Editorial Roundup: Indiana

Anderson Herald-Bulletin. Nov. 19, 2021.

Editorial: Investing in teachers is investing in children

Indiana should do more to make teacher pay raises a reality. Increased teacher salaries would be good for students, parents and communities.

According to the National Education Association, Indiana ranks 38th for average starting salary, at $37,573, and 42nd in average salary, $51,745.

Indiana ranks below its neighboring states of Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio in average salary and is second to Illinois in average starting salary. Unfortunately, it is not a close second, with Illinois ranking 22nd in the nation.

According to Business.org, the national average salary for teachers is $56,310.

This year, state lawmakers approved a budget that called for Indiana schools to raise starting teacher salaries to $40,000. Many school systems across the state have met or made progress toward that goal.

On Monday, the Kokomo Tribune reported that all Howard County schools except Taylor have done so with new contracts this year. Taylor officials plan to meet the new minimum salary next year.

Elsewhere in the state, teachers have lobbied hard for better pay in recent weeks.

Anderson Community Schools were forced to switch from in-person classes to e-learning one day and to cancel classes completely another day after about 20% of ACS teachers took days off (using accrued paid time) amid unrest about contract negotiations between the teachers union and the school district.

Anderson teachers worried that a proposed pay raise would be insufficient to make up for growing insurance premiums, effectively causing a cut in teachers’ take-home pay.

After the teacher call-offs in Anderson, union leaders met with district officials and agreed on a proposed contract that would provide teachers with a base salary increase as well as stipends over the next two years. The additional money would be more than enough to make up for rising insurance premiums.

Collective bargaining gives workers the power to demand fair and reasonable wages, and the state should continue to do its part to make Indiana competitive in terms of teacher salary.

In public school systems, widespread teacher absences affect not only students but parents who have to make last-minute babysitting arrangements or miss a day of work.

Public schools are such an important part of our communities that the state should be doing more to ensure that teachers are paid fairly and receive regular raises.

State lawmakers should make it their business to ensure that the Hoosier state is a place where teachers are appropriately compensated for the important work they do for our children.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. Nov. 21, 2021.

Editorial: Leaders right in treading cautious path on tax cuts

Who doesn’t love a tax cut? Elected officials in line to take credit for them might be the biggest fans, particularly in an election year.

That’s why the hesitancy expressed by leadership in the Indiana Senate is worth heeding. Instead of rushing headlong into a tax-cut proposal pushed by the House GOP caucus, Senate Majority Floor Leader Mark Messmer said the discussion should wait for the 2023 budget session. The effects of federal COVID relief and stimulus programs flowing to Indiana have undoubtedly fueled more spending and state tax revenue.

“We can’t predict where the revenues will settle,” Messmer said last week. “We’ll obviously look at the revised forecast in December and consider anything the House sends to us, but we’re not looking at cutting taxes at this point.”

Most lawmakers haven’t been around the Statehouse long enough to remember how quickly the state’s fortunes can turn. Indiana was flush with cash when Gov. Frank O’Bannon delivered $1.2 billion in tax relief. The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, soon followed. Indiana lost 120,000 jobs and tax revenue dropped. The state was forced to make painful cuts in services.

In spite of the pandemic, there’s no argument the state is financially sound. The close of the fiscal year June 30 revealed a nearly $4 billion surplus, and tax revenue for the first four months of the current fiscal year is running more than $500 million above estimate.

But the budget surplus has already triggered the automatic taxpayer refund prescribed in state statute. About $550 million will go to Hoosiers filing income tax returns, while another $550 million goes to pension relief. On the taxpayer refund, single filers are likely to see a tax credit of about $170, while those filing a joint return will see about $340.

But that’s not enough for House Speaker Todd Huston, who said at a legislative preview luncheon Monday that his caucus is considering an income tax rate reduction or additional tax credits.

The state’s current rate is 3.23% – lower than all of its neighboring states. The sales tax rate, considered a regressive tax, is 7% in Indiana – higher than all neighboring states.

“We’ll have a bill that makes sure at the end of the day we’re giving money back to Hoosier taxpayers,” Huston said.

Gov. Eric Holcomb’s comments suggest he favors a more thorough discussion of tax cuts. The 2023 budget session is better suited for that discussion. It allows more time for the uncertain economic effects of the recession to play out. It also allows more time for Hoosiers to weigh in on tax policy.

Billions of federal tax dollars have been pumped into the Indiana economy over the past two years. Allowing some time for the effects of spending those dollars is in line with the cautious approach Indiana residents are known for.

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Columbus Republic. Nov. 19, 2021.

Editorial: City, county animal abuse rules need consistency

Stepped-up enforcement of animal cruelty allegations in Bartholomew County have put renewed attention on a disturbing problem recently while also showing a need for consistency in how pets and their owners are treated, regardless of whether they live in the city or in the county.

With cold weather bearing down, it’s a perfect time to revisit how we treat our pets individually and as a community.

Here’s a timely example: the sight of dogs left chained up outdoors in frigid weather, sometimes even without shelter. This is a situation that’s beyond chilling — it’s cruel and it’s dangerous — yet it’s an upsetting sight we still see from time to time.

A couple of years ago, Columbus passed an ordinance requiring dogs be sheltered when the temperature falls below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s a good, commonsense regulation for animal owners to abide by, and it isn’t too much to ask of county residents who own dogs.

Bartholomew County should adopt this Columbus ordinance so that pet owners and animal control officers have clear and consistent expectations, at least where this potentially deadly circumstance is concerned.

Furthermore, the city and county would do well to work together to develop comprehensive minimum standards explicitly clarifying what constitutes animal cruelty and neglect.

We see from 911 activity that animal control units are dispatched numerous times every day (too often for allegations of animal abuse), but they may lack clear guidance on when an enforcement action is merited, or even when a pet owner has crossed a line. These officers understandably have broad discretion, but when a condition is obviously dangerous — such as leaving an animal chained outdoors in the freezing cold — animal control officers must have the authority to act in the animal’s best interest.

Recently, county commissioners were asked by a group called “Change 4 Bartholomew County – Animal Advocacy,” which has more than 700 members, to restrict the length of time dogs may be continuously tethered or chained outdoors. They suggested adopting a Florida county’s rules that forbid dogs from being chained for more than eight hours in any 24-hour period, among other things.

Other members of the group urged the county to specify through clear language in its ordinances what constitutes animal abuse.

We agree that changes are needed. So is consistency.

The city and county have an opportunity here to act boldly to set some basic minimum standards to prevent the abuse and mistreatment of pets, and clearly, plenty of people of good will are eager to help. Our leaders should appoint a panel of community stakeholders to not only rewrite vague regulations, but to raise the expectations we set for pet owners. Let this be a democratic process from the ground up that considers many voices and points of view with the simple goal of making this city and county a great place to be a dog or cat.

Maybe that’s all pie-in-the-sky thinking.

But let’s agree right now to a first basic minimum standard, for dogs’ sake: Don’t leave your dogs chained up out in the freezing cold. That should be a rule that doesn’t end at the Columbus city limits.

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