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February 28, 2010

Everyday Hoosiers will select Bayh replacement

Who are the 32 Democrats statewide who will vote to replace Evan Bayh on the November ballot?  Well, me for one.  
I am a mom, a wife, a fellow resident of Noble County, and a full time worker in the private sector.  I am also a member of the Indiana Democratic Central Committee, which is what qualifies me as a vote.
The Democratic Party structure starts with the voters.  Voters elect precinct committee members on the ballot.  Precinct committee members elect county chairs.  County chairs elect district chairs.  District Chairs elect the state party chair.
The district chairs and their vice chairs are the core of the state committee.  Indiana has nine congressional districts, so 18 of the 32 votes are represented in this model.  I am the Third Congressional District chair.
Other voting members of the State Committee are the state party chair, state party vice-chair, state secretary, state treasurer, constituency groups, DNC (Democratic National Committee) members and deputy chairs.  All voting members of the Indiana State Central Committee are listed at www.indems.org under the “Contact” tab.
With the resignation of Senator Bayh coming so late in the election calendar, we have been working to clarify the replacement process as quickly as possible for the public.  The State Committee is committed to a transparent process that demonstrates our commitment to democracy and to the citizens of Indiana.
The state committee vote will not happen until after the May primary.  A number of candidates have declared interest in the position.  
As a representative for the Democratic Party, I will listen to input from our constituents and weigh the input prior to making a decision.  There are people just like me all over the Great State of Indiana who are doing the same thing for their home districts.   
We are everyday citizens, who happen to have a big decision to make.  

Carmen Darland
Third District Democratic Party Chair
www.indems3.org


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February 25, 2010

Economic growth starts with educating Hoosier students first

In the summer of 2003 when Mitch Daniels’ newly christened RV1 was making its inaugural lap through the highways and byways of our great state, a group of young Hoosiers organized a rally in Columbia City.  I was proud to lead this group and welcome them to my grandparents’ property for Mitch’s first trip to Whitley County.  We titled our rally “We Want to Stay.”  Nearly 250 college students and young professionals from every corner of the state gathered to send the future governor and many media outlets a message: we stood for Mitch because Mitch stood for opportunity for young Hoosiers.  We were on the verge of entering the Indiana workforce, and Mitch gave us hope.

While Governor Daniels has worked hard to spur economic development and put our state on the right track for a comeback, the economic downturn has created the perfect storm of unacceptably high unemployment and rising budget deficits.  These issues have taken center stage at our state legislature where the Governor has valiantly led efforts to cut state spending without raising taxes.

As a candidate for State Senate District 17, putting unemployed and underemployed Hoosiers back to work is priority number one.  In order to get there, we must focus on better educating our Hoosier workforce.  As companies expand and search for locations to build their business, they first ask Indiana economic development specialists whether the available workforce has the necessary skills to fill their jobs.  There is an important trend in Indiana public universities that we must address if we want those questions answered with an emphatic “yes.” 

Indiana and Purdue Universities are accepting an increasing percentage of out of state students each year in order to receive out of state tuition rates to cover budget deficits.  This trend hits home as I consider that my slightly better than average high school grades may not have been enough to earn me a spot at Indiana University and the opportunity to become the first in my family to graduate from college if I were applying today, rather than 13 years ago.  But more importantly, it concerns me greatly for young Hoosiers applying to pursue an education at I.U. or Purdue today.

Consider this: according to I.U. “Fact Books”, since 2004, the out of state student population has risen one percent each year and in 2009, the total percentage of I.U. out of state freshmen was an astonishing 45 percent.  Compare that with 2002 when the total out of state percentage was just 21 percent according to the same source. 

I’ve done enough research to see that this issue isn’t unique to Indiana.  In fact, states all across the country are wrestling with it.  With nowhere to turn to make up for budget deficits, college presidents are opting to increase the number of out of state students for the extra cash.  This is, of course, to the detriment of young Hoosier students and ultimately, to our economic recovery. 

As a result, some states have determined to cap the percentage of out of state students their state universities can enroll.  The caps vary widely, but all have the same goal: provide opportunity for in state students to attend college who, in turn, will be likely to enter the state workforce well-educated and primed to make a valuable contribution to the state’s economy. 

In Colorado the cap is nearly 50 percent while in North Carolina it is 18 percent.  Here in Indiana, a Democrat State Representative has sponsored a bill, House Bill 1141, to cap the out of state percentage at 25 percent of any freshman class at our public universities. 

As a legislator, I would push for a cap on the out of state student population in our public universities.  I believe we must work to ensure that every capable Indiana high school student who wants to attend one of our taxpayer subsidized universities has the opportunity to do so. 

With a state average of nearly 10 percent unemployment as of December of 2009 and closer to 12 percent throughout the 17th Senate District, we cannot afford to fund our state colleges and universities to pay for the education of New York and Illinois students.  It is time to demand that our public institutions of higher learning welcome as many Hoosier students as possible.  If we don’t turn back this trend now, the education gap in our state will be one statistic that will very much hinder our road to an economic comeback. 

Jim Banks is a Whitley County Councilman, Director of Business Development at Hagerman Construction, Graduate of Indiana University-Bloomington and a candidate for State Senate District 17.  Visit his website at www.JimBanks.us.    


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February 20, 2010

Unemployment Insurance Fund will knock businesses right back down

By State Representative Dan Leonard

As our nation continues to crawl its way out of the worst economic hole since the Great Depression, many businesses are beginning to stand on their own feet again. But, recent legislation to increase taxes on employers’ contributions to the Unemployment Insurance Fund will knock businesses right back down again.
One thing every Hoosier business owner has in common, whether they are thriving or surviving, is the cost of unemployment insurance premiums for each employee. Due to our country’s recent economic struggles the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund has taken a major hit.
The Unemployment Insurance Fund is currently operating under a $1.5 billion deficit, forcing the State of Indiana to borrow the money from the federal government to cover unemployment benefit payments. The money loaned from the federal government must be repaid. The Unemployment Insurance Fund is paid for totally by employers.
In an effort to shore up the fund, during the 2009 legislative session, the House Democrats passed one of the biggest tax increases in state history for businesses on their Unemployment Insurance premiums. That legislation passed without one House Republican vote.
Now, my House Republican colleagues and I are calling for the General Assembly to pass Senate Bill (SB) 23 delaying the tax increase for one year. Instead of addressing the needs of the unemployed, the House Democratic Majority has chosen to play election year politics with SB 23. This is a time when businesses are already struggling due to the economy, and we do not need to add an additional tax burden to employers. Passing SB 23 is the number one thing the General Assembly can do to grow and create jobs.
If the tax delay does not pass, then  approximately 80,000 small, medium and large businesses employing over two million Hoosiers would see a tax increase ranging anywhere from $9-748 per employee. This tax increase does not create a positive hiring environment for employers.
For the last two sessions, I have been a member of the House Labor and Employment Committee as the Ranking Minority Member. This week our committee heard SB 23, the legislation that delays unemployment tax increases. Unfortunately, House Democrats placed an amendment on the bill loaded with “poison pills.”
The amendment to SB 23 reduces property taxpayer protection by raising the floor for referenda by 50%.  For example, an elementary school project costing taxpayers $14.9 million in increased property taxes is subject to a referendum today.  Under the terms of this amendment, citizens would no longer have that protection.  At a time when far too many of my constituents are unemployed or underemployed, I cannot in good faith support stripping away property taxpayer protection.
The amendment also creates an increase to unemployment benefits so no one receiving the maximum can earn less than $390 per week or $10.37 an hour. Currently, 40 percent (or 104,000) unemployed Hoosiers are drawing from the maximum benefits. This part of the amendment would only give benefit increases to those receiving the maximum allotment.
In addition, it would remove the requirement to apply for a job on a weekly basis. This means unemployed Hoosiers could receive unemployment and not be asked to search for a job.
As we finish the 2010 legislative session, be assured that I will continue to fight for Indiana employers and unemployed Hoosiers by creating jobs and passing legislation to delay the unemployment insurance tax increase. We need to create an atmosphere to encourage job creation and to get unemployed Hoosiers back to work. It is time to put party differences aside and work together for these goals.


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