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February 20, 2012

HAYDEN: Shepard’s retirement won’t bring him rest

Chief justice chairing committee on policy choices for state

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s longest serving chief justice will soon leave the Statehouse, but don’t expect him to leave the public eye.

Just weeks before he officially retires from the Indiana Supreme Court, Randall Shepard was in a meeting with key policy makers to talk about the critical things that legislators and the next governor could do to have a long-term impact on the state’s health and wealth.

The meeting, which took place Friday at the Indiana Landmarks headquarters near downtown Indianapolis, centered around the findings of an 18-month research initiative called Policy Choices for Indiana’s Future.

Shepard, who is slated to retire next month at the age of 65, chaired the nonpartisan initiative, with hopes that it give candidates something sensible and substantial to talk about on the campaign trail this year.

His co-chair: Central Indiana Corporate Partnership CEO Mark Miles, who may be best known as head of Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee — an organization enjoying a love fest for the logistical feat it just pulled off. (Indianapolis has never looked so good — to outsiders and insiders — than it did during Super Bowl week.)

Shepard and Miles make an impressive duo, not unlike the combo of Shepard and former Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan when they chaired blue-ribbon Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform. The 2008 findings from that commission are still known as the “Kernan-Shepard report.”

The Policy Choices report was released publicly Friday morning. It’s filled with interesting recommendations based on research from experts around the state, including those at Indiana University’s Public Policy Institute.

You can see it for yourself — and find out more about the history of it — by going online, to the Institute’s website www.policyinstitute.iu.edu/PolicyChoices.

Some recommendations from the report:

• Expand accelerated degree and credentialing programs to ensure more workers are better prepared to land good-paying jobs. This means pushing for even more reform in the state’s K-12 schools and universities.

• Reduce the state sales tax rate by broadening the sales tax base to include taxes on services delivered. That could include a range of services, from legal advice to auto repair.

• Lure more advanced biofuel facilities to farmland-rich Indiana by boosting the economic development incentives available to the industry.

• Push for more local government reform and consolidation, with the goal of improving efficiency, transparency and accountability to what’s too often a murky mess.

• Do more to integrate the final year of high school with the first year of college; and do a lot more to help students who aren’t ready for college or career-training to get there.

• Goose the electric-car industry along by supporting research to develop new technologies in manufacturing electric vehicles and batteries in Indiana.

• Develop a statewide plan for how we’re going to use water and energy resources and improve our aging transportation infrastructure.

• Push for a mandatory “clean energy portfolio standard” that would require state investment in renewable and cleaner sources of energy.

There’s something for everyone to love — and things that plenty of people will find a reason to hate — in the Policy Choices report, just like there was in the Kernan-Shepard report.

It’s worth reading.

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