RICH JAMES: Too many negatives define Hoosier state

2014-04-13T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Too many negatives define Hoosier stateRich James nwitimes.com
April 13, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Just a week ago, the front page of this newspaper provided a microcosm of what Indiana is all about.

On the lower left corner, Gov. Mike Pence talked about luring businesses to Indiana because of the wonderful tax climate.

On the lower right corner was a report about Indiana being 45th in the nation in infant mortality, meaning that in only five states do more babies die before their first birthday.

Welcome to Indiana where business is king, and the health of babies isn’t much of a priority.

What Pence failed to mention is it takes more than a favorable tax climate to make a state attractive to business and industry.

And that’s where Indiana is lacking.

There are other stories when it comes to Northwest Indiana -- or the state in general -- being an attractive place. While there are positives, there are too many high-profile negatives.

The state’s public education system, which once was a model for the nation, has been under attack by former Gov. Mitch Daniels, Pence and the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

Teachers have lost rights, including the ability to negotiate key portions of their contracts. They no longer are treated as professionals.

Charter schools are popping up quicker than tulips -- all at the expense of public schools.

And it isn’t clear whether Pence or Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz is in charge of education.

The Legislature also has made it clear gays will be treated as second-class citizens, and unions aren’t terribly welcome because of the state’s right-to-work “for a lower wage” law.

And when we are talking about the state’s relationship with Northwest Indiana, things get worse.

Five years after the Cline Avenue Bridge was closed, there hasn’t been a yard of concrete poured to get the thing reopened.

Because the state refused to rebuild the bridge, it will be constructed as a toll road by the private sector. NWI’s blue-collar workers will pay for it. Imagine, a toll road running through one of the most heavily industrialized areas in the country. Steelworkers will have to pay to drive to work.

But who cares? Business taxes are low.

Potential businesses might also want to consider that Cline Avenue -- the region’s industrial thoroughfare -- was closed for a few days during the winter. Road surface decay, resulting from state neglect, made it too dangerous for vehicles.

And businesses might want to consider that $400 million in new highway money won’t be spent in Lake or Porter counties.

But Pence can boast about the business climate. He also can talk about the $2 billion the state has in the bank while babies are dying, roads are crumbling and schools are cutting staff and programs because of a lack of funding.

That, my friends, is Honest to Goodness Indiana.

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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