News and Tribune

December 11, 2013

THEIR OPINION — For Dec. 11


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

Auto bailout all but forgotten as sales surge

When President Obama orchestrated the multibillion-dollar bailout of the U.S. auto industry in 2009 — GM and Chrysler were headed into bankruptcy, Ford was struggling — his many critics derided it as either a nefarious socialist plot or an attempt to buy the votes of autoworkers about to lose their jobs.

In any event, the government made out like a capitalist when it began to sell its ownership shares in GM and Chrysler and Obama did indeed win, except Indiana, the industrial belt — including Michigan, the home state of Mitt Romney, who despite being the scion of an auto company president, favored letting GM and Chrysler go bankrupt.

Remember Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock of Evansville who fought the bailout, taking the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court?

Mourdock talked principle, but his opponents said if successful, his move would cripple the economy. In the end, Mourdock lost this battle, and his bid for the U.S. Senate.

USA Today, in its dissection of the 2012 presidential election, said, “In the end, there is no overestimating how large of a role that the auto industry bailout played in President Obama’s re-election.”

And, also in 2012, CNNMoney said of the bailout, “The U.S. auto industry’s recovery is one of the biggest success stories of the last four years.”

The Michigan-based Center for Automotive Research believes the massive infusion of taxpayer funds — as much as $60 million on the two companies alone — saved 1.5 million jobs and stopped a wave of bankruptcies from sweeping through the industry’s suppliers.

The American auto industry was caught in a triple whammy — a global economic downturn; a mix of products that ran heavily to high mileage pickups and SUVs just as fuel prices began to soar; and crippling legacy costs from previous union contracts that gave foreign makes, even those produced in the U.S., a cost advantage of $350 to $500 a vehicle.

Thanks in no small part to that bailout and the economic recovery, November auto sales were 9 percent above a year ago with sales running at an annual pace of 16.4 million vehicles for the year, the strongest since February, 2007.

It is perhaps worth noting that major news outlets reporting the robust auto industry figures — The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, The Associated Press — made no mention of Obama or, for that matter, socialism.

— Evansville Courier & Press

Pence preschool plan deserves broad support

Indiana has for years lagged most other states in providing early childhood education options for families. The lack of access to high-quality preschool isn’t merely an inconvenience; it’s a handicap that undercuts student achievement and, eventually, economic growth.

So it was encouraging this past week to hear Gov. Mike Pence propose what could become the most aggressive expansion of preschool in the state’s history. Under the governor’s plan, families with incomes up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level — about $43,500 for a family of four — would be eligible for vouchers to help pay for preschool for children who are a year or so away from entering kindergarten.

“As result of a lack of quality early education opportunities, children, especially those from low-income households, often are unprepared when they enter kindergarten,” Pence said Thursday in announcing his 2014 legislative agenda.

There’s nothing groundbreaking about that thought, of course. Research overwhelmingly confirms the value of early childhood education, and has for many years. But it is encouraging to hear an Indiana governor make the point given state leaders’ historic lack of leadership on the issue.

Early childhood advocates were naturally complimentary of the proposal, but the complaints from frequent Pence critics — including teachers union President Teresa Meredith and House Democratic education leader Greg Porter — were disappointing.

Meredith contends that the state should put off moving forward on a preschool initiative until after it lowers the age for mandatory school attendance (now at a much-too high age 7) and requires all students to attend kindergarten. But those ideas likely would require lengthy legislative campaigns — to the point where today’s preschool-age children might well be in middle school before such changes were made given the General Assembly’s past go slow approach on other education proposals.

Porter, although supportive of state-financed preschools in general, objected to funneling state dollars to religious-affiliated schools through vouchers. But, as with the K-12 voucher program, families would make decisions about where to spend the money, not the state. And the state money may well be enough to prompt secular schools to open or expand.

The Pence proposal isn’t without potential problems. It’s critical for the state, for instance, to ensure that tax dollars go only to high-quality preschools. As a Star investigation has demonstrated this fall, a lot of substandard day cares and preschools are operating in the state, often with little regulatory oversight. If managed the right way, the voucher program could help strengthen already good schools and divert children from weaker operations. But it’s essential to put strong accountability measures in place on how and where vouchers can be used.

A final point: Some lawmakers have questioned whether Pence’s legislative agenda is too ambitious for the short, non-budget-writing 2014 session. Let’s banish that thought. Indiana leaders need to adopt a mind-set of pushing forward aggressively on most education, economic and quality-of-life issues — because of our state’s many needs but also because the world is moving faster than ever and those who plod along will get left behind.

Although much welcomed, the Pence preschool plan is modest in scope when compared to what other states already have done. There’s no need for overly cautious delay in acting on it.

— The Indianapolis Star