Monday, February 16, 2009

County Commissioners retain final decision over whether to create single County Executive

House Bill 1234 which is now in the senate, seeks to enact some of the controvesial measures proposed by the Kernan-Shephard report. These recommendations are designed to streamline local government and in many cases cede much of their control over to the state. The one the bill's main functions was the elimination the three member Board of County Commissioners which would be replaced by a single elected County Executive. This plan was halted in committee today with a bipartisan amendment to put the final decision in the Board of Commissioners itself. According to the new amendment the Board has four options; they enact the legislation, put the legislation up for a referendum vote, reject legislation, or appoint a county board of supervisors.

Former St Joseph Republican County Commissioner Mark Dobson was in favor of the legislation citing that it would better streamline government. Critics of this bill -- and many of the other Kernan-Shephard recommenations -- say that this would hurt the checks and balances that are currently provided for in the commissioner system. Mitch Daniels appointed former Governor Joe Kernan and Chief Justice Randall Shephard to a commission in 2006 to find ways to streamline local governments in Indiana in order to save the state money. Many experts say that even if all of the recommendations were enacted, there would be very little monetary savings on the part of governments and would reduce acountabilty of the electorate by creating a stronger central state government.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

House Bill focuses on yard signs

HB 1085 authored by Indiana State Representative Craig Fry (D-Mishawaka) seeks to limit the restrictions enacted by homeowners associations on political yard sign placement. Many subdivisions in the Greater South Bend area have enacted ordinances against yard signs. Some neighborhoods in Granger have placed penalties of up to $500 per day in some cases for residents who choose to place a political sign in their yard. Rep. Fry believes that the situation has gotten out of hand.

Those who oppose the bill cite arguments that it can make neighborhoods look messy and could sometimes drive down property values. Proponents of the bill, however, say that Rep. Fry is taking necessary steps to protect citizen's 1st amendment rights; especially that of "political" free speech. Supporters argue that homeowner's associations have chose either enforce or relax these regulations based on their own political agendas.

The Journal believes that political free speech in particular has been upheld numerous times by judicial precedence in this state. HB 1085 is important to protecting homeowner's associations from potential legal action by those forced to pay fines. As for property values, if someone decides not to move in next to a house with different politics, so be it. What kind of nation are we if we cannot publicy express our own political views.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


The South Bend Journal will return on February 12th. Stay tuned South Bend.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

South Bend Airport expansion gets national attention

The expansion of a new two-story tall terminal at the South Bend Regional Airport is all the buzz in the travel world and even in the mainstream media. The trendy travel website,, did a story questioning South Bend's need for such an ambitious project. The story said that the city was just a small college town with its nearest tourist attraction being Shipshewanna. HA!Jaunted says that South Bend has no need for the $12 million in federal funds for this project.

The USA Today newspaper even picked up on the story pointing out that the airport has only "two small concourses with no food service beyond the security checkpoint" (USA Today). In fact, that's not the only issue with the airport as it is right now. Allegiant is planning international flights to Cancun, MX and South Bend's current terminal does not yet meet TSA regulations for international flights. There is a major inconvenience for passengers to have to walk outside to enter their planes because the terminal is at the ground level. This is especially akward for the increasing number of flight diversions of jumbo planes out of Chicago because of South Bend's uniquely long runway.

John Schalliol from the Airport Authority says that we need to start the construction now in anticipation of the increased business traffic due to the nanotechnology park. South Bend has already seen a marked increase in airline traffic this year, during a time when not as many people are flying anymore. Schalliol seems to believe that this is due in large part to business travel related to the opening of South Bend's Innovation Park and Ignition Park. The money has already been awarded to South Bend for the project and contruction bids on the project start this spring.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Legislature to vote on an alternative tax model

It looks like the LOIT (local option income tax) may not be the only tool in the belt for resolving deficit issues in St Joseph County. Rep. David Wolkins (R-La Grange) has authored a bill (HB 1031) that would allow certain local governments in the state to enact a 1% LOGRT (local option gross retail tax). The bill is being sent to committee next week, and would give municipalities designated by the Indiana Office of Tourism as "outstanding Indiana tourist destinations", the ability to levy up to a 1% excise tax on all products currently paying a retail tax.

There have not been any concrete economic feasabilty studies done yet to see what kind of revenue could be generated for governments in St Joe County, but it will definitely be able help to off-set at least some of the large deficits we have. A consumption or excise tax, such as this, would be a much easier tax to sell politically to cizitens of this county. A retail tax taxes only those who have the ability to purchase, while those who are trying to save money are not affected. The greater your ability to spend, the greater contribution you pay -- the more of your money you save or use for bills or groceries, the less contribution you make.

The problem many taxpayers have with the LOIT is that it taxes everyones income the same percentage. In that scenario, families which are struggling paycheck-to-paycheck to get by would be unfairly taxed. If the bill is passed into law, the local goverments would then have to decide if this is tax would even be beneficial enough to enact. Crowe and/or Umbaugh accounting firms would be hired to figure out how much revenue would be create versus the burden on taxpayers. The decision to enact such an ordinance would have to come from the local councils.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

OPINION: The New Economy of Innovation, Communication and Transportation

Global experts are stressing that as the United States and global economies emerge from these trying financial times within the next 4 to 8 years, it will be entering into an entirely new economy altogether. The economy we have now is based primarily on 'profits and growth'. This has accounted for an outrageous portion of our economy to be built around financial markets, housing markets, and land use development. Sub-economies upon sub-economies upon countless of sub-economies have been built around these foundation economies to get us where we are today. These economies have provided our country and other portions of the world with unparalleled standards of living, technological inovations, and supporting revenue that has allowed governments to maintain vital infrastructure improvements.

The premise for these economic machinations have been around for centuries -- each generation adding more diversity to the global economic portfolio. There have been many game-changers throughout history that guided our global economies (for better, or worse) to where we are today: advent of gunpowder, the Mongol hordes, the industrial revolution, European discovery of the New World. Right now, we are at the end of an era, whose beginnings were marked by the Great Depression and World War II. Rather than look at these instances as beginnings, however, it would be more prudent to see these events as transitions in our economic landscapes.

If the period of financial crisis we are in right now does not represent one of those transitions, then it at least represents a significant mile-marker. As a newer world economy starts to take shape almost a decade from now, it will have shed some of its tendancies of the financial sector growth and profit speculation. Things such as Innovation, Communication, and to a smaller extent Transportation will be added to supplement our global economic portfolio.

Don't believe it? Let's put it into a little better perspective. The use of computers and the internet has represented a very significant mile-maker to the human experience. But so far, has mostly expanded to the extent that it has greatly bolstered our financial sector by the exponential growth of newer markets. The world still pretty much looks the same...yeah, we have quicker access to information, but we still keep talking about the "still undiscovered potential of the internet". This is because it is being held back in a sense that it can only grow so far as its ability to generate profits allow it to. There is evidence to this during the boom of the 90's. While we abviously have more content now, there isn't as diverse of uses as there was then. Before the boom burst, there were all sorts of cool free things: free computer phone calling, 24-hour neighborhood or urban surveillance systems, and tons of other cool things long forgotten.

Transportation is another example of stunted growth by our economy: we still drive cars with combustion engines. period. Not only that, but the vehicles still all use antiquated mostly analog devices such as foot pedals, turn key ignition, etc. Nothing has really changed much in the past 80 or so years since mass production started. We still use the exact same nasty polluting energy source that we drudge out of the ground to operate them. This is a far cry from the innovative human spirit that had children growing up back in the 1950's doodling pictures of flying cars in their school books.

The focus of the new economy will have a much greater emphasis on innovation, communication, and transportation than what is currently the situation which our economy's main proprierter's like financials, profits and land development growth. It is hard from many people's fiscally conservative views to accept that fact that without market driven profits, there could be much innovation. In all actuallity, there will be MORE innovation this way. Innovation is currently merely a by-product of a market driven economy. Look at where all of the major intellectual developments have come from over the past 60 years -- government funded university studies, NASA, the military, world wide internet infrastructure, subsidation of alternative fuels...the harnessing of nuclear energy and the creation of the atomic bomb were all done in a government laboratory.

First published in 1951, the novel The Foundation by Issac Asimov envisioned a future with limitless energy through the use of nucleics (items and energy sources that use advanced forms of nuclear power). Coal and Oil, however, are treated as commodities in our financial system, thus an integral part of our economy. These industries have put pressure on governments to limit research in this field for fear of a financial meltdown. Nuclear energy is the cleanest and most efficient form of energy on the planet, yet provides only 15% of the world's electricity. Only through government subsidised or direct action can nuclear power be helped to realize its full potential, because the markets have fail us.

10 to 20 years from now the world's economies will be a vastly different landscape. Communities that emerge as succeses, will be the ones that collectively invested in the areas of Innovation (sustainable energy will be a huge driver for this), Communication, and Transportation.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

How can Obama's stimulus package affect the South Bend region's budget woes?

As major deficits plague many local governments in the Greater South Bend region, what aspects of Obama's stimulus plan will help get us back on our feet? Most of the talk has been focused lately on the infrastructure improvements, but will that really help us here in South Bend?

Most of the city and county roads in our region are already paid for by the federal government. This comes about in either fully-funded or matching road grants. This means that any more infrastructure money will only serve the purpose of repairing more roads without actually freeing up any money for the municipality to fund other essential services such as police and fire protection, libraries, county health services, jails, justice system, etc.

There is one provision in Obama's rescue proposal that does not, however, get too much media attention: saving the jobs of the nation's police officers. This will be of great benefit to communities all over the country. As The Journal talked about in another article, most local government's budgets consist of over 80% police and fire protection. Most law enforcement jobs are paid directly out of the coffers of the city's or county's general fund as opposed to state or federal grant money.

This could result in keeping our police officers -- a vital taxpayer funded service -- while at the same time freeing up some much needed revenue for local goverments to pay down their huge deficits. As it stands now, governments in the Greater South Bend region are looking at cutting 400 to 500 government jobs and the possibilty of a 1% income tax increase.