now is likely to head to a summer study committee, a move that would put Indiana in the peculiar position of continuing to discuss the value of early childhood programs that most other states long ago implemented, and from which competitors are reaping the benefits.

The overly cautious stance on preschool is a symptom of what has long ailed the General Assembly: the inability to see the big picture, to move the state forward swiftly when necessary, to understand that Indiana is losing the race to attract and retain a highly talented workforce and the same-old approaches won’t change that reality.

The 2014 session will grind to a halt in a few days. The achievements will be modest in a state that desperately needs big victories. Let’s hope lawmakers spend the offseason re-evaluating their approach.

— The Indianapolis Star