INDIANA SURPLUS GROWS TO $3.9B: State Auditor Tera Klutz announced Wednesday that Indiana closed the 2021 fiscal year with reserves of $3.9 billion (Howey Politics Indiana). “Indiana once again exceeded expectations and soared through the recession with one of the fastest recoveries on record to end with a cash reserve of $3.9 billion at the end of June,” said Klutz. “Indiana is poised to make an excess reserve transfer of $1.1 billion, which will be split between retirement funding and a refundable income tax credit for Hoosier taxpayers.” The annual report, prepared by the State Budget Agency, highlights the state’s fiscal year ending on June 30, 2021. Klutz credits strong fiscal leadership and teamwork for how Indiana was able to financially navigate through the national pandemic and economic uncertainty while ensuring a reasonable state reserve. “Indiana’s economic future and fiscal responsibility are directly linked. Maintaining sustainable finances creates a better, stronger, more prosperous Hoosier state for the next generation,” added Klutz. Cris Johnston, Office of Management and Budget Director, echoed Auditor Klutz’s statements and added “Years of fiscal discipline, sound tax policy, a resilient Indiana economy, and federal pandemic financial assistance are all reflected in these impressive year-end results which have presented the opportunity to make strategic investments which will benefit Hoosiers in the years to come.”

 

SURPLUS TO TRIGGER TAX REFUND:  A big jump in Indiana’s state tax collections over the past few months announced by state officials Wednesday will result in a refund for taxpayers, although they’ll have to wait until next year for that money (AP). State officials reported that overall tax revenue grew 14% over the past year as collections bounced back stronger than expected from the COVID-19 pandemic recession. That pushed state government’s cash reserves to $3.9 billion as of June 30. Since the record-high reserves figure represents 23% of annual state spending, it will trigger the state’s automatic taxpayer refund process for the first time since 2012. Officials say about $545 million will be divided evenly among taxpayers as a credit on their state tax returns submitted next year. That will reduce 2021 tax bills, but the state won’t be sending out budget surplus refund checks, said Cris Johnston, director of Indiana’s Office of Management and Budget. While the 2012 refund amounted to $111 for individual income tax filers, state officials won’t determine the new refund size until perhaps November when they know the number of 2020 Indiana tax filers, Johnston said.

 

HOLCOMB CITES 'FULL EMPLOYMENT & GROWING ECONOMY': Gov. Eric J. Holcomb offered the following statement regarding the 2021 fiscal year close-out which resulted in $3.9 billion in combined reserves (Howey Politics Indiana). "Because of the strong position Indiana occupied going into last year’s unprecedented global pandemic and partnerships at all levels of government, we now find ourselves at a place of full employment and growing economy. State fiscal leaders deserve high praise for closely monitoring financial forecasts and then quickly adapting to the facts on Main Street, Indiana. We quickly pivoted from managing through a once anticipated recession due to the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic to closing the state fiscal year with $3.9 billion in combined reserves. Now, with our 19th straight balanced budget, we are working on everything from mental health programs and health care supports to record increases in K-12 tuition support. We’re investing in state public facilities and infrastructure projects statewide on a level never seen before all the while doing everything we can to create a highly skilled workforce to fill the open jobs of today and tomorrow. Thanks to everyone’s diligent approach, including a bullish private sector, Indiana is positioned to begin the 2022 state fiscal year in a strong financial position that will benefit Hoosiers for years to come."

 

ILEARN TEST SCORES DROP: Fewer than one-third of elementary and middle school students in Indiana recorded passing scores on the latest round of state standardized tests, results released Wednesday show, confirming education officials’ concerns that the coronavirus pandemic has fueled substantial learning losses (Smith, AP). The Indiana Department of Education released results from the spring ILEARN exam that show 40.5% of students are at or above proficiency standards in English/language arts, and 36.9% are at or above proficiency standards in mathematics. Only 28.6% of students statewide in grades three through eight tested proficient in both English and math, a drop from 37.1% the last time the test was administered in 2019. State data showed “significant” gaps persist among racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic student groups. For example, just 8% of Black students in Indiana passed both the English and math sections, compared with 46.5% of Asian students, 34.7% of white students, and 15.6% Hispanic students. Indianapolis Public Schools, which has one of the highest proportions of disadvantaged students in the state, saw only 10% of its students pass both English and math. Neighboring Warren Township schools reported fewer than 8% of students who tested proficient. In northern Indiana’s South Bend Community Schools, 7.5% of students had passing rates on both sections of the exam.“These results confirm what we expected, and what we now know — student learning was significantly impacted by COVID-19,” Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner said. “This data cannot be an indictment on anyone, on anything, on any school. The reality is all of us had a global pandemic.”

 

INDIANA OVERDOSE DEATHS UP 33%:  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data about overdose deaths in 2020, and Indiana's numbers are higher than the national average (WRTV). The CDC report says there were 1,704 overdose deaths in 2019 and 2,268 deaths in 2020, a 33.1% increase. That's all from the available data; the CDC says there was underreporting and incomplete data from Indiana. Overdose deaths soared to a record 93,000 last year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The government estimate released Wednesday eclipses the 72,000 drug overdose deaths in 2019, a change of 29.4%. Provisional drug overdose death counts are based on death records received and processed by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

 

DRUG OVERDOSE DEATHS SURGE 30%: Drug-overdose deaths in the U.S. surged nearly 30% in 2020, the tragic result of a deadlier supply and the destabilizing effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to preliminary federal data and public health officials (Wall Street Journal). The estimated 93,331 deaths from drug overdoses last year, a record high, represent the sharpest annual increase in at least three decades, and compare with an estimated toll of 72,151 deaths in 2019, according to provisional overdose-drug data released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “That is a stunning number even for those of us who have tracked this issue,” said Brendan Saloner, associate professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Our public health tools have not kept pace with the urgency of the crisis.” The surge, the 2020 data show, was driven largely by a proliferation of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid whose use has spread across the nation.

 

REPORT SHOWS AFFORDABLE HOUSING OUT OF REACH FOR MANY HOOSIERS: In order to afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent in Indiana, full-time Hoosier workers need to earn $16.57 per hour. This is Indiana’s 2021 Housing Wage, revealed in a national report released Wednesday (Howey Politics Indiana). The report, Out of Reach, was jointly released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), a research and advocacy organization dedicated solely to achieving affordable and decent homes for people with the lowest incomes, and Prosperity Indiana, the statewide membership organization for the individuals and organizations strengthening Hoosier communities. After a year of job losses, furloughs, and limited hours, many of these Hoosier households will be even worse off in 2021. Across Indiana, a renter needs to earn $16.57 per hour to afford a modest two-bedroom rental home without spending more than 30% of their income on housing cost, up from $16.32 in 2020; or $13.43 per hour to afford a one-bedroom home, up from $16.13 in 2020. Jessica Love, executive director for Prosperity Indiana, said, “The cost of housing in Indiana just keeps rising, which means the state Housing Wage – what you really need to earn for your home to be affordable to you – keeps going up. Unfortunately, the average renter’s wage hasn’t risen much for Hoosiers, especially when compared to our Midwestern peers. And this only serves to widen the disparities experienced by the lowest income renters.”

 

POWELL EXPECTS INFLATION TO MODERATE IN COMING MONTHS: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said inflation had increased notably and would likely remain elevated in the coming months before moderating (Wall Street Journal). Pandemic-related bottlenecks and other supply constraints have led to rapid price increases for certain goods and services “which should partially reverse as the effects of the bottlenecks unwind,” Mr. Powell said in testimony prepared for delivery later Wednesday before the House Financial Services Committee. Mr. Powell is set to present the Fed’s semiannual monetary-policy report to members of the committee on Wednesday and to members of the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday. U.S. consumer prices continued to accelerate in June at the fastest pace in 13 years as the recovery from the pandemic gained steam. The Labor Department reported Tuesday that its consumer-price index increased 5.4% in June from a year earlier. Excluding volatile food and energy categories, prices rose 4.5% from a year earlier, the most in 30 years.

 

GEN. MILLEY FEARED TRUMP COUP: In the waning weeks of Donald Trump’s term, the country’s top military leader repeatedly worried about what the president might do to maintain power after losing reelection, comparing his rhetoric to Adolf Hitler’s during the rise of Nazi Germany and asking confidants whether a coup was forthcoming, according to a new book by two Washington Post reporters (Washington Post). As Trump ceaselessly pushed false claims about the 2020 presidential election, Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, grew more and more nervous, telling aides he feared that the president and his acolytes might attempt to use the military to stay in office, Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker report in “I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year.” Milley described “a stomach-churning” feeling as he listened to Trump’s untrue complaints of election fraud, drawing a comparison to the 1933 attack on Germany’s parliament building that Hitler used as a pretext to establish a Nazi dictatorship.  “This is a Reichstag moment,” Milley told aides, according to the book. “The gospel of the Führer.” A spokesman for Milley declined to comment. fter attending a Nov. 10 security briefing about the “Million MAGA March,” a pro-Trump rally protesting the election, Milley said he feared an American equivalent of “brownshirts in the streets,” alluding to the paramilitary forces that protected Nazi rallies and enabled Hitler’s ascent.

 

SCHUMER INTRODUCES CANNABIS REFORMS: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer released sweeping draft legislation Wednesday to legalize weed, officially kickstarting a difficult debate in his chamber that also makes a major splash for one of his campaign promises (Politico). The measure floated by the New York Democrat — along with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) — proposes removing federal penalties on cannabis, expunging nonviolent federal cannabis-related criminal records and letting states decide if or how to legalize the drug. Marijuana legalization has spread rapidly across the country in recent years, where 18 states have embraced full legalization and 37 permit medical marijuana. Public opinion suggests there’s widespread bipartisan support for liberalizing cannabis laws, but that shift hasn’t translated to the Senate: Schumer has several reluctant members within his own caucus and will have to scrounge up at least 10 Republican votes for the legislation during an already chaotic Senate calendar filled with Biden administration priorities on infrastructure, police accountability and education. Schumer would also need to corner President Joe Biden — who has supported decriminalizing marijuana but not legalizing it — to sign the bill. Still, he’s projected confidence about his odds in the past. "The fact that every member will know once we introduce this legislation — not only that it has my support, but that it will come to the floor for a vote — is going to help move things forward in a very strong way," Schumer told POLITICO in April.

 

HPI DAILY ANALYSIS: We're watching with fascination the various pandemic impacts. On one hand, Indiana's revenues are robust resulting in a tax rebate. On the other, ILEARN test scores are in free fall, housing prices are leaving behind a considerable segment of society, and there has been a 33% surge in overdose deaths. - Brian A. Howey

 

Campaigns

 

INDEMS TO KICK OFF INVESTMENT TOUR TODAY: In Lafayette and South Bend, Joe Donnelly, State Sen. David Niezgodski, State Reps. Chris Campbell and Earl Harris Jr., South Bend Mayor James Mueller, Democratic city leaders and union leaders will kick off the American Jobs Plan tour, an effort by the Indiana Democratic Party to show why Indiana needs the Jobs Plan and a revitalized infrastructure system (Howey Politics Indiana). The statewide tour, a sequel to the American Rescue Plan tour, will allow Hoosiers to hear more about a Plan that will create good-paying jobs, dismantle the INGOP’s “right to work” laws (creating Indiana’s “work more for less” economy), and build a better future for Hoosier families.

 

HUPFER STATEMENT ON FISCAL CLOSEOUT: Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer issued the following statement regarding the close of the 2021 fiscal year in Indiana (Howey Politics Indiana): “This afternoon’s budget announcement is good news for all Hoosiers. Governor Holcomb’s leadership through the pandemic and conservative fiscal management over the last several years allowed Indiana to come roaring back stronger than ever and the increase in state revenues shows that our economy, under Republican leadership, is incredibly strong. In Indiana, we’re making record investments in education, workforce training, infrastructure and quality of life while keeping our taxes low and our budgets balanced. On top of all of that, Hoosier taxpayers will now receive an automatic tax credit. Thank you to Governor Holcomb and all the fiscal and legislative leaders that worked so hard to make news like today’s possible.”

 

CROUCH POSTS $182K: Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, who is term-limited in her current post and expected to seek the state's top job in 2024, has raised $182,500 in large contributions since the May 18 primary from supporters in southwest Indiana, according to state campaign finance records (Carden, NWI Times). Records show Crouch also started the year with $659,452 in her campaign account. So she and Doden likely are even for cash on hand when donations to Crouch worth less than $10,000 are added to her total. Notably, Holcomb has collected nearly $70,000 in large donations since May, records show. Holcomb also had $1.77 million in campaign account at the end of last year. The governor likely is a long way from endorsing a successor. But records show Crouch donated $2.5 million to Holcomb's gubernatorial campaigns in 2016 and 2020, and she instantly would dominate the actual and potential field of GOP gubernatorial candidates in fundraising if Holcomb chooses to return the favor. Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita received no large donations in the first half of the year, according to state campaign finance records.

 

DODEN ANNOUNCES RAISING NEARLY $1M: Eric Doden, R-Fort Wayne, today, reported nearly $1 million dollars raised in just 56 days since announcing his campaign for Governor. He now has $928,980 on hand after raising $938,684. Doden has also received an additional $4 million in financial commitments for a total raise of $5 million for the 2024 race for Governor (Howey Politics Indiana). “Maci and I are honored and motivated by this incredible support. It shows that Hoosiers believe in our vision for a strong future, where Indiana would be well served by my authentic, bold, no-nonsense approach to tackling our state’s most pressing challenges and pursuing excellence,” Doden said. Beginning next week, the campaign will be announcing the first series of stops on Doden's 92 county Main Street Tour. 

 

PENCE CALLS FOR HARDER CHINA STANCE FROM BIDEN: Former Vice President Mike Pence called on the Biden administration to take a harder line toward China in a major foreign policy speech on Wednesday — claiming that he and former President Donald Trump had “changed the national consensus” on the threat posed by Beijing (Politico). Speaking at the Heritage Foundation headquarters in Washington, D.C., Pence declared that millions of Americans were “awake to the fact that the Chinese Communist Party aspires not merely to join the community of economically developed nations, but to sit atop a new global order created in its own image.” “Yet despite this new national consensus,” Pence said, “the Biden-Harris administration is already rolling over to communist China.”

 

Polls

 

PENCE FAR BEHIND DeSANTIS IN FABRIZIO POLL: A new nationwide poll of Republican voters points to him as the front-runner in the event Trump does not run in 2024 (Politico). Trump remains the clear leader of the party. If he decided to run again for president in a crowded 2024 primary field, he would get roughly half of the vote, with DeSantis in a distant second place at 19 percent, according to a new survey of GOP voters from veteran Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio. Everyone else — including former Vice President Mike Pence — would be in single digits.Trump’s standing among GOP voters has been virtually unchanged since Fabrizio’s last survey in February. But DeSantis has skyrocketed in popularity among Republican voters nationally. Without Trump running, the poll shows DeSantis gets 39 percent of the theoretical GOP primary vote and Pence is at 15 percent. That’s a 22-point increase for the governor — and a smaller, 4-point decrease for the former vice president — since Fabrizio’s last survey. The other potential contenders lag far behind. All are in single digits: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz registers at 7 percent, which puts him ahead of former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley (4 percent), Utah Sen. Mitt Romney (3 percent); South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at 2 percent each.

 

Congress

 

MANCHIN OPEN TO $3.5T BUDGET DEAL: Centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Wednesday he’s open to the $3.5 trillion spending agreement reached by Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee, which would be entirely paid for with yet to be specified tax measures, but he’s holding back on fully endorsing the deal until further review (The Hill). Manchin’s cautious optimism about the agreement means that Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) two-track strategy for moving President Biden’s infrastructure agenda is still moving in the right direction.  “I heard about it this morning or late last night from my staff,” Manchin told reporters on Wednesday. “So, we’re anxious to basically review it. They worked hard on it, we want to see it. Also, I’ve been very clear that I want to see the pay-fors and make sure that whatever we do is globally competitive. I’m open to looking at everything they provide. OK? They’re going to have to provide all the information that’s going to be needed. They worked hard, they should have a proposal.”

 

BRAUN COMPARES DEM BUDGET DEAL TO SOCIALISM: U.S. Sen. Mike Braun joined Neil Cavuto to discuss infrastructure and Democrats’ $3.5 trillion spending proposal (Howey Politics Indiana). “Everyone knows our roads and bridges and even broader infrastructure - throw in rural broadband - needs attention," Braun said. "For the two and a half years I’ve been here no one has been serious about the question that requires political will: how do you pay for it without gimmicks? To me, this is like paving the road to socialism. Even though you’re trying to talk about hard infrastructure, that is what worries me. We were $18 trillion in debt when I got here 2 years ago; we’re approaching $30 trillion now, and it gets shrugged off like nothing when you’re adding another $3.5 trillion. On top of the $1.9 trillion package the federal government passed earlier this year, that’s a lot of money to borrow.”

 

YOUNG COMMENTS ON SOUTHERN BORDER: U.S. Senator Todd Young (R-Ind.) joined a group of Republican senators to warn about the Biden administration’s mishandling of the humanitarian crisis at the southern border (Howey Politics Indiana). The press conference follows reports of the administration’s plans to end the Title 42 public health order that helps to limit the number of illegal immigrants crossing the border during the pandemic. “As a Marine Corps officer who served on the southern border in Yuma, Arizona, back in the mid-90s, I saw firsthand the impact of our border crisis. Back then, I served in an area where there was a serious challenge of human trafficking and drug trafficking. I left and several years later, a wall was erected in that very area and we saw the number of illegal crossings plummet. I returned to the same sector in May of this year and discovered that the crisis had returned. Why? A complete vacuum in leadership by the Biden-Harris administration. We have seen an absolute surge in the number of illegal crossings. In fact, we are on track to see over one million illegal crossings. This is, make no mistake, a 50 state border crisis.

 

THE SENATE is in. Fed Chair Jerome Powell will testify before the Banking Committee at 9:30 a.m. Majority Leader Schumer will hold a press conference on the Child Tax Credit at noon. THE HOUSE is out.

 

General Assembly

 

BRAY ON YEAR END REPORT: Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) made the following statement regarding the state's Fiscal Year 2021 closeout (Howey Politics Indiana): "Indiana has once again demonstrated what it means to exercise true conservative fiscal leadership. Our state is thriving thanks to more than a decade of fiscal discipline that has brought us to this point, and now each and every taxpayer will benefit from it. Thanks to the resilience of our Hoosier workers, Indiana's economy has bounced back faster than most other states in the country. It's rare for government to return money to taxpayers, but with the automatic taxpayer refund kicking in, that's exactly what our state is doing, and I am pleased we are in a position to return some of that hard-earned money. At the same time, we continue to eliminate massive amounts of debt in the way of paying down our pension obligations, which will free up millions of dollars down the road for our state's future leaders to reinvest in Hoosiers. This is what sound fiscal policy looks like, and my caucus members and I are committed to continuing this kind of leadership now and in the future."

 

HUSTON ON CLOSEOUT REPORT: Speaker Todd Huston said the state's unprecedented economic success will trigger taxpayer refund (Howey Politics Indiana): "Today’s fiscal year closeout results demonstrate that the fundamentally strong Hoosier economy has picked up where it left off after the initial shock of the pandemic and revenues continue to surge beyond our expectations. The automatic taxpayer refund ensures that reserves beyond what's needed go back to where they belong – in the pockets of hardworking Hoosiers. Indiana's already provided record funding for our K-12 schools and a fully funded infrastructure improvement plan on top of paying down debt, so this taxpayer refund is well-deserved. As I've said before, we're going to jump at the chance to explore sustainable tax cuts and reforms next session. It's critical for us to build on this record-breaking momentum and continue to do what's right by taxpayers. We're fortunate to be on such strong financial footing, and that's in large part due to conservative Republican stewardship over the last 10 years."

 

MISHLER ON CLOSEOUT REPORT: State Sen. Ryan Mishler (R-Bremen), Chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, made the following statement regarding the fiscal year closeout (Howey Politics Indiana): "As Auditor of State Tera Klutz announced today, the fiscal closeout statement demonstrates Indiana's ability to thrive despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is clear that our years of exercising fiscal discipline are paying off for Indiana and our taxpayers. Due to the robust state of the economy, Indiana is able to end the state fiscal year with strong reserve levels, make an additional investment in our pension liabilities and provide a taxpayer refund. In our new state budget, we were able to make a sizable down payment to our state's pension obligations to the tune of $600 million. Combine that with the more than $500 million that will now be going toward our state's pension funds, and we have paid down more than $1 billion in pension debt alone – a truly remarkable accomplishment. Further, if the current fiscal plan holds, we could be looking at another nearly $700 million going to pensions at the end of 2022. These kinds of investments may not sound particularly exciting, but the real-world effect is that we are taking care of Hoosiers now while creating substantial financial freedom and flexibility for our state in the future, and that's the kind of fiscal policy I believe is right for Indiana."

 

PORTER STATEMENT ON CLOSEOUT REPORT: Indiana's 2021 Fiscal Closeout Report, which official released Wednesday (July 14), showed a $1.818 billion annual surplus and combined reserves at almost $3.922 billion. State Rep. Gregory W. Porter (D-Indianapolis), a member of the State Budget Committee and Ranking Democrat on the Indiana House Ways and Means Committee made the following statement (Howey Politics Indiana): "The COVID-19 pandemic left a lot of uncertainties for Hoosiers and state lawmakers," Porter said. "We did not know what the future of the fiscal and physical health of our state would look like in years to come. Thanks to the recovery efforts of federal Democrats, the State of Indiana has continued to bounce back at rates no one could have predicted. "It was great to hear that the revenue forecasts for the next biennium exceeded expectations by an astronomical $1.212 billion in three short months since the release in April. These numbers are a clear demonstration that the Biden administration's post-pandemic recovery efforts are building our nation back better. Since the next revenue forecast update will not be until December 2021, no one knows how much more we could exceed projections in the remaining six months of the calendar year. However, if this robust recovery continues and legislation like the American Jobs Plan pass at the federal level, revenue growth could exceed anywhere between $1 and $2 billion. After statutory excess reserve transfers, like the Pre-1996 Teach Retirement Fund and the Automatic Tax Refund, Indiana will still be left with an embarrassment of riches that could be better used to help our state's human infrastructure. I am proposing that at least $300 million be transferred to the Minority Health Trust Fund, and the remaining dollars be split between a teacher pay raise in the 2023 budget and student loan debt relief."

 

BRAY REACTS TO LOW ILEARN RESULTS: Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) made the following statement today regarding the 2021 ILEARN results (Howey Politics Indiana): "Unfortunately, the ILEARN results we saw today are not overly surprising given the extremely challenging events and extenuating circumstances our students, teachers, schools and families have faced over the last year. Recognizing that would be the case, the legislature passed a law holding schools harmless for this year's results and allocated $150 million in grants for learning loss remediation caused by the pandemic. In total, we increased our state funding for K-12 by a record $1.9 billion, and we expect that money, coupled with the more than $3 billion in federal stimulus funding going to schools, will be used effectively to help our students recover. At no fault of anyone, our students now face a long road ahead to catch up in their studies. It will take a great effort on the part of our whole community – not just our educators, who no doubt play the most critical role of all – to help our students make up this ground. We must help them recover the learning loss they experienced, especially in reading and math, because their future, as well as our state's, depends on it."

 

SENATE DEMS COMMENT ON JOB BENEFIT OVERPAYMENTS: Some state senators talked Wednesday with I-Team 8 about the pandemic unemployment benefits (WISH-TV). State Sen. David Niezgodski, a Democrat from South Bend, said, “The way I understand it, this is not dollars that are being waived because of fraud. These are dollars that they are seeking to be waived through to no fault of these unemployed persons whatsoever. You know, most of them, they had no idea that they were getting overpayments.” News 8 has received more than 700 complaints about the Department of Workforce Development since Friday. Almost a third of the complaints sent to News 8 are about forced repayment of unemployment benefits. Those are benefits people were eligible for, but the state has since said it found issues and wants the money back. State Sen. Karen Tallian, a Democrat from Portage, said, “Look, we know that during the pandemic year there were over 800,000 individuals who made claims. DWD may have been understaffed before, but they were certainly understaffed and not prepared for that. You know, we don’t know exactly the reason for the overpayments.”

 

State

 

GOVERNOR: CROUCH STATEMENT ON FISCAL CLOSEOUT - Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch offered the following statement regarding the 2021 fiscal year close-out which resulted in $3.9 billion in combined reserves (Howey Politics Indiana). "As the former Auditor of State of Indiana, I’m elated to see the 2021 fiscal year close with $3.9 billion in our reserves. Our current Auditor of State, Tera Klutz, along with fiscal leaders in the State Budget Agency, General Assembly,  and throughout state government deserve praise for being good stewards of the taxpayer dollar. I'm happy to see a portion of this reserve being credited to Hoosiers.”

 

STATE: SULLIVAN ASSISTS TIPPECANOE COUNTY WITH VOTING EQUIPMENT - Indiana Secretary of State Holli Sullivan stopped by Tippecanoe County today. Her visit was part of her 92 county tour of Indiana (WLFI-TV). While she was in Lafayette she met Tippecanoe County Clerk Julie Roush. Secretary Sullivan helped Tippecanoe County secure new voting equipment. Along with helping out Tippecanoe County she has also started a program to confirm that voters' addresses are up to date by sending out postcards to people's homes. "When voters get that postcard in their mailbox they should check the information that it is your voter registration information," said Secretary Sullivan.  "Make sure your name is correct especially if there is a suffix also check your address." "They are then put into a classification as an active voter but we have them in a segment of our list where we ask for voter-verified information the next time they show up at their polling place," said Secretary Sullivan. Secretary Sullivan also helped Tippecanoe County obtain grant money to upgrade its voting equipment which will now give voters a paper ballot back up at the polls. "The biggest difference is that it has a Vpad which means a voter-verifiable paper trail so that people have a paper proof of what they voted for," said Tippecanoe County Clerk Julie Roush.

 

ISDH: WEDNESDAY COVID STATS - The Indiana Department of Health announced Wednesday that 612 additional Hoosiers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 through testing at state and private laboratories. That brings to 759,062 the number of Indiana residents now known to have had the novel coronavirus following corrections to the previous day’s dashboard. To date, 13,512 Hoosiers are confirmed to have died from COVID-19, an increase of six from the previous day. Another 426 probable deaths have been reported to date based on clinical diagnoses in patients for whom no positive test is on record. A total of 3,623,059 unique individuals have been tested in Indiana, up from 3,620,520 on Tuesday. A total of 10,994,218 tests, including repeat tests for unique individuals, have been reported to the state Department of Health since Feb. 26, 2020.

 

ISP: TO TEAM UP WITH TRUCKERS - Indiana State Police are cracking down on distracted drivers. The police department is teaming up with semi-truck companies (WSBT-TV). An officer will be traveling in the semi on the passenger side looking for any potential violations. Officials say they are focused on distracted driving and those who are not buckling up. Sergeant Ted Bohner with the Indiana State Police says the department has been vocal about this on social media.

 

ISP: TROOPER PULLS DRIVER TO SAFETY AFTER CAR STRUCK - An Indiana State Trooper "miraculously" wasn't injured after his patrol vehicle was struck in an early Wednesday crash (NWI Times). Indiana State Police Sgt. Glen Fifield said the trooper was rear-ended at a high speed by an impaired driver near Lake Station on Interstate 94. At 2:30 a.m. ISP was investigating a single-vehicle crash in the westbound lanes of I-80/94 by mile marker 12. Trooper Riley Hieb responded, parking his squad car on the inside shoulder with the emergency lights on. A westbound Chrysler 3000 then drove into the inside shoulder, hitting the squad car at a high speed, police said. The crash pushed the squad car off the roadway and into a grassy area. The Chrysler was disabled and stuck partially in the left lane. Fifield said Hieb escaped injury since he was outside of his squad car at the scene of the wreck.  The engine compartment in the Chrysler caught fire with the driver locked inside going in and out of consciousness. The trooper was able to break the window and pull the driver to safety.

 

ISP: TROOPER INJURED BY DRIVERLESS CAR - An Indiana State Trooper from the Sellersburg Post was injured Wednesday morning when a car being hauled on a flatbed trailer broke free from its cargo straps and rolled off a trailer on I-65 (WANE-TV). Shortly after 7 a.m., Trooper Jonathan Cain was on-duty and sitting stationary in the median on I-65 near the 33 mile marker. While he was there, a Chevrolet pickup truck, driven by Andrew Tarr, 40, of Seymour, pulling a flatbed trailer loaded with a Volkswagen Jetta was approaching the median where Trooper Cain was stationed.

 

IDEM: ALGAE ADVISORY FOR MISSISSINEWA LAKE - Mississinewa Lake has been placed under a blue-green algae advisory, and officials are warning swimmers that contact with the algae could cause rashes or nausea (Kokomo Tribune). The advisory was issued after the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) conducted testing at the lake on July 6. Swimming and boating are still permitted, but officials say to avoid contact with algae as well as swallowing water while swimming. Patrons should take a bath or shower with warm soapy water after coming in contact with the lake water. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources says to not use lake water for cooking or bathing, and to not allow pets to swim or drink water where algae are present.

 

ECONOMY: INDIANA SLIPS ON CNBC BUSINESS LIST - The Hoosier State is slipping — behind Illinois — in a widely watched list of the top U.S. states for business. The CNBC television network released its 14th "America's Top States for Business" rankings Tuesday, evaluating all 50 states on 85 different measures across 10 different categories deemed essential for business competitiveness (Carden, NWI Times). Overall, Indiana scored 19th of 50 for 2021, down eight slots from the state's 11th-place CNBC ranking in 2019. Illinois was 15th this year, up from 30th two years ago. According to the analysis, Indiana was strongest in infrastructure (3rd of 50), cost of doing business (9th), cost of living (10th) and business friendliness (12th). The Hoosier State fell approximately in the middle on CNBC's measures of economy (21st), access to capital (24th) and technology and innovation (25th). In fact, technology and innovation was the only category where Indiana improved in 2021 compared to 2019, thanks in part to a burgeoning technology sector centered on Indianapolis and new state support for data center investments, including the Digital Crossroad facility in Hammond.

 

PURDUE: DANIELS DEFENDS VAX DECISION - The President of Purdue University is defending the decision to not require students and staff to be vaccinated against coronavirus (WSBT-TV). Mitch Daniels says they are strongly encouraging everyone to get the shot, but he felt it should be a personal choice. "We are leaving the choice up to students and staff, but they will have to accept the consequences if something goes wrong. Now we have vaccines and we thought the right move was to give people choice." Daniels says the university is having success with vaccinations despite not mandating them. Plus -- he says Purdue is not having to deal with enforcement issues.

 

IU: JUDGE HEARS VACCINE INJUNCTION CASE - A federal judge in South Bend heard almost three hours of oral arguments Tuesday in a lawsuit brought by eight students against Indiana University. The group is seeking to stop IU’s COVID-19 vaccine policy until their lawsuit challenging its legality is complete (Indiana Public Media). The students’ attorney, James Bopp Jr., argued the Department of Health and Human Service’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System proves there are unknown risks associated with emergency-use vaccines. However, Judge Damon R. Leichty said the system is not peer-reviewed, scientific data. IU’s attorneys said a 1905 Supreme Court decision in Jacobson v. Massachusetts reinforces the university’s authority to mandate vaccines.

 

Nation

 

WHITE HOUSE: BIDEN PREPARING RANSOMWARE TASK FORCE - The Biden administration is preparing to announce a cross-government task force to combat ransomware attacks, following a series of high-profile hacks that underscored how cybersecurity weaknesses can wreak havoc on American society (Politico). Through the previously undisclosed task force, federal agencies are taking defensive actions, such as promoting digital resilience among critical infrastructure companies, and offensive ones, such as launching cyberattacks on ransomware operators, according to a Senate aide who requested anonymity to speak candidly. Agencies are also developing mechanisms for halting ransom payments made through cryptocurrency platforms, and they are coordinating all these activities with foreign allies, the aide said.

 

WHITE HOUSE: BUSH FEARS FOR AFGHAN WOMEN - As President Biden closes in on his promise to withdraw all U.S. troops after nearly 20 years in Afghanistan, the man who first sent them there has decided to weigh in. In an interview with German outlet Deutsche Welles published Wednesday, former President George W. Bush says the consequences of the pullout will be “unbelievably bad and sad” and he fears for women after NATO troops leave the country (Daily Beast). “I’m afraid Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm,” Bush said. “They’re just going to be left behind to be slaughtered by these very brutal people, and it breaks my heart.”

 

WHITE HOUSE: BIDEN/HARRIS SCHEDULES - President Biden's schedule: 9:30 a.m.: The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief.  11:45 a.m.: Biden and VP Harris will speak to mark the first day of Child Tax Credit payments being disbursed to tens of millions of families.  2 p.m.: Biden will host German Chancellor Merkel for an official working visit, including an expanded bilateral meeting at 2:25 p.m. and a joint press conference at 4:15 p.m. — 6:30 p.m.: The Bidens will host Merkel and her husband, Joachim Sauer, for dinner along with Harris, second gentleman Doug Emhoff and “others who have been supporters of the bilateral relationship with Germany.” Harris schedule: The VP will also host Merkel for a working breakfast at her residence at 9 a.m. Press secretary Jen Psaki will brief at 12:30 p.m. along with Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.

 

FBI: INDY OFFICE BUNGLED NASSAR CASE - Officials with the Indianapolis FBI office made false statements, failed to respond and exhibited "extremely poor judgment" in the handling of 2015 sexual abuse allegations against longtime USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, according to a new report from the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice (Evans, IndyStar). "Senior officials in the FBI Indianapolis Field Office failed to respond to allegations of sexual abuse of athletes by former USA Gymnastics physician Lawrence Gerard Nassar with the urgency that the allegations required," the inspectors general's office said in a statement. The Indianapolis officials didn't respond for 8 months, according to the report. The senior officials — then-Field Office Special Agent in Charge W. Jay Abbott and an unnamed Indianapolis Field Office Supervisory Special Agent — also lied in reports as well as in response to the inspectors general's questions.

 

TENNESSEE: STATE HALTS VAX OUTREACH TO MINORS - The Tennessee Department of Health will halt all adolescent vaccine outreach – not just for coronavirus, but all diseases – amid pressure from Republican state lawmakers, according to an internal report and agency emails obtained by the Tennessean. If the health department must issue any information about vaccines, staff are instructed to strip the agency logo off the documents (The Tennessean). The health department will also stop all COVID-19 vaccine events on school property, despite holding at least one such event this month. The decisions to end vaccine outreach and school events come directly from Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey, the internal report states. Additionally, the health department will take steps to ensure it no longer sends postcards or other notices reminding teenagers to get their second dose of the coronavirus vaccines. Postcards will still be sent to adults, but teens will be excluded from the mailing list so the postcards are not “potentially interpreted as solicitation to minors,” the report states.

 

HAWAII: AUDREY PENCE MARRIED - Audrey Pence, an associate at Covington and Burling, and Dan Tomanelli, a public sector manager at Orbital Insight and an NSC and DOD alum, recently married at The Beach House in Kauai in front of 80 guests (Politico Playbook). They had formally wed last November in Washington. The couple met in undergrad at Northeastern, and former VP Mike Pence walked his daughter down the aisle.

 

Local

 

FORT WAYNE: TRAA HAS PARAMEDIC SHORTAGE - Over the past few months, the lack of paramedics has caused a strain for several agencies statewide. In Fort Wayne, one paramedic says the Three Rivers Ambulance Authority (TRAA) is at a breaking point (WANE-TV). “It has been none stop,” said Jenise Danels, TRAA paramedic. “We are on track to double our runs with the least amount of staff as possible. Either we are on a run or moving post to post. We rarely have time for bathroom breaks, for food, and dispatch tries to accommodate but when 911 calls offensively we go.” TRAA is the City of Fort Wayne’s main ambulance service. However, the company also does runs in Allen County. There are other ambulance providers within the county, however, a majority of those are run by fire departments and depend on the township a resident lives in.

 

TERRE HAUTE: MAYOR BENNETT COMMENTS ON FERENCY DEATH - Mayor Bennett reflects on fallen officer Detective Greg Ferency a day after the funeral and procession (Indiana Public Media). More on the state's denial of a Terre Haute casino license... and a COVID-19 update. Joe Hren: A tragic week in Terre Haute - I watched some of the funeral services and the procession yesterday of slain Detective Greg Ferency, just no words. Bennett: No, there really isn't. It's our third police officer killed in the last 10 years here. And it's just kind of surreal. You know, when I heard about this last week, I was actually sitting here at my desk and saw the fire dispatch come across my phone. And so I walked down the back of the building, just to see what was going on. And as I got closer to the actual scene, and they said it was an officer down, man, I was just like, no, not again.

 

INDIANAPOLIS: FBI ARREST 10 IN CRIME SWEEP - Ten people were in custody Wednesday after the FBI conducted raids across Indianapolis as part of an investigation into violence and drug trafficking, a spokeswoman said (AP). FBI agents from Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Louisville, Kentucky as well as Indiana State Police and the Indianapolis and Fishers police departments conducted the raids, FBI spokeswoman Chris Bavender said. Additional details were expected to be released later, she said.

 

INDIANAPOLIS: PARKS DEPT TO BUY BROAD RIPPLE CENTER - Indy Parks said Tuesday that it expects to spend more than $20 million to purchase the planned family health and community center at Broad Ripple Park from the developer within one year of the building’s completion. The department told IBJ it plans to acquire the 40,000-square-foot facility to take full control of the property and avoid shelling out nearly $1 million per year as part of a long-term lease agreement it negotiated with owner-developer BR Health Holdings. “The agreement has a rent abatement for the first 12 months,” Ronnetta Spalding, chief information officer for Indy Parks, said in an email. “The plan is to purchase the building after that period.”

 

SOUTH BEND: REYNOLDS REFUSES TO RESIGN; RELEASES STATEMENT - Joshua Reynolds released this statement Tuesday (South Bend Tribune): "I am honored to have been chosen as Director of the Community Police Review Office. I look forward to embarking on the work of this important office. Recently, however, disciplinary actions taken against me when I served as an Indianapolis police officer were brought to the attention of the South Bend media. I would like to discuss my record here and assure the community these actions will not impair my ability to serve in my new position. I was employed at Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department for 9 years from April 2008 through March 2017. On two occasions, I reported different officers, one for ghost employment and one for abusive behavior. I experienced retaliation and isolation from my department and my peers for reporting these two officers. The Department proceeded to retaliate against me through poor treatment and disciplinary actions. I endured years of this without assistance or support from the city's Human Resources Department. So, I opted to report discrimination, harassment, and retaliation to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. I completed my complaint and IMPD responded by listing the same disciplinary actions now at issue. The EEOC completed an investigation and submitted their findings to IMPD and me. IMPD then offered to settle the claim if I agreed to not pursue further legal action. I accepted the offer and have a copy of the EEOC form to end the complaint. I have made repeated attempts to contact IMPD Human Resources regarding my personnel file within the past few days without the courtesy of a response."

 

SOUTH BEND: MUELLER HAS COUNCIL SUPPORT TO UTILITY UPGRADES — Mayor James Mueller has wide common council support for his team’s plan to upgrade the city’s aging water and sewer infrastructure while shoring up a cash-strapped trash program, but they disagree with his plan to pay for the costs solely through higher rates (Parrott, South Bend Tribune). They say too many people are still hurting financially from the pandemic, the city’s redevelopment commission has millions of dollars in unspent tax increment financing revenue, its general fund carries a roughly $103 million unrestricted cash reserve, and it’s sitting on $63 million in new federal American Rescue Plan money.

 

MUNSTER: PD GETS DUI SIMULATOR — Local business and organizations teamed up to support the Munster Police Department's initiative to educate youth on the dangers of impaired driving (NWI Times).  With generous donations from the Munster Rotary Club and the American Community Bank, the Munster Police Department was able to purchase two carts and pairs of simulation impairment goggles. The pedal carts can be used by children, teens and adults, to show them how dangerous it is to drive while impaired by alcohol.

 

MONROE COUNTY: COUNCIL PRESIDENT WON'T SEEK REELECTION - Monroe County Council President Eric Spoonmore announced this month he doesn’t plan on seeking reelection next year (Indiana Public Media). Spoonmore has served on the council since 2015, and said he wants to spend more time with his family. “I wanted to make an early announcement on this once I had really committed to not running," he said. "So that would provide plenty of time for any interested candidates, so that they could learn about the role, really do their research on it, and assemble their campaigns.”