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Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

July 24, 2018

The (Munster) Times. July 18, 2018

Fiscally sound Hoosier state must face low quality-of-place issues

Our best attributes also can create rose-colored glasses, keeping us from identifying and rectifying glaring weaknesses.

The Hoosier state and its leaders should take care not to slip into this way of thinking when charting a way forward for quality of place in Indiana.

The state has plenty to celebrate.

The state recently recorded a $100.4 million surplus in revenue over spending in the 2018 budget year that ended June 30.

That’s even after Gov. Eric Holcomb funneled $327.1 million in needed additional funds for shoring up the Indiana Department of Child Services.

The 2018 surplus means the state now is sitting on a $1.8 billion budget reserve, which is equal to 11.3 percent of Indiana’s annual spending.

It spells solid fiscal footing and the capital for a sterling bond rating.

But the financial prowess earned by the Hoosier state through responsible budgeting and spending shouldn’t overshadow the need for improvement in crucial areas.

In a recent annual CNBC poll, Indiana slipped to 16th place, down from 14th last year, in the Top States for Business rankings.

Indiana ranked 5th in the Midwest — behind Minnesota, Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio — in the business-centric cable station’s annual business rankings.

It’s true Indiana looks great in the standings, compared to the equivalent of economic brownfields in Illinois, which ranked 28th on the list.

But that’s not the bar to which our state should aspire.

Indiana ranked a woeful 46th in quality of life and earned an F grade for the general well-being of its people.

If we’re going to grow our population and retain and care for the populace already here, a gutter-level ranking in quality of life isn’t the place to start.

Neither are rankings of 20th in economy, 24th in access to capital, 28th in technology and innovation and a disappointing 35th in education, one of the cornerstones of an area’s ability to attract and retain families.

It isn’t all gloom and doom in the Hoosier state. The fiscally sound condition of Indiana government coffers is a testament to responsible leadership.

But the ability to plan for a better life for residents is an equally important hallmark of leadership.

Ingenuity and investment are essential to that end.

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The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin. July 19, 2018

Immigration shouldn’t be based on job skills

During a recent interview with a reporter from The Herald Bulletin, U.S. Sen. Todd Young proposed the opening of “virtual Ellis Island centers” around the world to match immigrants for legal entry into the United States “based on their job skills.”

“We should base immigration on workforce needs,” the Republican from Indiana said. “Match up people to the skills needed for jobs in this country.”

Young’s proposal is simply un-American.

If immigrants arrive in the United States with the proper documentation, that should be enough. If we turned some away based on their skills (or lack thereof), it would contradict the very spirit of the United States.

Setting aside the Machiavellian nature of Young’s concept, the logistics of such a system would be staggering, as well as constantly changing based on the economy, job market and other exceedingly complex factors.

Young is right about one thing — the United States needs immigrants to join the workforce. With unemployment at 3.9 percent in the United States (a 17-year low), immigrant workers are needed more than ever to fill many types of jobs, from agriculture to service industry positions to health care workers to teachers.

“We’re facing a labor crisis,” said Jacob Monty, an immigration attorney. “There aren’t enough U.S. workers to do a whole host of jobs. It affects every industry from construction to agriculture to the service industry and manufacturing.”

The problem with Young’s idea is that it would turn away some simply because they don’t have the in-demand job skills. Basically, the United States would be running a system of selective immigration, calling to mind President Donald Trump’s ignorant comments back in June.

The president asked why the United States would admit “all these people from shithole countries,” adding that the nation should accept more immigrants from places like Norway.

Sen. Young’s wrongheaded strategy for culling immigrants isn’t racist, but it would mark a major departure from the concept of America as a destination for people from across the globe who love liberty and want freedom.

Young’s program would push us toward a dark era of selectivism.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. July 20, 2018

Students save when they graduate on time

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education shared good news this week with a report showing an increasing number of Indiana students are graduating from college on time. It’s an important measure: Students who earn a degree in two or four years finish with less of a financial burden - saving hundreds of dollars a month on student loan payments and getting a quicker start on career and earnings.

The student population looks different across the state’s colleges and universities, so on-time completion rates vary widely. But across the board, all public institutions have shown improvement over the past five years. At four-year flagship campuses, the rate is up more than 11 percent, while regional campuses are up more than 12 percent. Ivy Tech Community College’s statewide on-time completion rate is up more than 7 percent.

The improving rates are a key to achieving the state’s goal of 60 percent of its workforce holding a post-secondary degree or credential by 2025. It’s an ambitious goal because Indiana ranks 43rd in the nation for college attainment with only 26 percent of its 6.6 million residents holding a degree.

At the urging of the Commission for Higher Education, college and university officials have ramped up efforts to encourage students to keep on track toward a degree, pushing schools to make it easier and more affordable to earn and transfer credits. Life events can interrupt enrollment, but research shows students are more likely to graduate if they don’t fall behind.

But students and their families also are recognizing the importance of graduating on time to rein in college costs. For the class of 2016, Hoosier graduates of four-year colleges, both public and private, finished with an average debt of $29,562, according to the Institute for College Access & Success. About 59 percent of Indiana students graduating in 2016 finished school with outstanding loans.

State universities are helping students control costs by educating them on borrowing. Indiana University opened its Office of Financial Literacy in 2012 to raise student awareness of the price of borrowing. The university’s efforts included a program that showed students how much they were borrowing and how much and for how long they would be repaying their loans. In the nine months after the program began, federal Stafford Loan disbursements at IU fell by $31 million.

IU’s program became the template for the state’s “truth in lending” law, sponsored by former state Rep. Casey Cox, a Fort Wayne Republican. It requires public colleges and universities to give students information annually about their student loan debt, including an estimate of the total amount of loans, potential total payoff amount, estimated monthly repayment and the percentage of borrowing limit a student has reached.

The information undoubtedly has pushed students to finish school on time. When presented with the numbers in black and white, a student who realizes she is halfway to a degree but has tapped three-quarters of her available loans is likely to reconsider her course load and academic progress.

Indiana’s steadily improving on-time completion rates are an encouraging trend. It’s worth the effort to educate students about the cost of higher education while also reminding them of its value. The average high school graduate earns $35,615, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

And those with a bachelor’s degree? They earn an average of $65,482, making the investment of money and time well worth it - provided it’s not too much time.

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South Bend Tribune. July 17, 2018

Residents can make a difference in local government

Just when taxpayers think their opinions are overlooked by the people they elect, something happens to change that view.

Take last week’s vote by the St. Joseph County Council to reject a request by a developer to build a town house project on Cleveland Road near the Fernwood subdivision.

The council voted 7-1 to deny the rezoning request that would have allowed its construction to move forward.

The developer — Four Horsemen Ventures — initially wanted to build 34 three-story town houses near the Clay Township subdivision.

That didn’t sit well with longtime residents, who argued the development would disrupt the privacy of their quiet neighborhood with too much noise and lighting. They argued property values would decrease significantly and the project would draw too much traffic to the area.

Developers made several changes to their plans in reaction to the complaints.

They reduced the number of proposed town houses to 28 and offered to close a lane that would lead into an adjacent neighborhood. They also promised to install a 6-foot-tall fence 15 feet away from the property line, and create a buffer zone filled with rows of trees and other foliage.

All of that wasn’t enough to change neighbors’ minds. More than a dozen residents said the project could worsen flooding issues in the neighborhood.

Councilman Corey Noland said he was impressed by changes Four Horsemen made, but noted “because of the effect this had on the neighborhood, I’m not going to be able to vote in favor of this.”

Development projects such as Four Horsemen’s come before councils all the time. Many are passed with little opposition from neighbors.

But sometimes projects motivate neighbors for a number of reasons, just as this one did. Their protests helped to persuade the council the project wasn’t a good fit. It should serve as a lesson to others who don’t believe that their voice will be heard. In this case, it was.

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