Let’s put Hoosiers back to work

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Russ Stilwell, District 74 State Representative

In January 2005, when Mitch Daniels became governor, Indiana’s unemployment rate was 5.5 percent. That translated to 176,510 Hoosiers out of work.

In July 2010, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development reported that our state’s unemployment rate was 10.2 percent. That means 319,406 Hoosiers now are out of work.

The fact that the number of people in Indiana officially classified as unemployed has nearly doubled in the past five years underscores the urgency I place on finding ways to get more Hoosiers back to work.

At the start of the year, I joined other Indiana House Democrats in identifying job creation as the top priority for the 2010 session of the legislature. Our determination was not matched by either the administration or those in charge of the Indiana Senate, but we were able to get some of what we wanted.

Indiana now is able to offer both a tax credit to new employers and expanded incentives to small businesses. We did not get bipartisan support for two other proposals: a job-creation tax credit designed to reward businesses that hire unemployed Hoosiers and a plan to make sure that Hoosiers get first crack at jobs on Indiana projects financed by Indiana taxpayers.

While the second of these proposals was considered unnecessary by the administration, its importance became clearer in June when the Indiana Department of Transportation announced that two Illinois companies had received a $58.5 million contract for building a portion of the Interstate 69 extension in southern Indiana. The money for this contract comes from the lease of the Indiana Toll Road.

Two Indiana companies submitted proposals for the contract within 5 percent of the winning bid, which means they were qualified to receive the project. I can only hope these Illinois companies hire Hoosiers to do the work.

There was a fifth item on our job-creation agenda that did pass, but remains in limbo. Called HIRE, an acronym for Helping Indiana Restart Employment, this program is designed to use state funds to leverage $100 million in federal dollars to help employers hire Hoosiers. Originally proposed by Mississippi’s Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, this program has been successfully launched in at least 30 other states.

In Indiana, it is bogged down in bureaucracy. While there have been meetings with the administration to get HIRE going, no progress has been made since the program was enacted back in March. Furthermore, since the deadline for using these federal funds is less than six weeks away, no one is too sure we will ever see HIRE become reality.

I hate to think we have missed out on a chance to bring taxpayer dollars back to Indiana to help Hoosiers get jobs. The lack of interest from the administration on this issue is difficult to understand, but it does seem to be part of a pattern of avoiding an honest assessment of the problems that our state faces in getting Hoosiers back to work.
Earlier this year, an Indianapolis TV station did a series of investigative reports on the jobs that the Daniels Administration claimed to have created. The investigations revealed empty buildings and cornfields where factories were alleged to be located. These reports estimated that as many as 40,000 jobs never became reality.
There even have been instances where the state has claimed credit for new jobs, only to later admit that it played no role whatsoever in bringing those jobs to Indiana. Too often, the administration is fond of hiding a true portrait of its job-creation efforts by simply saying that Indiana is doing better than neighboring states.

With a little searching, you can find many statistics that aren’t very positive. For example, the Brookings Institute revealed in July that Indiana has had one of the country’s steepest declines in employment since the national recession started in November 2007.

But most Hoosiers who are out of work right now don’t care about what some study or think tank says or what’s going on in Michigan or Ohio. They just want jobs in Indiana.

They want to know what their elected officials are doing to reverse a trend that has seen our state’s unemployment rate nearly double since the governor took office. It’s here where the actions of this administration and its supporters in the Legislature become more disturbing.

I am disappointed that neither the governor nor the Indiana Senate offered any job-creation proposals in the 2010 legislative session.
I think more needs to be done. I believe now is the time to be creative and explore all avenues of help, rather than try to convince people who have been looking for a job for years that things really are getting better. I don’t think they’re convinced.

Stilwell represents much of Perry County in the Indiana House of Representatives.