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Archive for January, 2009

Daniels Says Stimulus Money Could Fund Unemployment Benefits Shortfall

With news this week that Indiana’s unemployment rate has skyrocketed past the national average of seven point one percent to eight point two percent here in Indiana, it’s an issue lawmakers at the statehouse want to make a focus of the legislative session. As those numbers increase, it puts more pressure on the Department of Workforce Development, which has already borrowed two hundred ninety two million dollars from the federal government to pay benefits, after its reserve ran dry in November. It’s widely believed business tax increases will have to be a part of the solution to return money to the unemployment insurance trust fund. But today Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels suggested part of the four to five billion dollars federal stimulus package likely to be approved by Congress in mid-February could be used to help return money to the unemployment benefits fund. Those are welcome words to Senator Dennis Kruse, chairman of the Senate Pensions and Labor Committee, one of two legislative committees working on the unemployment insurance problem.

“I think that would be great if the governor would support that effort to have part of the stimulus money go toward actually paying back the federal government or using it to replenish the fund would be wonderful. I’m excited about it.”

Kruse says the federal plan may also stipulate that states, including Indiana, who have been borrowing federal money to pay unemployment benefits, might get to pay back those loans interest free. To date, that would save the state nearly twenty five million dollars.

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IDEM Restructuring Questioned by Legislature

Indiana Department of Environmental Management Commissioner Tom Easterly Wednesday defended recent decisions to cancel air quality monitoring contracts statewide and shut down the agency’s Office of Enforcement. His testimony came as the House Environmental Committee considered legislation that would reverse those recent actions. IDEM’s decisions to cancel the air monitoring contracts and eliminate its office of enforcement have come into question not only by state legislators, but also by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has requested a meeting with Commissioner Tom Easterly to discuss the changes. The proposed Indiana legislation would require IDEM to re-open the enforcement office and go back to contracting with local agencies to monitor air quality. Easterly told the committee the moves were to save money and improve services, citing one example where contractors in Evansville hadn’t granted air permits for two years. Donna Bergman, a city employee who worked on the contracts, says that’s because her agency focused on businesses complying with permits that were already issued. Easterly says the shutdown of his agencies enforcement office was a restructuring measure, and enforcement will still be done, but within IDEM programs.

Daniels Says State Ready to Move on Economic Stimulus Plan

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels says with a final federal economic stimulus plan likely to be approved by the Senate in a couple of weeks, Indiana should use the money to create jobs quickly while keeping taxes low. Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Marianne Holland reports.

Permanent Property Tax Caps Pass First Hurdle

A constitutional amendment to make property tax caps permanent cleared its first hurdle of this year’s legislative session today, when the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee voted along party lines to approve it. Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Marianne Holland reports.

Feds Weigh in on Changes to Indiana’s Environmental Agency

The U-S Environmental Protection Agency is weighing in on the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s recent administrative changes. On Monday, IDEM received a letter asking for a meeting to review the nature, extent, and status of the changes. From IPBS member station WNIN in Evansville, Micah Schweizer reports…

Indiana Unemployment Now Higher than U.S. Average

Information released today by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows Indiana’s unemployment rate now exceeds the national unemployment rate by a full percent. Indiana jumped from seven point one percent to eight point two percent over the last month. Representative Scott Pelath of Michigan City says the numbers, to him, are staggering.

“From December of last year, and going back to the previous December of 2007, Indiana has lost 123,206 paying jobs. That my friends, is more people than live in my home county of LaPorte.”

Within the state, Indiana’s northern Elkhart County continued seeing the highest job losses, skyrocketing to fifteen point three percent. The lowest unemployment rate in the state, four point two percent, was in Dubois County, in south central Indiana.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels did not issue a statement in reaction to the new unemployment numbers. But Jane Jankowski, the governor’s spokesperson, says the state’s difficult time, means Indiana must continue to diversify its economy, which has been heavily dependent on manufacturing for decades.

Senators Hear Kernan Shepard Report’s Election Provisions

The Senate Elections Committee heard testimony today on a bill expanding vote centers and adopting several election related provisions of the Kernan Shephard report on local government reform. Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Marianne Holland reports.

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