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Saturday, June 23, 2018
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  • INDIANAPOLIS – This weekly column is focused on Indiana’s economy, rarely commenting on national issues. But this time, we must make an exception. Early morning, Friday, June 1, President Trump tweeted, “Looking forward to seeing the employment numbers at 8:30 this morning.” This most unusual national leader was telling his tweetees that he knew the closely guarded monthly employment data and he liked them. Presidents do get advance looks at all types of key data. Prior to this, presidents kept their mouths shut about economic data until an hour after the official release time. It wasn’t just tradition, it was a policy set down for a wide group of government employees by the Office of Management and Budget to avoid insider trading. But now, this president was wiggling his toes in the stock market bathwater. His words were enough of a favorable hint to send ripples of glee through the regular bathers in those waters where the big boys surf and the little guys drown.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – We now know the major party candidates for Indiana’s nine congressional seats. Few of us, however, know the diversity/similarity of those districts and the cities and counties they include. To refresh your memory of the geography of Indiana’s congressional districts, go to Stats.Indiana.edu to find a map. The latest (2016) data for Indiana indicate our most populous district, the 5th (northern Marion County, all of Hamilton, Tipton, Madison and Grant counties plus slices of Blackford, Boone and Howard) had 768,400 persons. The least populated district was the 1st (Lake and Porter counties with a slice of LaPorte County including Michigan City) with 712,000. The 6th District (Muncie, Richmond, Columbus and down our eastern border to the Ohio River) had a median age of 40.1 years with 17% 65 or older. The youngest population was in the 7th District (central and southern Marion County) with a median age of 33.8 years and only 11% 65 or older.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – It’s been years since I last talked with Rhonda Boutte, one of the state’s leading economic development professionals. She hasn’t changed a bit as far as I could tell.  She wasted no time with pleasantries. “Everybody’s trying to be somebody else. There’s a whole lot of chubby brunettes pretending to be slinky blondes. Unless you’re willing to undergo a real transformation, those dark roots will show through and the stress will sour you on getting anything done,” she said. “I don’t understand,” I admitted. “Bezos be damned,” she said. “Here’s a guy telling cities what they need to be if they are going to get the Amazon prize. He’s looking for another Seattle. He’s the typical narcissistic tycoon expecting to work wonders on whatever he touches.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – A few introductory thoughts. First, I am not in the pocket of any automobile company. Second, I am very conflicted about the subject of this column, urban transportation. Third, for years I have argued that the private automobile is the greatest mass transit system ever developed. Uber, Lyft, and self-driving vehicles are reinforcing that argument. Fourth, while autos have been blamed for urban sprawl, congested routes, and the deterioration of civility, family and community, they are not the sole villains of contemporary life. Air conditioning must take part of the blame. Finally, the interstate highways have been a powerful and fundamentally positive force in America, where they have been allowed to be integrated into our cities.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – It’s one thing to have a job and another to make a living. What does it take for a single parent to support a family with two children? How old are those children? Do they own or rent their home? Do they have a car or depend on public transportation? Do they have any savings in the event of an emergency? It’s certainly more than the federal minimum hourly wage of $7.25 which has prevailed since July 2009. Many state and local governments have decided that $15 per hour is more appropriate. (If we assume 40 hours per week and 52 weeks a year, then $7.25 per hour = $15,080 per year and $15 = $31,200.)  How much do Hoosiers make in “A State That Works,” a state that boasts of its friendliness to business? Back in 2007, in Indiana the average hourly wage was $19.93 or 99¢ less than the national average. If you prefer, we were worth 4.7% less than the average worker in the United States.
             
  • INDIANAPOLIS – A few introductory thoughts. First, I am not in the pocket of any automobile company. Second, I am very conflicted about the subject of this column, urban transportation. Third, for years I have argued that the private automobile is the greatest mass transit system ever developed. Uber, Lyft, and self-driving vehicles are reinforcing that argument. Fourth, while autos have been blamed for urban sprawl, congested routes, and the deterioration of civility, family and community, they are not the sole villains of contemporary life. Air conditioning must take part of the blame. Finally, the interstate highways have been a powerful and fundamentally positive force in America, where they have been allowed to be integrated into our cities.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Several readers contend this column expresses negativism about Indiana. They tell me to find something good to say about the state. That’s easy: Indiana’s borders have been Sanforized; they show no signs of shrinking. A different group of complaining readers chide me for using too many numbers. Somehow these readers never learned numbers represent people and their activities, real people. TV news (and too many newspaper articles) feature storybook people whose lives are supposed to make it possible for us to understand complex problems. This approach assumes we can’t grasp the human context without individuals as stand-ins for vast numbers of diverse people. Governments do a fine job spinning the news using carefully selected facts. One would believe Indiana is carpeted with blue and yellow spring flowers, fortuitously the state colors. Lately, however, the state has been covered with potholes.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – It’s exciting when a Hoosier city is chosen as number one on a list of favorable attributes. Clearly, being number one in pollution or crime would not be an honor. But to be named “the best affordable small town where you’d actually want to live” is a distinction, a recognition, a tribute of great value. Logansport received that honor just last month from realtor.com, an online publication of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Hoosiers know Logansport as the place where the Eel River enters the Wabash. We recall Logansport as a longtime major rail junction, as the county seat of Cass County, and as a key city on the roads from Fort Wayne to Lafayette and Kokomo to Michigan City. We also know Logansport as home to Tony Hinkle, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and the State Psychiatric Hospital. 
  • MERIDIAN HILLS - A few weeks ago, I wrote about a bill (HB 1005) to force township consolidation. That bill never got a hearing by the Indiana House. Despite support from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, it died, as did many other good and bad bills. The governor wants the senators and the representatives back for a command performance. Yet, most Hoosiers see little merit in reassembling this ensemble unless they return motivated to serve the interests of Hoosiers rather than lobbyists. In addition, they should be tested to make sure they are not LUI (legislating under the influence of alcohol or drugs). Even if most members of our General Assembly are good, sensible and thoughtful persons, they do not have the collective courage to overturn generations of subservience to the past. Townships are a remnant of the past. I am not against townships nor am I opposed to retaining elements of the past. However, the arbitrary requirement of consolidating those with fewer than 1,200 persons seems senseless. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Alzo Incognito visited me in early January when the 2017 state population estimates were released. Therefore, it was no surprise to see him again last week when the county figures became available from the Census Bureau.  “How’d we do?” he asked. Before I could answer, he told me he got a job with Uplift Indiana, the “Happy News Bureau.” “Don’t bother with any downer stuff,” he said. I inhaled deeply and said, “57% of the counties in the United States gained population between 2016 and 2017. Indiana saw 60% of its 92 counties gaining population in that period.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Because no one asked for them, this week we’ll take a look at some foreign trade statistics, with specific attention to Indiana. At the national level, some pundits pontificate about the danger to our economy because the value of imported goods exceeded the value of goods we export. “This can’t go on,” we are told. Yet it does. “American jobs are being sent abroad by our failure to buy products made in America.” Yet no one ostracizes those who transport and sell foreign-made goods. Who refuses to buy underwear made in foreign lands? In 2017, the U.S. exported $1.1 trillion of manufactured goods. At the same time, we imported $2.0 trillion worth of manufactured goods. We sold passenger and military airplanes to customers all over the world, while carrying home cell phones and TV sets in cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks assembled in this country from foreign-made parts. For every dollar of manufactured goods we exported as a nation, we imported $1.85 of goods from elsewhere. Little Rhode Island led all states with $5.61 of imports for each dollar of goods exported. By contrast, Wyoming, where coal is more plentiful than consumers, imported just 38 cents of goods for each dollar of exports. Indiana, 20th of the 41 net importer of goods, sent $1.54 abroad for each dollar received in goods exported.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – “Pssttt.” The sound came from behind the statue with my name on it, right there on the steps of the Statehouse. I peered and saw a grubby, shabby-looking man, presumably a lobbyist for a small organization, not the well-heeled spokesperson of a major corporation, university, or foundation. “What?” I asked, fearful he would need bus fare. “You got a need for a few folks?” he said. “What do you mean?” I was flustered. Was he offering me illegals, some members of a minority group, like Democrats in Hamilton County, to perform gardening or other domestic labor? “HB1005,” he said in a conspiratorial manner. “It’s the bill to force consolidation of small townships. If a township didn’t have 1,200 people in the 2010 Census, then it must find a township that is willing to merge. There’s now a drive on to get people to stay or move to those condemned townships before the next census in 2020.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS - What are the annual costs of the potholes that decorate the cities of Indiana? Maybe our vacationing legislature could set up a summer study committee to reinforce their continuing neglect of our state? “Vacationing legislature?” you ask. Yes, I answer. They have been in session for weeks and not dealt seriously with any serious issue. Many come to Indianapolis and are on holiday, eating, boozing and schmoozing as they never could do at home. The few who are serious about their roles in our lives may require serious therapy, if they are not to retire discouraged, disgusted and depressed. What other body of irresponsible people could spend so much time debating Sunday liquor sales and cold beer regulation?       
     

  • INDIANAPOLIS – Once again, with the stock market tumbling as Lego blocks struck by a playful toddler, the inexplicable is explained by experts who declare, “The fundamentals are sound.” We recall the anxiety of the Great Recession which was built on these the facts:  The number of private sector jobs in the United States fell by 11.6 million between June 2007 and January 2010, a decline of 9.9%. Indiana’s experience was a job loss of 316,000 from June 2007 to February 2010; down by 12.2%. These private sector job losses result from market conditions which require divine explanation. Government jobs rise and fall with the political thought waves of elected and appointed deep thinkers.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – I spent part of a day last week at the Statehouse. I would have stayed longer, but I was getting dizzy and dissociated. It happens when one is too close to the Indiana General Assembly. While I still felt good, I saw something that made my heart swell with joy: The members of the House broke for lunch. They came pouring out of three chamber doors with broad smiles on their faces, babbling with excitement, flushed with anticipation. They might have been third graders let loose from an ISTEP exam. Morris Quiken, the state representative from Curious Creek, was among them. “Morrie,” I called. He turned, but didn’t give any sign he knew me. “Morrie,” I said again. “Not here,” he said under his breath. “Follow me, at a distance.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Some voters cast their ballots based on philosophical principles. Others are more concerned with the principals in their bank accounts. This week we’ll see how Hoosiers measure up in terms of Social Security (SS) payments from the federal government, as reported by the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (2016 vintage). There’s not much difference between the entire United States and Indiana in terms of the percent of households receiving SS payments. For the nation it’s 30.2%, with Indiana somewhat higher at 30.9%. Likewise, the U.S. and Indiana are close on median age of the population, with the U.S. a bit older at 37.7 years and Indiana a spritely 37.4 years. The median age is the number where 50% of the population is older and 50% younger.  
  • INDIANAPOLIS – People who have bought a house and started their pension programs already often ask, “Where should I be investing?” The question arises with a booming stock market as well as during the depths of a recession. My answer remains, “Diversify your investments. Invest in your education, your skills, and your ability to understand our complex world. Then, if applicable, invest in the education of your children and grandchildren. And don’t forget to invest in the education of your neighbors’ children, in the schools of your community.” This is the starting point of developing an informed citizenry and a capable workforce. Sadly, Hoosiers now recognize their failure over decades to make those investments. Thus, Gov. Eric Holcomb declares our need to upgrade the skills and employability of 55,000 workers.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – A friend is trying to examine the big issues facing our nation and the solutions available to us. I suggested that catalog include land use which reflects and often causes many of the dilemmas Americans have failed to resolve. We complain about congestion in our urban areas while bemoaning the decline of rural areas. This is a land use issue. The high costs of health care are a persistent concern. Our sedentary life style contributes to our need for health care, but we have organized our activities and our infrastructure to avoid exercise that involves exertion. This too is a land use issue. The wild fires, mudslides, and floods of California are largely problems stemming from land use decisions made in the public and private sectors. Americans delight in the variety and stimulation of the built world. Yet, simultaneously, we seek to escape the pressures, noise, and excesses of what we call civilization. We want access to places offering us solitude and the refreshment of nature. This desire can be satisfied by altering our land use patterns.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Uncle Sam, via his Census Bureau, just before Christmas, gave us the news: Idaho had the fastest growing population in the nation. The great potato state had an estimated 2.2% increase from July 1, 2016, to the same date in 2017. “Why not us?” Alzo Incognito asked. “Is there something wrong with the Hoosier State, the spark plug of America, the carburetor of commerce?” “Population change is simple and complex,” I told him. “What’s complex?” he asked. “People are born, they die and they move from place to place.” “True, but why? There’s the complexity,” I responded. “Indiana ranked 24th among the50 states in rate of growth ’16-’17 at 0.5% increase. This compared with a 0.7 national rate and well behind Idaho’s 2.2%. However, we grew faster than any of our four adjacent, neighboring states.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Where was the latest U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) personal income report for Indiana? I didn’t see it in my newspaper. It didn’t even make a press release from the governor’s office or the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC). Perhaps all the attention was drawn to the tactless tax tacks stuck by Congress into voodoo dolls representing the American people. So what were the numbers? U.S. personal income in the third quarter of 2017 grew at an annual rate of 2.72% nationally; for Indiana the figure was a shade lower at 2.67%. Since both round off to 2.7, Indiana can claim to be right close to the national growth rate and snuggly at 21st place among the 50 states. Hey, that’s not bad. We’ll always rejoice when we’re in the top half of the states. Further, we were in the middle of our neighborhood, below Michigan and Ohio, but above Illinois and Kentucky.  
     
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  • Holcomb responds to SCOTUS ruling on Internet sales tax
    “A lot about our world and economy has changed in the 26 years since our nation’s highest court last ruled on this issue,” Holcomb said Thursday. “With the incredible evolution of technologies and the growth of internet sales, this Supreme Court ruling will help level the playing field between our Hoosier-based companies that operate retail stores and out-of-state companies that sell products and services online in our state. We’re taking a careful look at the ruling to better understand its implications for Indiana.” - Gov. Eric Holcomb, reacting to the U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing states to collect sales tax from on-line retailers. Indiana passed a law in 2017 anticipating the rule, with the state expecting $77 million to come in from e-commerce annually.
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  • The First Lady's message
    American First Ladies almost always assume a role and much of it is messaging. For Nancy Reagan, it was “Just say no” to drugs. Betty Ford gave us a compassionate path to those savaged by addiction. Laura Bush was all about literacy. Lady Bird Johnson urged littered and dumpy America to clean up its act.

    And Melania Trump? She remains a mystery to most of us with her Sphinx-like mannerisms. But she is also a messenger, though often we don’t know what to make of her signals. Who can forget Donald Trump’s debate with Hillary Clinton right after we learned from the Access Hollywood audio that women will let rich tycoons do what he wants (“you can grab ‘em by the pussy”)? Mrs. Trump showed up wearing a pink Gucci pussy bow, creating even more of a stir when she shook hands with President Bubba. Perhaps she was trying to tell us it’s really OK to grab ‘em … or maybe it was a rebuke to his cheatin’ heart. We simply don’t know.

    After torrents of President Trump’s snide and vicious tweets, First Lady Trump decided to make bullying her prime issue, saying, “Our culture has gotten too mean and too rough. We must treat each other with respect and kindness.” Ya think?

    Then came McAllen, Tex., just hours after President Trump ended immigrant child separation with the stroke of a pen (after weeks saying only Democrats could). The former fashion model showed up wearing a cheap jacket on a muggy day reading “I really don’t care, do U?” as 2,300 kids were incarcerated by the U.S. government nearby and who knows where else.

    The First Lady’s flak told us “there was no hidden message,” but President Trump contradicted, saying his wife was flipping off the news media, saying she “has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares!” Show up at the scene of U.S. policy that has truly disturbed folks across the spectrum, and tell us all you really don’t care, even as we learn the U.S. government has lost track of many of this tormented kids. Got it. Classy. -
    Brian A. Howey, publisher
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