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By KEVIN KOELLING
TELL CITY – “We are going to have some spending cuts,” Rep. Larry Bucshon told an audience in Tell City Thursday, “but they’re going to be restructured over the next few months to be targeted so that we don’t have these across-the-board spending cuts that do hit programs that are effective and programs that don’t need their budgets cut.”
“No matter what we’re seeing in the national press,” the 8th District congressman continued, “I can tell you from inside the beltway in Washington, we will return and we will make sure they don’t affect critical programs that we know everyone out there needs. We do need to control spending, but I’ve never voted for across-the-board spending cuts in Washington, D.C., because it’s not the right way to do it and we’ll get it restructured.”
The people he was addressing were invitees to the Perry County Development Corp.’s 23rd annual meeting at the Hoosier Heights Country Club. After providing the update to sequestration talks, he moved to the theme of the evening and the mission of PCDC.
“Getting people back to work right now is the No. 1 issue in our country,” he said. “The unemployment rate is hovering around 8 percent and it’s been that way for many years. We need to focus on that and get that down because … it not only helps families, but it also broadens the tax base and helps us with our deficit in Washington, D.C. Since this recession has come in, we’ve had a downtick in federal tax revenue because people aren’t working and people are struggling. The number of unemployed workers in January was approximately 12.3 million.”
Many have been unemployed for a long time and many have given up looking for jobs, he added, and approximately eight million are working part time in jobs they weren’t trained for because they can’t find jobs in their areas of expertise. That was an issue that had been mentioned earlier in the meeting, he said, “asking how do we upskill our work force to match employers with qualified people to do the job?”
In opening remarks that preceded Bucshon’s address, Clay Ewing identified shortcomings in a qualified work force as one of two major obstacles to attracting new industry to Perry County “and elevating the work force.”
“The first one is finding flat land,” the PCDC board of directors chairman said. “It’s pretty much nonexistent” and requires the employment of companies like Lutgring Brothers to prepare sites for use.
“The second one is a qualified work force,” he continued, “making sure that we have enough people to fill the jobs … they’re screaming for qualified employees. As they look at the economy improving … it’s hard for them to build their five-year plans if we can’t provide the quality work force that they need.”
Before relinquishing the podium to Bucshon, Ewing alluded to a group that would address the audience later, the Perry County College Success Coalition, whose presentation will be reported in an upcoming story.
“At the current pace of job growth,” Bucshon continued, “if we don’t do anything, it’s going to take more than a decade to get the employment back to where it was before the recession hit in 2008, and that’s not an acceptable thing for our country.”
He’s on the House Education and Workforce Committee, he said, which is focusing on job-retraining programs “and making sure that the federal programs that are in place are effective and efficient, and right now they’re not. We have a hodge-podge of programs that have been added over the years, and what we’re trying to do is make sure we consolidate and streamline federal programs and utilize your money, the taxpayers’ dollars in an effective manner that’s going to be able to help retrain our workforce.”
“Locally, we’re trying to encourage institutions of higher education like Vincennes University and Ivy Tech and others to interact more with industry and identify the types of jobs that they need.”
Some of those partnerships exist already, he said. The University of Southern Indiana partnered three years ago with Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center to offer programs focused on science, technology, engineering and math, which he called very important in preparing workers for available jobs.
Another challenge, Bucshon continued, “is the dramatic increase in costs of getting a higher education, not only technical training, but all the way to four-year institutions.”
The son of a coal miner and a nurse, he was able to attend the University of Illinois with some help from them and by borrowing some money, he recalled, but to attempt the same thing today, “I’m not sure we could afford it,” he said. “The increased price at a land-grant institution like Illinois has gone up so much that people in the middle like my parents can’t get access to some of the programs that help support education because they make a little too much money, but on the other hand, they don’t have enough to pay the high cost of a college education. That’s a challenge that we’re working on multiple fronts in Washington, D.C., and it’s a very, very difficult problem to solve because there’s not one solution.”
States withdrawing funding over the years, increased costs to operate college physical plants and competition for qualified faculty are among “the many things driving education expense, and we’re trying to identify those things and trying to help,” he said. Shifting costs to federal programs such as Pell grants and other programs is not feasible “with addressing the root causes of why it’s costing us so much to educate our students,” he said. Compared to other countries in areas such as engineering, “we’re not educating as many people as we need to be for our workforce, even with the increased costs. We need to work on that.”
A workforce investment act helps state and local workforce boards make job training and employment information available, he added, but also needs to be eyed for improvement.
Inefficiencies, waste and federal mandates have been identified that “impede people like yourselves at the local level from doing the job you’re trying to do,” he said.
Local communities like Perry County need to be freed to “do the things they know they need here,” he said, which “may be totally different than what’s needed somewhere else in the United States. You have a unique community, and we want to make sure the federal government (isn’t) tying your hands.”
As programs are streamlined over the next few years and local communities get more flexibility, accountability should be ensured so tax money is spent properly and results are achieved, he said.
He promised that he and his staff will be visible and accessible and said he wants ideas about “how I can be helpful to you, and make sure that your community continues to thrive. Also, I want you to tell me the things we shouldn’t be doing … what kinds of things Washington, D.C. is preventing you from doing by these mandates or other things.”
He met recently with Tell City and Cannelton mayors and a PCDC roundtable, Bucshon said, “and we will continue to do that, and we’ll advertise those so people from the community who want to come out, ask me questions and criticize me or thank me, whichever the case may be (or) both. That’s what makes people like me effective.”