RICH JAMES: Pence's agency shifts sound shifty

2014-05-11T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Pence's agency shifts sound shiftyBy Rich James nwitimes.com
May 11, 2014 12:00 am  • 

It has been three weeks since the story that Gov. Mike Pence was aligning agencies in a way that could lead to requiring out-of-work Hoosiers volunteer as a condition of receiving unemployment benefits.

That would be akin to forced labor, which pretty much came to a halt with the end of slavery.

Yet, it would be safe to say that those who were subjected to long hours and little pay before the advent of trade unions experienced forced labor, as well.

Pence denies he’s is thinking about tying volunteering to unemployment benefits.

Sparking the controversy was Pence’s move to rename the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, Serve Indiana, and putting the formerly independent state agency that promotes volunteerism under the authority of Workforce Development, which administers unemployment.

I guess the governor was saying, “Trust me.” That’s no easy task.

But Pence did go on to say that there is a link between volunteerism and finding a job.

While Pence denies linking the two agencies will lead to mandating volunteerism for benefits, there is a history of such legislation in eight states, including Indiana.

Although federal guidelines prohibit the volunteer requirement for unemployment benefits, Indiana Republicans haven’t been shy about thumbing their noses at the feds on a number of issues.

Indiana state Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, showed real compassion a couple years ago when he proposed a gradual increase in volunteer hours to maintain unemployment benefits. It grew to 40 hours a week after the 25th week.

Pence said merging the two agencies was all about streamlining government – both in terms of efficiency and cost.

Really, governor?

Was that what you had in mind last year when you created the Center for Education and Career Innovation?

And you did it by executive order without asking the Legislature that approves the state budget.

Is that what you had in mind when you stole from Peter to pay Paul to finance an agency that didn’t have a budget?

Is that what you had in mind when you decided the new agency would cut into the authority of Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, without even telling her the agency was being created?

Is that what you had in mind when you decided your new anti-Ritz agency needed 15 staffers, with the lead staffer making $120,000 annually?

Is that what you had in mind when it was determined that six of the 15 staffers would be paid more than $100,000 annually? And Republicans think they have a corner on fiscal conservatism.

Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane at the time said, “If the governor has ideas on how education can better align with job creation, I’m sure (Ritz) would be thrilled to hear them.”

I tell you, Tim, it sounds to me like this is all about power, not good government.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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