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Wednesday, April 26, 2017
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  • INDIANAPOLIS – Grabill is only 12 miles from New Haven. Both are within Allen County. You can drive from one to the other in less than 20 minutes. The Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly (April 7) reports a furniture manufacturer is moving from Grabill to consolidated, larger quarters in New Haven. One reason for the short move is to keep 125 experienced workers together. They may even add 60 jobs in the future. That sounds good to me. A Hoosier company is doing well and sees a bright future. Workers are not losing jobs. No doubt their commuting patterns will change, but not drastically and most residents of Allen County will note no differences. It may not be good for Grabill, which will now have vacant buildings that could lead to lower property tax revenues. It will be good for New Haven because one of their vacant buildings will now be occupied, which should increase property values and hence tax revenues. Yet, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) has offered the company a total of $300,000 in tax credits and $60,000 for worker training, contingent on added workers being hired.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – I go to Econ Eddie, the go-to guy, when the inexplicable needs explication. “The Border Adjustment Tax (BAT) is really simple,” he says. “You’re a manufacturer and you ship something to some another country. You get paid for that shipment. But you don’t have to report that revenue on your tax return.” “Ye gads,” I shout. “The taxes I save are a direct subsidy from American taxpayers for me as an exporter. It also gives lower prices to companies and people in that other country, if I pass along my savings. It’s forced charity! Americans can hold their heads high for their generosity to other, poorer nations.”  “Oh, it’s more than that,” Eddie says. “Because you can sell for less, more buyers in other countries will want your product. This means you could invest more in America, hire more American workers, perhaps raise wages or increase your dividends, your executive pay, or up your stock price benefiting thousands of pensioners who hold your stock in their IRAs.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Through his budget proposals, President Trump is forcing all of us to be more explicit about our values. Take his desire to eliminate federal funding for the National Endowments for the Arts (NEA), the Humanities (NEH), plus programs for libraries, museums and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). These federal organizations will lose $971 million in Trump’s budget. Indiana’s Arts Commission and its Humanities counterpart together get about $1.6 million. The CPB pumps $8.8 million into the state for public radio and TV. Museum and library support comes to $3.2 million. That totals to $13.6 million for Indiana from the feds. Weigh that against the Indianapolis subsidy for the Pacers (a presumably private, professional basketball team) to the tune of $16 million per year. What is the annual subsidy for the Colts? Is there a public subsidy for the baseball team in South Bend? For the hockey team in Fort Wayne? For the Evansville Otters? Let’s be clear, I’m a sports fan. This weekend I watched IU lose a (7-3) baseball game to Nebraska. Need I do more to prove my devotion (addiction) to sports?

  • INDIANAPOLIS – Last week the U.S. Bureau of the Census released its 2016 population estimates for Indiana counties. I sat down with Languid Longworth, a local legend in Logansport, to review the new numbers. “Fundamentally, I’m most pleased with the data,” Lang told me. “Cass County is like much of Indiana, avoiding the disruption of population growth.” “Right,” I said. “In all, Cass County lost over 1,000 residents since 2010. It was ninth among the 58 population-losing counties in the state.” “Now, now,” he said. “Let’s not talk about losing. I figure that means at least 500 cars not on our roads. Lines are shorter at the grocery stores and most places. Schools have fewer students which means each one can get more attention. You’ve got to think about the blessings that come with slow contraction.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – This column is for Mr. W of Columbus, Mr. R in Terre Haute, and the many readers who see Indiana exclusively as a wonderful place. They believe, however, I tear Indiana down, not appreciating its glory. Indiana is a wonderful place because it has the opportunity to build a better future. We do not suffer from the overwhelming burdens of poverty, ignorance, and indolence that afflict many places in this world. Our problem is that we refuse to use our wealth, knowledge, and energy to make our state and communities better. Complacency is a public health hazard in Indiana. We suffer serious air and water pollution, decaying infrastructure, inadequate education, low quality public services, reactionary legislation based on superstition, all in fear that a step forward will upset the stagnation of our perceived equilibrium.
  • INDIANAPOLIS - Historic preservation never interested me. Public television’s Antique Roadshow is a farce about the monetization of memory. Junk shops, occupying valuable downtown space throughout Indiana, only trumpet our economic and social decay. Nostalgia, to me, is a disease of the mind. I delight in seeing the past transformed into a promising future. Reuse of a beautiful building, restoration of landmarks pointing to tomorrow is inspiring. Today, communities are falling all over themselves to attract imaginary young adults. It’s like seeking a new factory instead of working to retain and develop existing businesses. Indiana’s many small towns and older urban neighborhoods deteriorate when businesses and families leave. Disinvestment, the neglect of maintenance and rotting of physical assets, creates open wounds and ugly scabs. Instead of wondering how to attract unknown businesses or workers, we might try improving the assets we have.
  • INDIANAPOLIS  – When I first came to Indiana, nearly a half century ago, I found a study in the IU library declaring South Bend as the best place to live in the Midwest. It wasn’t surprising, since the author was a professor at a campus in South Bend. That’s what it is about rankings. Pick your criteria carefully and you can make Hell the most desirable location for permanent residency. Last week, several Hoosier newspapers carried a story from U.S. News & World Report ranking Indiana’s government first among the 50 states. Actually, it wasn’t government, it was state government finance, but that could not stop some headline writers. The governor was pleased by this national recognition and promised to keep up the good work. We could not expect him to say otherwise.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – How alike the nation is Indiana? One way to judge would be to visit representative Hoosier homes and compare what we find there with what we see in typical American homes. Without the resources to visit all those homes, let’s use some 2015 data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The first thing we see is the average Hoosier’s personal income is $6,172 (13 percent) lower than that of the average American. This means we have less to spend than those elsewhere in the nation. And so we do. The average Hoosier spent $4,098 less in 2015 on consumer goods and services than did the average American. Right there we see why a town of 50,000 persons somewhere else in the nation will attract more retailers with higher quality (priced) goods than a town of equal size in Indiana. There will be more diversity of services elsewhere than in Indiana for the same reason. For Indiana to be more attractive to retailers and to service providers we need more people with more income to spend.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – In the past week, the Committee on Elections and Apportionment failed to move HB1014 along to the full House. That anti-gerrymandering bill calls for establishing a commission to oversee redistricting. Unless bold action has been taken since this writing, the bill is dead for this session. There is no other bill of greater importance before the Indiana General Assembly. A redistricting commission would help correct the corrupt practice of providing safe seats for Indiana’s congressional representatives and those holding positions in the State Senate and House. However, our self-serving, one-party legislature has no interest in promoting democracy. Even those in the minority party have little concern for fair primaries and elections. Indiana will continue to have a legislature that is not representative of the people and not focused on the future of our economy. Instead, the General Assembly will persist as an instrument of the powerful and the privileged.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – In a world offering little comfort to small towns, joy came this past week to Crothersville, IN. Located just off I-65, south of Seymour, north of Austin, Crothersville now is the proud home of the Tigers, 2017 winners of a girls’ basketball Class A sectional championship. For 103 years, this Jackson County town of 1,600 waited for a sectional championship trophy. Now, only 41 years since the first girls’ team began playing Indiana’s game, that trophy is displayed at the high school on N. Preston Street. From that site of joy, it is only 176 miles north on I-65 to South College Avenue in Rensselaer, Jasper County, where a very different mood prevails. St. Joseph’s College will suspend operations after graduation ceremonies this semester. Continuing students are being offered opportunities at several other Indiana higher education venues. The college is closing. Its buildings will be on caretaker status pending resolution by the board of trustees of the future direction for the institution. Next fall Rensselaer will not welcome approximately 1,000 students and the 200 faculty and staff who serve them.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – I wasn’t there, but I hear, and that’s good enough to pass as truth these days, the Indiana Place Name Change Commission (IPNCC) met last week and submitted its recommendations to the General Assembly. The IPNCC wants the Sage Solons either to change the names or eliminate the places now called LaPorte, Pulaski, Versailles, Rome City, Mexico, Chili, Montezuma, Peru, Brazil, Lafayette and too many others to mention here. At the same time, a jolly group wants to bring the joys of gaming to High Ground (currently known as Terre Haute). The State Commission on Emotional Health (SCEH) reports gaming already has people grinning with limitless glee in Hammond, East Chicago, Gary, Michigan City, Evansville, Elizabeth and Lawrenceburg. Less ecstasy is to be found in Anderson and Shelbyville, where gaming at racinos is temporarily more restricted than in the aforementioned places. Not morose, but quaking with anticipation are folks where name changes will rid them of the stigma of alien association (French Lick and Florence).

  • INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana mayors have little power to go with their great responsibilities. They are largely invisible outside their own communities. They are not weak people, but collectively have little statewide clout. A year ago, I set out to interview former Indiana mayors about their experiences. Former mayors who held office in the past 30 years, with “no skin in the game,” I expected to be blunt and objective, knowing they were speaking off the record. Each interview with 18 former mayors was a learning experience for me. First, I learned I was a bad interviewer. I did not draw out my subjects, did not direct them to the issues I wanted to cover, but let them flow on issues they chose. Second, I discovered what conscientious, generous people we elect as mayors. These are our neighbors who want to accomplish good things for their constituents, for their communities. Third, mayors know the barriers they face. But those impediments, mainly creations of the General Assembly, are taken as given and worked with or worked around.

  • INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana General Assembly has a wonderfully easy-to-use site for the citizen who wants to know about bills introduced by subject or author. I don’t know who is responsible for this site, but hats off to him, her, and them. Today I found 43 bills on the subject of drugs. There may be many others if I searched more diligently. Imagine that: Indiana, A State in Denial, is concerned about drugs, a well-known scourge, and the primary cause of many safety, economic, education, and health problems. State Sen. Jim Merritt has authored 14 of the 43 bills. Naturally, I find the most compelling to be SB 244 which mandates a fiscal impact study of drugs and drug addiction. Normally, a fiscal impact study concerns the revenues and expenditures of government. But SB 244 goes further. It calls for an economic impact study which includes work force concerns and private expenditures on prevention and remediation. 

  • INDIANAPOLIS – This is a note of hope to the General Assembly’s Funding Indiana’s Roads for a Stronger, Safer Tomorrow Task Force, known by its friends and family as the FIRSST task force. The hope is FIRSST will continue the work done on House Bill 1002 modernizing Indiana’s road financing policies. That bill has begun its travels and travails through the sausage machine of state government. The guiding factors in a road finance bill, where new construction is not the center piece, should be road use and safety, plus changes in the costs of maintenance and reconstruction. HB 1002 allows a 10-cent increase in the 18-cent tax per gallon of gasoline. This is double the increase in consumer prices since the last change in 2003. Was 10 cents an estimate of what a gullible public would accept? Or is it because the bill creates an index for future increases based on the changes (does that include decreases?) in consumer prices and personal income?
  • INDIANAPOLIS – One week ago, I promised recommendations for improving the state’s economy. In the past I’ve done that extensively, but somehow readers don’t remember. Here are some more thoughts to be forgotten. It’s time for business leaders to stop seeking subsidies from the same public sector they deny adequate funding to do its job.  Businesses complain of a shortage of qualified labor. Is it government’s responsibility to train the labor force? Are our elementary and secondary schools to be merely preliminary settings for vocational training? What does business do directly to improve the labor force? If they find too many workers disabled by illiteracy, drugs and alcohol, a common complaint in this state, do they sponsor work-prep programs, including alcohol and drug treatment efforts? Do they increase wages to attract more qualified workers? Do they separately or collectively offer intensive training programs for workers?
  • INDIANAPOLIS – After the 2016 election, some people saw sunshine ahead with a return to greatness. Others expected moonless nights with a great nation degraded. Indiana has few anticipations. We really don’t know Governor-elect Eric Holcomb. Is he the second coming of Mike Pence, as his supporters believed? Or is he Pence 2.0 as the billboards of his opponents declared? This much we do know, the state’s public relations folks aren’t as enthusiastic about the latest state economic news as they were just six months ago. Last week the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported Indiana’s real Gross Domestic Product (affectionately known as GDP, the inflation-adjusted value of goods and services produced in the U.S.) grew in the Spring or second quarter of this year by a 1.25-percent annual rate. This was a smidge over the 1.16 percent at which the whole country grew. We enjoyed a very slim lead over Montana for the honorable 25th place in growth among the states. Contrast this with the ballyhooing last June when Indiana’s GDP growth was reported as first among the nation’s 50 states during the last quarter of 2015.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – He didn’t ask, but I have some advice for our in-coming governor, Eric Holcomb. I’ve had advice for all our governors since 1970, but none has been taken. Nonetheless, we press on. What do so many Hoosier like? Our convenient smaller towns. What do folks beyond our borders think of, if they think of Indiana? The 500, corn, Larry Bird, and small town life. What are we trying to attract? Imaginary people: Millennials who have a perverse passion for trolley cars and the skills to earn $90,000 a year, the first year out of college. These people, we think, want to live downtown, in quaint, restored old buildings, riding bicycles to work, buying groceries from small neighborhood shopkeepers, but having elevators so they don’t have to lug baby and carriage upstairs, in the unlikely event they ever have a baby. Yet, what do we have in abundance? Our convenient smaller towns losing, or struggling to gain, population. Do we promote those places? No. We have no specific program to encourage businesses and their workers to locate in Logansport, Peru, or Wabash.

  • INDIANAPOLIS  – Suddenly, on Nov. 9, the majority in the United States woke up to find it has been silent too long. In fact, it realized, it might not be a majority at all. The combined Republican and Libertarian vote was 50.59%. From what I know, many of the Libertarian votes were from Republicans who were embarrassed to be known as Republicans this year. The 48.76% who voted Democratic or Green believed strongly in their causes and could not understand how others could believe otherwise. But they were not the majority. Now, instead of taking to the streets, this silent minority needs to be heard. Now, if it wishes to be successful in the political arena, it must recognize the urgency of political action. This means ending the corruption of gerrymandering by political parties and restructuring the Electoral College. Gerrymandering is the practice of state legislators drawing district lines to protect their seats and their party in the General Assembly. Here in Indiana, through a study committee report, we have made a good start toward taking extreme partisanship out of the process. But that effort must continue and be intensified next year.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – It was disappointing, but not surprising, to learn from the Indianapolis Business Journal (Oct. 10-16) that both John Gregg and Eric Holcomb endorse public-private partnerships (P3s). These candidates for governor are experienced in the ways of our Indiana government. Mr. Gregg has served at the highest level of the legislature while Mr. Holcomb is our lieutenant governor. P3s are agreements between governments (national, state, or local) with private companies to assume control, but not ownership, of public assets. Hoosiers know them in the form of the new bridge over the Ohio River, connecting the east end of Louisville with Clark County. I-69 moving north from Evansville and Bloomington toward Indianapolis is a P3. The Indiana Toll Road, extending from Ohio to the Illinois state line, is a successful P3. The Chicago Skyway, used by thousands of Hoosiers traveling to the home of the Cubs, is a P3.

  • INDIANAPOLIS – The campaigns for governor and 125 seats in the General Assembly are winding down. We’ll be relieved soon from the slurs and insults of competing camps. Commercials will return to products supposed to make us regular again. The big question of these elections is, “Will anything be done by state government to make Indiana more attractive as a place to live and a place to run a business?” Every candidate told us s/he has a plan. That’s wonderful. But plans don’t do well in our legislature because most Hoosiers believe we don’t have any real problems and they elect people who agree with them. Our state government tells us how fine life is here and most of our news media print and broadcast all the good news they can find in self-serving press releases. However, Indiana is trending down relative to other states. We currently rank as the 16th most populous state, with 6.6 million residents. We gained 136,000 since the Census of 2010 (22nd among the 50 states), which translates to a 2.1 percent increase (32nd) compared to the national growth rate of 4.1 percent.
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  • Trump vows to build the wall as Congress balks
    “Don't let the fake media tell you that I have changed my position on the WALL. It will get built and help stop drugs, human trafficking etc. The Wall is a very important tool in stopping drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth (and many others)!” - President Trump, disputing media reports on Twitter that he had “caved” on building the Mexican border wall. The Washington Post reported: Last night the president backed off his demand that any deal to fund the federal government include money to start construction on his border wall. At an event with conservative journalists, Trump said he’s okay waiting until September to have this fight.
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  • President Trump a polling bottom feeder
    President Trump is flagging in the polls, with the latest NBC/WSJ Poll putting his job approval at 40% with 56% disapproving. NBC notes that Trump is “still holding on to Republicans and his most committed supporters. In the poll, 82% of Republican respondents, 90% of self-described Trump voters, and 56% of white working-class Americans” but he stands at only 30% with independents and 34% of college educated whites. And here’s how Trump stacks up with modern presidents at this stage of their presidencies: Eisenhower: 73% (April 1953); Kennedy: 78% (April 1961); Nixon: 61% (April 1969); Carter: 63% (April 1977); Reagan: 67% (April 1981); Bush 41: 58% (April 1989); Clinton: 52% (April 1993); Bush 43: 57% (April 2001); Obama: 61% (April 2009); Trump: 40% (April 2017). Why the low standing? Just 27% give him high marks for being knowledgeable and experienced and only 21% give him high marks for having the right temperament. And then there’s that problem with the truth: Just 25% give him high marks for being honest and trustworthy, down from 34%. On top of all this, he faces a yuuuuge week with the debt ceiling showdown, a new tax plan his Treasury Department doesn’t seem to know about, a second stab at TrumpCare, and that arbitrary "first 100-days" measuring post. - Brian A. Howey, Publisher
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