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Saturday, April 10, 2021
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Thursday, December 5, 2019 2:55 PM

How’s business? “Wonderful,” is the answer you’ll probably get from those who only know the stock market continues to rise. 

How is business in Indiana or in your sector of the economy? That answer is often hard to find. 

  • KOKOMO – I’ve never had a job where my decision has meant the difference between life and death. Shucks, during my 38-year career as a financial consultant, the two biggest challenges that I’ve had are recommending an investment before some world event made the markets drop, or not recommending the next greatest technological thingamabob before it became larger than the GDP of France.  I admire those who have those necessary jobs that require them to make life and death decisions on a daily basis. Our service men and women, law enforcement officers, first responders and medical personnel all deserve our gratitude. Most of us understand and accept the pressure-packed nature of these jobs and know that these folks are doing their best to serve the American people. We generally laud these vital workers and honor the work that they do. However, there are a few jobs where no matter what decision you make, someone is going to criticize, vilify and condemn your efforts and decisions.  Governor of Indiana happens to be just one of those jobs.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – When two men wearing black hoodies rushed the stage during Ann Coulter’s question-and-answer session on the University of Arizona campus, the instinct of this theater arts major was to think they were technicians coming to fix a bad microphone. But my Spidey-sense was off – way off.  I had shared with the police officers we hired to secure the event that message board chatter (this was in the stone ages of 2004) indicated a disruption of some kind was planned. Being naïve and unschooled in how vile the campus left already was in those days, I thought the worst we would witness was indecipherable shouting or sloppily hand-written posterboard signs. Coulter’s assailants, however, had another idea in mind. Concealed in laptop cases they held parallel to the ground, their weapons of choice were pies that they hurriedly hurled at Coulter’s head. Thanks to a combination of poor aim and Coulter’s Matrix-like agility, the pies only grazed her hair. 
  • MUNCIE – The chances are that folks learn most of what they know about economics in their late teens or 20s, in a high school or college class. It is also often the case that the person teaching that class learned most of their economics 30 or 40 years before that. So, it may easily come to pass that an adult nearing age 60 is attached to economic ideas that are really 75 years old. I am not the first to observe this. John Maynard Keynes noted that “practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist.” Of course, there are abundant lessons to be had in the economic ideas of old. A person today could get on quite well in most professions knowing nothing more than economists knew about the world in 1946. Indeed, Keynes died in April of that year, and his influence lingers still today. But, as a profession, economists have come to learn more about the world in the past 75 years than in the 75 centuries before it. Some of those things have usefulness today. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS – I’ve been asked (by two readers) to write about two questions. This flood of interest is overwhelming. Thus, with much humility, I offer the following opinions: On teachers’ pay: Michael Hicks at Ball State has offered two columns on the subject. He makes the statistical argument well about Indiana’s delinquency regarding the pay of teachers. Our compensation for teachers is below the market rate. This likely, but not necessarily, gives us teachers who are below standard quality. Are the teachers’ union and the local school boards ready to dismiss or retrain teachers who do not perform up to the standards to which we aspire? Perhaps we don’t need higher pay for teachers. Rather, do we need pay for more teachers with the skills necessary to meet the challenges of today’s students? Both more pay and more teachers suggest higher taxes, even for businesses.
  • FORT WAYNE – Every politician – at least those who win elections – understands the power and importance of media in all of its forms. People who try to influence politicians tend to understand it somewhat but often tend to think that money, personal relationships and other methods are dominant. Then they often wonder why their ideas do not prevail. There is an adage that I have believed all my life, in business and politics: Information is power. So where does one get information? If you are trying to influence people to buy what you are selling, whether it is a person, a piece of furniture or an idea, you need to understand where they are getting their information. It is obvious that primary sources of information evolve with technology changes. Political information in America evolved from newsprint to radio to television to today’s news niche chaos. America is a nation of information junkies which new technology has advanced, not reduced. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS – During the television age of Indiana politics, the General Assembly had been a pipeline of future governors. Govs. Harold Handley, Matt Welsh, Edgar Whitcomb, Doc Bowen, Robert Orr and Frank O’Bannon had all spent time in the dual “Cave of Winds” on the Statehouse third floor during a 40-year span. But five out of the last six governors had arrived at power via other routes, whether it was Secretary of State Evan Bayh, Lt. Gov. Joe Kernan (a former mayor of South Bend), White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels, Congressman Mike Pence or Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb. As I look out over the current General Assembly roster, only a handful appear to have the resume and a feel for the people’s pulse needed for the job, as well as a penchant for leadership. This is relevant now because the gubernatorial power is being challenged a year into the current COVID-19 pandemic. At least two bills - House Bill 1123 and Senate Bill 407 - are in play during the final three weeks of the current session that would clip the governor’s authority. HB 1123 (now Senate Bill 5) would allow for the General Assembly’s Legislative Council to convene a special session to deal with an emergency. It would provide for businesses and individuals to appeal any “enforcement action” taken by local health departments during emergencies. 

  • INDIANAPOLIS  – I kid you not. On April Fool’s Day, a pair of Janus-faced bills are set to be heard in Sen. Eric Koch’s Senate Utilities Committee, HB1381 and HB1191. HB1381 creates uniform rules for the siting of solar and wind projects. HB1191 prevents municipalities from mandating green building materials or electric vehicles, and from banning any certain sort of energy a utility might provide. While HB1381 forces a path for renewables, and HB1191 defends the turf of traditional utilities and building materials, both bills break Indiana’s formerly biblical devotion to home rule. The bills also represent a bipolar take on Indiana’s energy future. Are we going green or clinging to dirty? Can lawmakers contort themselves to cater to competing industries, from the wind energy lobby to the natural gas lobby? Do counties and towns ever know what’s good for them? Fact is, one-third of Indiana counties currently have some form of legislation on the books against renewable energy projects. And two-thirds of them have passed indignant resolutions against HB1381. Some claim the fact that the bill’s subject is renewable energy is incidental; it’s all about the principle of local control. 
  • BLOOMINGTON – There’s not much question where the Biden administration’s domestic priorities lie. Getting the pandemic health crisis under control and moving past its attendant economic crisis were always going to be the first order of business for the new White House. It’s what comes afterward – where the administration wants to head, how the American people respond, and what Capitol Hill does with it all – that will give us a sense of whether the country is ready for the kind of change Biden is signaling he wants to bring. To be sure, some of that change has just been enacted into law. The stimulus package that made it through Congress a few weeks ago was an abrupt shift in tone from Washington. Beginning with Ronald Reagan and lasting to some extent even through Democratic administrations, the prevailing view valued limited government action on the economy, tax breaks for businesses and wealthy Americans – on the theory that their investments would ultimately help everyone else – and at best a wary view of the public sector. The stimulus bill heads the opposite direction, taking the attitude that forceful government action is needed in this moment and that the way to prosperity lies in helping poor, working-class, and middle-class Americans. I suspect that a lot of Americans won’t care much about the ideology behind the stimulus bill. They’ll just judge it on whether it works, and in particular on whether the economy recovers and produces jobs, especially jobs that pay decently.
  • MUNCIE – In the coming months, the U.S. economy will appear as if it is returning to normal. That won’t really be the case, but the conversation about the economy will shift from stabilizing and relief to long-term growth. Midwesterners, particularly Hoosiers ought to be very nervous about the next decade. The last economic recovery left the region and our state in relatively worse condition than the Great Recession. There is every reason to believe the next recovery will again leave much of the Midwest farther behind the nation as a whole. The poor prognosis for the Midwest rests upon the long-term shifts, or what economists call ‘structural’ shifts, of our economy. Consumers spend a dwindling share of their earnings on goods, instead buying services such as recreation, travel, education and healthcare. That trend works against our strengths or comparative advantage. These shifting consumer preferences alter the calculus of producing goods and services. The demand for workers nationwide is overwhelmingly for college graduates. As I’ve repeated in this column, more than 8 in 10 new jobs created since 2010 went to college grads. Over the next decade, nearly all new jobs and most new wage growth will go to those workers with a four-year degree.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis gave us a first look at the three closing months of 2020. Indiana did well in the final quarter of 2020. Our Gross Domestic Product, after adjustment for inflation, (Real GDP) advanced at an annual rate of 5.1% compared with a 4.3% increase for the nation. A bit of chest thumping should be heard about now from state officials, although they probably can take but little credit for our economy. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that, despite our lachrymose Legislature, Indiana’s private sector managed to respond well to the federal stimulus program and sustained the momentum of recovery from the COVID shock of earlier in the year. The year 2020 was composed of two very different halves. As usual, Indiana rode a more exciting rollercoaster than did the nation. The first and second quarters felt the full force of the pandemic. During those first six months, Indiana’s Real GDP declined at an annual rate of 20.3% with the nation going down by 19.2%.
  • FORT WAYNE – Censorship of political speech is not new. In fact, in world history freedom of speech is rarer than censorship. In the United States, expanded freedom of speech and freedom of the press (the corollary of free political speech) are among the hallmarks of what makes our nation different. The focus of this is not whether Donald Trump should get his Twitter finger back, though it is certainly a current, visible example of our nation once again re-defining censorship. Traditional media, in every decision, must pick and choose what to cover. Newspapers, magazines, radio and television have space and time constraints. So even does social media, in different ways. One of the biggest constraints is simple; consumers also have time constraints. When Adolph S. Ochs in 1897 put “All the News That’s Fit to Print” on the masthead of the New York Times, he meant it as a statement that stressed the “all” meaning not just partisan newspapers, often owned by candidates, parties and interests jockeying for political control. “Fit to print” is how they sorted themselves from scandal sheets that truly did and still do produce “fake” news, not news called fake by people who disagree with it.

  • INDIANAPOLIS – Three days after he was elected chair of the Indiana Democratic Party last weekend, Mike Schmuhl explained, “I feel like a basketball coach who hasn’t been to the tournament in a while. I’ve got to get the team back in the tourney, man, and then we’ll go from there.” Not since 2012, when Joe Donnelly won a U.S. Senate seat and Glenda Ritz upset Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, has a Hoosier Democrat won a statewide race. In about 21 months, he will meet up with the legacy of Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer, who is riding the kind of winning streak that legendary UCLA coach John Wooden would appreciate. Hupfer was unanimously elected to a second term on Wednesday and is considered a potential 2024 gubernatorial contender himself. Hoosier Republicans now control 88% of all county elected offices, all of the Statehouse constitutional offices, nine out of 11 congressional offices, 71 mayoral offices after a record 19-office increase in 2019, while it has maintained super majorities in the General Assembly.

     

  • INDIANAPOLIS  – Carbon. Indiana excels at emitting it, even though the world needs no more of it – and by 2050, way, way, way less of it. Fifty Indiana economists agreed, in a recent letter sent to Indiana’s congressional delegation. Fact is, Indiana is one of 10 states that produce half of all U.S. emissions. So we have a lot of carbon to suck up. There are many ways to do so. Plant more trees. Preserve more forests. Farm low- or no-till; plant cover crops. SB373, which was scheduled to be heard this week in Rep. Sean Eberhart’s (R-Columbus) House Natural Resources Committee, would create financial incentives for carbon-absorbing projects. In a past column, I called SB373 the most meaningful environmental bill in years. If it becomes law, willing landowners, farmers and forest owners will get paid to keep carbon in the ground. The DNR and the Dept. of Agriculture will set up a verification process. The well-loved but heretofore underfunded Benjamin Harrison Conservation Trust and Clean Water Indiana program will be expanded to include carbon credit banks so the state profits, too. This bill is remarkable because of how little serious opposition it’s faced. The agriculture sector is a little jittery, but not too much. The timber industry lobby doesn’t oppose it. The environmental community is bullish on it. 
  • KOKOMO – In this month’s issue of “Whistling Past the Graveyard” we will take our annual look at the looming disaster of our national debt and the complete ambivalence of the American public and our government officials at this very real existential threat to most things that we hold dear. Every year that I have been writing for Howey Politics, I have devoted at least one column to the ever-mounting Red Menace of the national debt. I’ve written and obsessed about this subject during both Democrat and Republican administrations because irresponsible governmental spending knows no political party. Both Republicans and Democrats are recklessly irresponsible when it comes to the long-term threat of deficit spending. No one gets a pass. The latest trigger to my annual rant is the latest $1.9 trillion boondoggle of President Biden’s pandemic response or the Democrat Party’s “never let a crisis go to waste” cash grab. I won’t rehash the argument that only a very small piece of this “relief” bill is actually pandemic related. Most of us know by now that the spending bill was packed to the gills with mostly pork for the insatiable appetites of voracious Congressional Democrats. Instead, let’s take a look at the relief aspects of the bill.
  • MUNCIE – On March 12, President Biden signed into law another stimulus bill to address the enormous damage done to our economy through COVID-19. There are principled arguments for and against most details of the $1.9 trillion bill. I feel Congress could’ve passed a much smaller bill, maybe half the size, and put in place an automatic second payment should the economy remain at risk through mid-summer. I’d have liked to see fewer regulations tied to spending and I’d have directed a greater share of money to poorer households, among many other concerns. I’m not alone in having these pretty reasonable objections. However, anyone arguing for a smaller stimulus must admit that one lesson of the Great Recession is the asymmetry of risk. Too little stimulus is far worse than too much. Moreover, at a time when the U.S. Treasury can borrow at a negative real interest rate, too much stimulus is a fairly low-risk affair. But, this is not a column about the stimulus, or good faith arguments about fiscal policy. Thankfully, many lawmakers are offering substantive criticisms of the bill. Still many are not, and I write today to call out the worst of the bad faith arguments. The most noxious version of anti-stimulus argument is some version of “the economy is recovering well, and this stimulus is nothing more than a bailout of badly run states.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has retired after 18 years of service. On leaving the Senate, he said, “Lately, the Senate has been like joining the Grand Ole Opry and not being allowed to sing.” His record in the Senate, and previously as governor of Tennessee (1979-87), was informed by walking 1,022 miles across the state in his 1978 campaign for governor. He saw that poverty was related to dreadful road conditions. If getting somewhere is a chore and getting services and visitors to your town is difficult, poverty is reinforced by the highways. He proposed linking each of the state’s 95 county seats by four-lane highways to the nearest Interstate. It’s a thought that ought to be considered by Indiana’s moribund legislature. It took generations to get U.S. 31 from Indianapolis to South Bend upgraded to four lanes and only recently has partial, additional modernization been completed.
  • OXFORD, England – A central promise of the calls for unity that now saturate our public sphere is that a renewed focus on American identity – not partisan identity – will usher in a more humane politics. If only we could remember our shared national identity, it is said, we could reduce polarization and end what President Biden has called our “uncivil war.”  Numerous well-funded initiatives with this goal in mind have sprung up, such as the Aspen Institute’s Citizenship and American Identity Program, whose aim is to “promote a shared sense of national identity.” But here we are, despite widespread emphasis on national identity, more divided than ever. The persistent “national identity” framing might be part of the problem. In reality, settling the content of American identity isn’t a prerequisite for tackling other issues; it is itself our most divisive issue. The defining political battle of our polarized age, as a trio of political scientists recently argued, is an “identity crisis” over what it means to be an American.
  • LOGANSPORT – It’s one thing for a public official to accept donations from the private sector when the transparency is required by law. But it’s another thing entirely when a sitting public official is on the payroll for multiple companies as a “part-time employee” with no benefits. The real benefit is for the private sector companies that leave the appearance the Indiana attorney general is in their pocket because their money is in his. The sudden revelations of Todd Rokita’s questionable ethical practices just over two months into office raise several questions. Not the least of those questions is, “Who is the Indiana attorney general really working for, Hoosiers in 92 counties or private companies that aren’t required to divulge their connections under state law?” It would seem that while the Indiana General Assembly has spent much of this session trying to rein in the emergency powers of the governor, they really should focus more on the state’s top attorney. Even after Rokita resigned one of his positions, the Indianapolis Star  uncovered at least four more. How many more are there exactly, Mr. Rokita?
  • INDIANAPOLIS - Former president Donald Trump was asked by Fox News Maria Bartiromo whether he believes his supporters should get the COVID-19 vaccine. “I would recommend the vaccine," said Trump, who received the inoculation in January before leaving office. "And I would recommend it to a lot of people who don’t want to get it, and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly.” Last week, a Monmouth University poll found that 56% of Republicans either wanted to wait and see further before getting a vaccine or said they will likely never get one, compared to just 23% of Democrats. A NPR/PBS/Marist found 47% of Trump voters and 41% of Republicans said they will not get the vaccine. Trump joins President Biden and former presidents Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush and Barack Obama in getting vaccinated. Those three former presidents along with former vice president Mike Pence, Gov. Eric Holcomb, Senate President Rod Bray, Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor and State Rep. Robin Shackleford, who heads the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, have joined the ranks of leaders who are publicly demonstrating that the three available vaccines are safe and effective. There is a sense of urgency on this vaccination front. The more people who get it, the closer that Indiana and U.S. gets to "herd immunity" and the chance to put this terrible pandemic behind us once and for all. 

  • CARMEL — This Friday, Hoosier youth will gather on the Statehouse lawn to demand “immediate, concrete, and ambitious action from global leaders to address the climate crisis.” One person likely to be there is 11-year-old Leo Berry of Carmel. Leo is the founder of Helping Ninjas, an association of kids ready to “stand up for the planet” with chapters in 16 states. The group’s logo is the earth, with friendly eyes and a martial arts headband. If this sounds cute, don’t think that Leo doesn’t mean business. In fact, he and his group are paying close attention to the General Assembly and the anti-wetlands bill. “SB389 is to overwrite the bill that is currently defending wetlands,” blogged Leo. “When I read this, I felt mad and worried. I sit here and think: Why is it that this world we live in is so driven by outcomes that do not always work in favor of nature?” Leo started a petition against SB389 on Change.org. It calmly lays out the science of wetlands and the services they provide. By the time you read this, it will have over 25,000 signatures. Former state senator Beverly Gard, author of the 2003 bill that is currently defending wetlands, shares Leo’s concern.
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  • Holcomb vetoes emergency powers bill
    “I firmly believe a central part of this bill is unconstitutional. The legislation impermissibly attempts to give the General Assembly the ability to call itself into a special session, thereby usurping a power given exclusively to the governor. Avoidable legal challenges during a state of emergency will only serve to be disruptive to our state.” - Gov. Eric Holcomb, vetoing a bill that would have allowed the Indiana General Assembly to call itself into special session during a public emergency. The bill had passed by wide margins in the Republica super majority-controlled House and Senate earlier this week.  Legislators are expected to override Holcomb's veto with simple majorities in the House and Senate, before Indiana courts rule on the constitutionality of the bill.
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  • HPI Power 50: Crisis shapes 2021 list

    By BRIAN A. HOWEY
    and MARK SCHOEFF JR.

    INDIANAPOLIS – After two decades of publishing Power 50 lists in the first week of January, this one comes in a true crisis atmosphere. As we watched in horror the U.S. Capitol being overrun by supporters of President Trump on Wednesday, the COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 8,000 Hoosiers and 350,000 Americans, shutting down our state and nation for nearly two months last spring. While vaccines are coming, there will be a distinct BC (Before COVID) and AC delineations as this epic story comes to a close. It gripped like a vise key figures, from Gov. Eric Holcomb to Vice President Pence. It delayed an election, closed schools and restaurants, reordered the way we do business and buy things, and will set in motion ramifications that we can’t truly understand (like the virus itself) at this point in time. There’s another crisis at hand. It’s our society’s civics deficit, fueled by apathy that transcends our schools and societal engagement, and allowed to fester by a news media in atrophy. That three members of the Indiana congressional delegation – U.S. Sen. Mike Braun and Reps. Jim Banks and Jackie Walorski – signed on to a protest this week, induced by losing President Donald Trump to “investigate” widespread vote fraud that doesn’t exist, is another indicator of the risks a polarized and undisciplined political spectrum brings to the fragile American democratic experience.

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