Editorial Roundup: Indiana

Indianapolis Business Journal. August 12, 2022.

Editorial: Impact of abortion ban demands review

When Indiana punches above its weight class or fixes government missteps, it’s usually because the state’s most influential corporate citizens have helped lead the way.

In the 1960s, J. Irwin Miller, the longtime CEO at diesel engine maker Cummins, was one of the strongest corporate and religious supporters of the civil rights movement.

In 2015, major employers across the state revolted against the state’s misguided Religious Freedom Restoration Act and secured a change that specified the law did not authorize discrimination against LGBT customers, employees and tenants.

Earlier this year, Eli Lilly and Co. CEO David Ricks boldly called on the state to improve its education system and reduce health care costs if it wanted to remain economically competitive in bids to attract new jobs and corporate investment.

This history of corporate leadership is what makes it so confounding to understand why Lilly and Cummins didn’t step more squarely into Indiana’s recent debate on abortion rights until after the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Eric Holcomb had already enacted a near-total abortion ban.

While both companies likely were making their opposition known behind the scenes (Cummins acknowledged as much), they waited until after the law was passed to publicly issue statements.

Just hours after Holcomb signed Senate Bill 1 into law, both companies issued statements saying the measure would limit the ability to attract and retain a diverse and talented workforce in Indiana. Both said the new law also would cause them to look to other states for growth opportunities, with Lilly being a bit more insistent on that front.

“Given this new law, we will be forced to plan for more employment growth outside our home state,” Lilly said.

Many smaller entities expressed similar concerns before the Legislature took final action. Several hundred companies signed a petition circulated by the American Civil Liberties Union opposing the abortion ban.

But without Indiana’s corporate behemoths publicly joining the fight, the opposition didn’t hold much sway with GOP lawmakers set on passing new abortion restrictions in a hurried two-week special session.

We’re not suggesting that public opposition from Indiana corporate giants would have stopped the GOP’s anti-abortion freight train, or that it should have been halted altogether.

But we do think a more organized, united and visible corporate front might have slowed the rush enough to allow for a thoughtful debate that more fully took into account the new law’s impact on women, health care providers and the state’s economic future.

Instead, Indiana ended up with a rushed law that seemed to please few, allowing narrow exceptions to the abortion ban for rape, incest, fatal fetal anomaly, and to protect the life or health of the mother.

Abortion-rights supporters said the restrictions went too far, while anti-abortion purists said it didn’t go far enough. And often lost in the debate were the law’s potential economic impacts on the state.

If Indiana’s largest corporate citizens truly believe the effects will be as severe as they’ve described, they need to loudly and publicly tell the Legislature to fix the law when lawmakers reconvene in January.

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Anderson Herald Bulletin. August 11, 2022.

Editorial: How about addressing real needs?

The fact that Indiana has billions of dollars available to hand out in tax refunds might seem like a good thing, but is it really?

Few Indiana taxpayers are likely to turn down the refunds that will soon be coming their way, but should we really be happy about the idea that our state has managed to accumulate more than $6 billion it doesn’t need?

And just to be clear, these refunds don’t come without a cost. State officials say the new round of refunds could cost somewhere around $3.4 million to process and around $800,000 to send out.

That’s in addition to the $1 billion or so the state estimates it will spend on the actual refunds.

The windfalls approved last week will come on top of the $125 rebates lawmakers approved during their regular session, refunds the Indiana Department of Revenue is still trying to distribute.

This new round of money was included in a bill that earmarked about $75 million to social services programs for mothers and children in anticipation of the needs prompted by the state’s newly imposed abortion ban.

Speaking to Indianapolis television station WTHR Channel 13, state Rep. Ed DeLaney, a Democrat from Indianapolis, asked if the repeated tax refunds didn’t just represent a way for lawmakers to avoid investing in programs that might address the state’s real needs.

“Is that what we’re doing here?” he asked. “We’re choosing between dribbling out money and making long-term investments in our schools and the possibility of things like passenger rail or lower tuition? Is that the choice we’re making? We’ll dribble it out rather than have an investment strategy?”

Of course, he wasn’t so offended as to vote against giving Hoosiers a tax break.

“I support the refund but want to move on to real planned investments in universities, passenger rail, public health and local roads,” he said. “We have the resources. As the CEO of Lilly suggested, we are falling behind in attracting people and businesses.”

DeLaney was referring to comments by David Ricks of Eli Lilly in a speech last spring to the Economic Club of Indiana. Ricks, CEO of one of Indiana’s largest employers, noted that Indiana’s workforce was struggling to keep up with the skill set many employers need. At the same time, he said, health care costs are too high, and Black and brown Hoosiers are the most likely to suffer.

Both Ricks and DeLaney are right. Tax refunds are nice, but programs to address our state’s many needs are far more important.

What could $6 billion do to improve public transportation or public health or public education? What could it do to improve the lives of Hoosiers?

Those are the sorts of questions our state’s leaders really ought to be asking.

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Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. August 14, 2022.

Editorial: Adopt proposal to increase public health spending 65%, Indiana

Indiana ranked five spots better than the year before on business channel CNBC’s annual list of America’s Top States for Business, released Aug. 1. The Hoosier State performed well in three categories in 2022 – infrastructure, cost of doing business, and cost of living – propelling it from 19th in 2021 to 14th this year.

The state’s business rankings are a source of pride for legislators and Gov. Eric Holcomb, who can brag of nine straight balanced budgets, Indiana’s Triple A credit rating and the billions of dollars in reserve funds.

But when it comes to public health, Indiana performs poorly compared to the rest of the nation. Atlanta-based Sharecare, a digital health care company, partnered with Boston University School of Public Health and ranked Indiana 41st on its list of the healthiest states in 2021.

In August of last year, Holcomb established the Governor’s Public Health Commission and charged its 15 members with examining the strengths and weaknesses in Indiana’s public health system and making recommendations for improvements.

Last week, the commission submitted a 107-page report to Holcomb. It advocated starting a health care workforce plan to mitigate shortages, increasing access to state data for local health departments and setting up a strategic equipment stockpile, as well as stepping up public health spending by about 65%.

Indiana ranks 48th in public health funding, spending about $55 per Hoosier or $36 less than the national average of $91 per person. The commission wants to close the funding gap by $36 per resident at a cost of about $243 million.

Programs that combat problems associated with infant mortality, smoking, obesity and children’s health top the list of services provided inconsistently because of funding deficits at the county level, said Mindy Waldron, a member of the commission and administrator of the Allen County Department of Health.

“With additional funding dedicated to public health services in Indiana, and specifically at the local level, local health departments could begin to conduct proactive versus reactive public health service provisions,” she said.

Luke Kenley, co-chair of the commission and former chairman of the state Senate Appropriations Committee, emphasized that transparency played an important role in the commission’s process. Members hosted seven listening sessions across the state, and read every comment it received online or at its public meetings. The former senator even sent reports to lawmakers after each listening session.

Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle – a member of the Appropriations Committee – said he hasn’t been briefed by Kenley, but believes “there’s probably a need” for increasing public health funding in Indiana.

“I know there’s a breakdown of certain segments of our population that need some help, and I think we need to take a good, hard look at it,” Holdman said. “I’m sure it’ll be near the top of the agenda of the governor’s budget proposal (next session).”

Holcomb should go all-in on the Public Health Commission’s funding and other recommendations.

County health departments have one of the 10 lowest expenditures per capita in the nation, and their workforces are ill equipped to deal with the communicable disease issues they currently face, such as COVID-19, monkeypox and sexually transmitted diseases.

Increased and sustainable funding, more staffing and better trained public health officials can lead to better public health outcomes, and the cost of preventive care is far less than addressing the aftereffects of disease.

Research suggests such improvements can buttress economic development – and maybe drive Indiana even higher on future lists of America’s Top States for Business.

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