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March 19, 2014

THEIR OPINION — For March 19

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

Failure to restore subsidy a sorry state of affairs

This year’s legislative session has offered the usual examples of the inexplicable, but it’s hard to top the General Assembly’s failure — yet again — to restore a state subsidy to help parents adopting special needs children.

For the fifth year in a row, the issue is dead. And the 1,400 families on the state’s “waiting list” for an adoption subsidy that was promised but has never been paid remain on hold.

Hard to fathom this state of affairs: Consider that Indiana, where Gov. Mike Pence talks about a pro-adoption agenda, is the only state in the nation that doesn’t offer such support.

State Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, says that this year’s failure is frustrating. It also says something about the state’s priorities that it’s cutting corporate taxes but can’t reinstate assistance for young Hoosiers who need more support than most of us can comprehend.

Indiana’s adoption subsidy was cut in 2009 by then-Department of Children Services Director James Payne, who was fond of saying that “People should adopt for love, not money.” But findings from a survey by Children’s Rights underscore how critical adoption subsidies are: 58 percent of respondents said they could not have adopted without a subsidy. And from a practical, bottom line perspective, the research indicates that subsidies result in substantial governmental savings compared to the costs of foster care.

You can argue whether the more than 35 percent drop in Indiana adoptions between 2011 and 2013 is connected to the suspension of subsidies for special needs children. But there’s no question that the state has failed in its obligation to the 1,400 families on the waiting list for a subsidy it hasn’t delivered. And that’s inexcusable.

Broden is optimistic that next year’s budget session will yield a different outcome. He’s already started planning his strategy and says he has a firm commitment from Sen. Carlin Yoder, a Republican from Elkhart County, to work on the issue.

We hope Broden is right, and that his continued efforts on behalf of adoptive families will result in the restoration of the subsidy -- and that it includes honoring promises made to those on the waiting list. But shame on the state for taking so long to do the right thing.

— South Bend Tribune

Pence must halt bill undermining energy efficiency

Gov. Pence: Veto SB 340

The arguments for doing so in the Energizing Indiana program are myriad and, on the surface, persuasive.

The challenges of energy conservation in Indiana have changed, we’re told, even in the short time since the state program to help individuals and companies conserve electricity began in 2012.

The program, created by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission with the support of then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, is funded through six Indiana utilities, including Indiana Michigan Power.

Under contract with the utilities, private energy auditors fan out to residences, industries and institutions to suggest ways to cut electricity use.

By such simple fixes as turning down water-heater temperatures, using more efficient light bulbs and upgrading refrigerators, Energizing Indiana seemed to be on the road to significant inroads in the state’s energy usage.

The need for special strategies to curb energy use here was obvious when Indiana’s energy consumption was particularly high and prices not particularly so.

But now, though Indiana still ranks ninth among the states for energy consumption per capita, energy prices here are rising and use is leveling off. The Purdue University State Utility Forecasting Group predicts that electricity rates will rise 32 percent in the next decade. Those higher costs will help drive down use.

When, after its first year, it developed that the utilities had not spent some of the money they’d collected for the program from their customers, there was concern that Energizing Indiana’s goals had been set too high, too fast. And attention has swung to the cost of Energizing Indiana, which adds $2.03 a month to the average residential electric bill and millions of dollars to many industries’ energy budgets.

Ed Simcox, president of the Indiana Energy Association, argued in an Indianapolis Star piece last week that the “low hanging’ fruit” efforts to increase energy efficiency have already been harvested, and the next steps will be more complex and costly.

That is undoubtedly true. There are only so many refrigerators to upgrade, only so many pipes that can be wrapped with insulation.

But none of this justifies SB 340, which the legislature has sent to the governor. If it becomes law, the measure will stop Energizing Indiana dead in its tracks. Its backers call it a “pause” to reassess the conservation efforts’ strategies and costs.

Pauses, though, have a way of becoming permanent. And the needs that Energizing Indiana was intended to address haven’t gone away. Air pollution is still a problem in Indiana, and the state’s urge to conserve energy will only be more acute when prices are even higher.

Energizing Indiana’s efforts have hardly been a fiasco. According to the Sierra Club, an independent study concluded that Indiana utilities “saved two dollars for every dollar spent on ‘demand-side management’ programs.” For industries, the club said, the savings have been even higher: $3.19 for every dollar spent. And the program has helped motivate utilities to get serious about the energy-saving game.

Tracy Warner, a spokesman for I&M, stresses that the decision on SB 340 is up to state policymakers, but that I&M “will continue to offer energy-efficiency programs” even if the state program ends.

Why the rush, though, to abandon a program that seemed so essential only a couple of years ago? Rather than do such a hasty about-face on such a crucial issue, Pence would be wise to veto SB 340 and direct the IURC to make some adjustments in Energizing Indiana’s strategy. Then the legislature can revisit the issue during its longer 2015 session.

— The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne

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