Election winners will face tough choices on major issues

2012-10-28T00:00:00Z Election winners will face tough choices on major issuesBy Dan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com
October 28, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The candidates in today's election guide guide who win election on Nov. 6 will almost immediately be tasked with devising solutions to problems that, in some cases, have plagued schools and local and state government for years.

How an elected official handles that responsibility while simultaneously advancing a personal agenda for change will ultimately determine his or her individual success and the long-term outlook for life in Northwest Indiana.

Here's a look at some of the major issues that are expected to soon shape public policy.

Transportation -- Northwest Indiana residents and businesses are ideally situated to take advantage of numerous expressways, rail lines, airports and sea ports. However, some of the region's infrastructure is crumbling, such as the Cline Avenue Bridge and many local roads, while new roads to relieve congestion, such as the Illiana Expressway, are still years away.  

How to pay for infrastructure improvements in a time of tight budgets is a major ongoing issue. At the state level, nearly all funds from the 2006 Indiana Toll Road lease have been spent, as planned, on road improvements throughout Indiana, meaning the new governor and Legislature must find new ways to pay if Indiana is to continue its road building boom. Local governments, limited by property tax caps, are increasingly finding the money just isn't there for big road projects.

Meanwhile, the Regional Bus Authority recently shut down bus service due to a lack of local funding. Northwest Indiana's best shot at reviving regional bus service might be to hitch a ride, so to speak, with Indianapolis-area lawmakers seeking state permission for a central Indiana transit referendum.

Education -- Competition in education has most definitely come to Indiana, with families able to choose between public schools, charter schools and private schools, often at little to no cost. All schools are now graded by the state, and teacher salaries are increasingly determined by student achievement on standardized tests.

After four years of near-constant upheaval in education, most -- but not all -- state lawmakers are ready to take a break and see how local school corporations implement the many reforms they've enacted. Board members in some school districts have been pushing back, while others have embraced the reforms. Overall, test scores and graduation rates are up, but they're rising just as fast in traditional public schools as charter or voucher schools.

At the same time, a few school corporations are struggling to pay big debts taken on for new buildings and facilities back when there was less competition in education.

Taxes -- Property tax caps have collectively saved Hoosiers hundreds of millions of dollars that would have otherwise been to paid to local governments. However, it's increasingly clear the reduced revenue cannot pay for the services residents expect, prompting local governments to consider new fees or consolidation.

Separately, Lake County's spending has been limited by the state because it is the only Indiana county that refuses to impose a county income tax. A vote for the tax would bring in needed revenue and unfreeze the county's tax levy.

At the state level, the candidates for governor have promised to reduce taxes, but legislative leaders are wary about eliminating revenue as the Republican-controlled body is unlikely to ever vote to increase taxes. Another significant economic downtown could force the state, which now enjoys a $2 billion budget reserve, to cut money for education and other state-funded programs and services.

Health care-- Until Obamacare is repealed (if it ever is), state officials will determine how and whether the federal health law is implemented in Indiana. That includes deciding next year what kinds of health insurance policies will be sold in the state, what they will cover and, to some extent, how much individuals will pay to purchase their insurance. Refusing to implement Obamacare would leave those decisions to the federal government.

In addition, some state lawmakers have shown an eagerness to control coverages for Hoosiers receiving Medicare and Medicaid, though it would take an act of Congress to give that power to the state. 

Gambling-- For better or worse, gambling is a huge industry and major employer in Northwest Indiana. The region's casinos face new competition from slots in bars in Illinois, a potential Chicago casino and new casinos in Michigan and Ohio. Gary officials plan to seek state permission for a land-based casino in the Steel City, but after failing several times in prior years they face a tough road to success.

Social issues -- No one seems to campaign on social issues in Indiana, but once the elections are over the social issue agendas come out. State lawmakers are all but certain to deal with proposals for constitutional amendments banning gay marriage and establishing "personhood" begins at conception; and legislation encouraging the teaching of creationism in public schools and imposing new restrictions on access to abortion. Schools boards and local governments will likely also confront similar issues.

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