News and Tribune

January 29, 2014

THEIR OPINION — For Jan. 29


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

Extend jobless aid; talk about funding

If you are among the 19,000 Hoosiers who’ve been jobless more than 26 weeks, it may be impossible to appreciate the ideological battle over the long-term extension of unemployment benefits that was shut down in the Senate last week. All your focus might be on keeping your cellphone connected and gasoline in the car to hunt for work.

It’s a shame the casualties of this first big fight of the 2014 election over domestic priorities are the unemployed.

What started out as a disagreement over spending turned into a debate over rights of the minority party, with each side blaming the other.

After the extension of aid for some 1.3 million long-term unemployed expired on Dec. 28, Democrats took the stand that renewing the benefits was an emergency; budgeting the expense was not. Republicans countered that the urgency had waned. They said renewing the aid should be paid for; deficit spending has spiraled for too long.

There is merit in both camps. Unemployment is still an emergency in the nation. One new job is available today for every three people who need work. Indiana’s average jobless rate is 7.3 percent. The national rate is 7 percent. The deficit, though, is so threatening to the nation’s long-term vitality that reducing it ought to be a part of any spending equation. Reconciling these two positions just doesn’t seem that difficult — at least to those of us outside of Congress.

Indiana Republican Sen. Dan Coats, we were glad to note, was one of six GOP members who voted along with 52 Democrats on Jan. 7 to overcome a key procedural hurdle to allow debate on unemployment compensation to proceed.

Optimism that a deal might be struck, however, was short-lived.

Coats was among those who proposed paying the costs through such means as prohibiting simultaneous collection of Social Security Disability Insurance and unemployment insurance; addressing abuse of the federal child tax credit; delaying the Affordable Care Act mandates; and reforming unemployment insurance programs to require those receiving benefits to demonstrate that they are making a sustained job search.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, called the Republicans’ effort a thinly veiled filibuster. For their part, Republicans complained Reid shut them out of decision-making. Good points, again, on both sides.

But Republicans really can’t claim this umpteenth attempt at scuttling the Affordable Care Act as a sincere attempt at compromise. And Democrats must honestly come to grips with the reality that our downsized nation can’t afford the government it has.

Many experts say long-term unemployment assistance is necessary both for the good of those receiving it and to sustain the country’s recovery from recession. Congress should renew the benefits and agree on how to budget the cost.

The $1.1 trillion spending bill Congress hammered out last week is reason to hope a deal on unemployment can be made soon. Both parties surely remember that the unemployed will vote this fall, too.

— The Tribune, Seymour

Strategic incentives can help keep grads in state

Envision this group of people. Smart, top-of-their-class graduates of Indiana colleges and universities, with newly bestowed degrees in science, technology, engineering or math. They’ve got standing job offers from employers in bustling places such as San Jose, Calif.; Austin, Texas; Seattle, Wash.; Boston; Chicago; Atlanta and New York.

The grads ponder and thoroughly analyze those options, and instead decide to find a job and begin a career in Indiana.

Now, answering honestly, would you say they made the wisest choice?

The Hoosier state is a wonderful place to live, work, play and raise a family. Still, Indiana must address some lingering issues to reach the point where the response to the aforementioned question is an unequivocal “yes.”

Thousands of graduates have already answered with their feet. Each year, more than 300,000 students study at public and private institutions of higher learning in Indiana, and after commencement day, one of every three leaves the state, many for good. Those receiving graduate degrees depart more frequently. Why? The lure of bigger salaries is one obvious reason. Household incomes in 47 other states have grown at a faster rate than those in Indiana during the past decade. Yet, even if those dean’s list collegians receive a hefty offer from a steady Hoosier company, the towns and cities around those employers lack the activity and progressive lifestyle the graduates desire. Highways are bumpy. Some school districts are so strapped they’re cutting or curtailing bus service.

A sharp young woman or man with a fresh bachelor’s or master’s degree cares about such things. That’s why so many don’t stick around.

Now, imagine that somehow, some way, a thousand of the very best science, technology, engineering and math (or STEM) students stayed after graduating this coming May. And the same thing happened every May, from 2015 to 2016 and beyond. Hoosier incomes would rise. More diversified employers would set up shop here. According to trends in regions with large percentages of highly educated residents, improvement also would occur in public health, crime rates and leisure opportunities.

That “somehow, some way” needs a starting point. Michigan City’s Scott Pelath, leader of the minority Democratic Party in the Indiana House of Representatives, has offered a proposal to help keep 1,000 of the best STEM graduates in the state. It’s a small step, but a good one.

Though the supermajority Republicans rarely forward Democrat-initiated bills in the General Assembly, Pelath’s idea comes straight from the conservative playbook; it features a tax break. He wants Indiana to let those talented products of its colleges live and work here without having to pay any state income tax. In return, they must continue to work and live here for five years.

Of course, as the grads are mulling their possible post-college destinations, a state’s income tax level probably ranks well below potential salary, access to trails and parks, nightlife, and the vitality of local schools. Still, the tax break would show these folks the state wants them to be Hoosiers and is committed to upgrading its communities.

In time, more will want to be Hoosiers, and Indiana will be their wisest choice.

— Tribune-Star, Terre Haute