Jim Shella’s Political Blog

State Appeals to FEMA for disaster aid tied to the polar vortex

April 10th, 2014 at 3:53 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

It may be hard to remember the January snowstorm that accompanied the polar vortex but it’s back in the news because the federal government rejected a request for federal aid in Indiana.

The state is now appealing that decision.

The biggest reason is the effect on the city budget here in Indianapolis.  Millions of dollars are at stake and it has a bearing on the condition of the roads and streets you drive every day.

The state appeal that calls for $13-million in disaster relief with the largest portion of that, $3 million, coming to the city of Indianapolis where snow removal costs have broken the budget.

“And our budget runs from January to December,” said Stephanie Sample, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works, “so with the money that we have left, and we’ve overspent by 7 million, we have to pay for the first part of next winter as well.”

The rejection of the state’s request for a disaster declaration was made because the federal government believes that local governments can absorb the costs of the storm that took place in early January.

It’s the same reason that FEMA rejected a disaster aid for the Kokomo area following tornadoes in November of last year.

Damage from flooding in Central and Southern Indiana in April of 2013 also failed to produce federal grants but state officials say they won’t give up.

“If there’s an opportunity and we believe we have a strong case,” says John Erickson of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, “it is our attitude that we’re gonna apply for that federal assistance.”

Getting that assistance, however, is a lot tougher than it used to be no matter what the disaster.

“They’re tightening the purse strings,” said Erickson.

And so city officials are now turning to the City County Council for help.

“We’re going to go to them in May,” said Sample, “and ask for them to release $7 million from the transportation general fund to reimburse us for that overspending that we did this winter.”

FEMA has granted 8 disaster declarations tied to severe snow storms this winter but none of them are in Midwestern states who experienced the polar vortex.

Indiana, meantime, has not won an appeal to FEMA since 2007.

Bill Smith stepping down as Pence Chief of Staff

April 9th, 2014 at 10:30 am by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Bill Smith, the Chief of Staff to Governor Mike Pence, is leaving state government.  Smith will resign his post effective at the end of April.

Smith tells 24 Hour News 8 that he will form a political consulting firm and his first client will be Mike Pence.  He says he will remain as a senior advisor to the governor.

It’s a move that is sure to stir speculation about a possible Pence run for the White House in 2016.  Smith says, however, the focus will be on Indiana.

Smith has worked for Pence since 2000.  In a news release the governor said, “We wish him well in his new endeavor and look forward to working with him often in his new capacity.”

Smith says he made the decision to change jobs about two weeks ago.  The governor will consider both internal and external candidates for a replacement.

State website tied to Pacers sponsorship disappears during Sunday’s game

April 7th, 2014 at 2:15 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

When the Indiana Pacers play at home basketball fans watching on TV and those in Bankers Life Fieldhouse see messages directing them to the Internet and a page called “a state that works.”

During Sunday’s game it was a website that doesn’t.

The messages are on the apron of the basketball court, the basket supports, and elsewhere.  They were clearly visible during Sunday’s Pacers game against the Atlanta Hawks.

It’s part of a Pacers sponsorship by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation estimated at a million dollars.

It’s also the same message that has appeared on Times Square video boards as part of a campaign that Commerce Secretary Victor Smith described by saying, “A lot of people are just saying you need to tell your story better so that’s what we’re doing.  So its part of a broader new branding strategy.”

But the message that appeared at astatethatworks.com during that Pacers/Hawks game read, “The page you tried to access does not exist on this server.”

It gave no indication of what happened to the missing page.

The website was back up and running Monday but state economic development officials declined interview requests to explain what happened.

In emails, they blamed routine maintenance conducted by the server hosting company known as Bluehost.

The good news may be that Sunday’s game was a lousy one, unless that was a reason for people to leave the television and look for the website.

The folks at the Economic Development Corporation say that rountine maintenance is scheduled for low traffic times and they can’t opt out.

They failed to explain the misleading message posted during that maintenance.


April 4th, 2014 at 1:45 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

I’ve been on vacation this week but the news never stops and neither does Indiana Week in Review.  So, the regulars will all be on the panel today to tackle these issues:

  • The Supreme Court ruling on campaign contributions and the role of Indiana attorney Jim Bopp
  • The governor’s unveiling of new road construction plans
  • Mike Pence explains why he signed the bill permitting guns in school parking lots
  • The Obamacare signup rush in Indiana and what it means
  • Rep. Jackie Walorski delivers the Weekly GOP Address again
  • Sen. Dan Coats shows up at the wrong hearing

Pence promises to create new energy efficiency plan

March 28th, 2014 at 2:57 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Governor Mike Pence signed every bill passed by the General Assembly this year with one exception, a controversial bill that eliminates a statewide energy efficiency program.

It will still become law.

That’s because the governor chose to let it become law without his signature, and he now promises to replace the plan known as Energizing Indiana with a new one.

Energizing Indiana was created in 2009 to eliminate the need for new power plants.

It was designed to force utilities, industrial users, and even residential customers to cut their electrical usage, but big manufacturers complained that it cost too much.

State Senator Jim Merritt is the author of the bill that eliminates it, “It’s a high cost, low benefit program,” he said.

The governor says he couldn’t sign the bill because it would do away with a worthwhile program but he couldn’t veto it because of its effect on rates for large customers.

“The current program, without creating an opt out for our heavy industrial users,” said Pence, “really threatened to be a drag on our economy and also impact Hoosier ratepayers with higher utility costs.”

Even before the bill was passed environmentalist and consumer groups rallied at the Statehouse calling for a veto.

Now the governor is saying that he will create a new program that they will like.

“My message to them,” he said, “is I am absolutely committed to creating an energy efficiency program in Indiana in the next session of the Indiana General Assembly.”

“No, I’m not optimistic at this point,” said Kerwin Olson of the Citizens Action Coalition, “because I think this bill kills energy efficiency in Indiana.”

Indiana becomes the first state to reverse an energy efficiency plan.

If you’re a homeowner, your utility has likely offered to do an energy audit at your house.  That was part of this plan and the audits will likely go away.

But so will an additional charge on your electric bill that paid for Energizing Indiana.  It’s usually about a buck and half a month.


March 28th, 2014 at 1:30 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Lesley Weidenbener is in for Jon Schwantes today as the Indiana Week in Review panel tackles bill signing week.  The topics:

  • The preschool funding bill
  • The business tax cuts
  • GE Aviation’s Lafayette plans
  • The Politico report on Pence for President
  • Dan Coats vs. Russia
  • Orangutans escape at the zoo

Bill to create a Preschool Pilot Program signed into law

March 27th, 2014 at 11:45 am by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Governor Mike Pence signed a bill into law Thursday that marks the state’s first investment in preschool education.  It is a bi-partisan accomplishment.

It is also a relatively small step into early childhood education, something that 41 other states already support.

The new law calls for a pilot project in 5 counties that will serve a few thousand disadvantaged kids.

Nevertheless, the governor put on a big show at the DayStar Childcare Ministry on the east side.  It’s one of the schools that may benefit from the new program that will create vouchers for families at or near the federal poverty level.

The bill signed by Mike Pence calls for a program to be up and running as soon as the fall.  He says that it will be established in areas with the most need but the 5 target counties have not yet been identified.

“I do believe that when it comes to our at-risk, most low income kids,” said Pence, “early learning programs can and do make a difference between a lifetime of success and a lifetime of falling behind, dropping back, and sometimes dropping out.”

“It’s the beginning of recognizing that early childhood education, if it’s done well, is expensive,” said Rev. Michael Bowling of DayStar Ministries, “but our children are worth that investment.”

The new law calls for investing $10 million of state money and up to $5 million of private money.

The state money will be taken out of the existing budget for the Family and Social Services Agency.

When happens next and where that money might come from is undetermined.

Pence for President? He’s listening.

March 26th, 2014 at 2:53 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Will Mike Pence run for President in 2016?

He’s not making any public moves in that direction a report says the governor is listening to encouragement.

That’s the key here, not just that people are encouraging Mike Pence to run, but that he’s also listening to them.

They are conservatives, including Gary Bauer, who decribes Pence as “formidible.”

That’s according to report on Politico.com, a political website carries a story titled “The Invisible Primary.”

The report says that “Pence is listening to people who hope he will run” and that Pence “strikes conservatives as a dazzling talent on paper.”

It says that Pence has met with prominent conservative activists.

At the end of last year Pence was asked if he would decide whether to seek re-election as governor, or pursue the White House during 2014?

“I don’t know if I’ll make a decision on that front next year,” he said, “but I can tell you that I really haven’t spent one second thinking about anything other than the job I was hired to do a year ago.”

And that answer hasn’t changed in the time since, at least not publicly.

We asked if he has any reaction to the Politico story or if he would confirm meeting with conservative leaders.  The governor’s spokeswoman didn’t respond.

But then, at this point, it would appear that it’s conservative leaders, and not the governor, who are floating a trial balloon.

GE Aviation confirms Lafayette plans

March 26th, 2014 at 12:02 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

It’s now official.  GE Aviation will build a $100 million jet engine plant in Lafayette.

The announcement was made at Purdue University Wednesday morning.  It means more than 200 high paying jobs are coming to Indiana by 2020.

The new facility will manufacture the LEAP engine.  That’s short for Leading Edge Aviation Propulsion.  GE Aviation has already sold 6,000 of them.

“With that backlog of sales we’ve got to move fast,” said GE Aviation CEO David Joyce.  “So we hope to break ground this year in Lafayette.  We hope to hire in 2015.”

GE already employs 1200 Purdue graduates and will be looking to hire more of them at the new jet engine plant.

“You have the skills, the attitude, and the entrepreneurial spirit that we need,” said Tony Aiello of GE Aviation, “to help assure that we meet the promise we made to our customers when they chose LEAP to power their aircraft.”

Among those taking part in the announcement were Governor Mike Pence and former governor, now Purdue President, Mitch Daniels.  They said negotiation with GE Aviation began 18 monts ago.

Tax changes helped lure GE Aviation to Lafayette area

March 25th, 2014 at 3:43 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The governor signed a bill into law Tuesday that will lower corporate taxes in Indiana and it may be no coincidence that Mike Pence will take part in a major jobs announcement on Wednesday.

GE Aviation is planning a new manufacturing facility near Lafayette to build jet engines and a factor in the decision to come here was the Indiana tax climate.

When it comes to business investment that climate got better when the governor signed the bill that will cut the corporate tax rate from 6.5% to 4.9% over the next eight years.

It also gives counties the option to reduce the business personal property tax.

“In a state that is known for making things,” said Pence, “having a tax on technology and machinery and equipment just doesn’t make sense.”

“It just shows the community that we’re not sitting idle, we’re not sitting on our hands,” said Commerce Secretary Victor Smith.  “We’re always looking for ways to improve the place for investment.”

But the GE decision is also tied to support from Purdue where GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt appeared along with University President Mitch Daniels last October.

“We have a huge amount of Purdue grads,” said Immelt at the time, “and so to the faculty that are in the room I want to say thanks for what you do.”

The governor wouldn’t confirm specifics of the GE deal but he also had trouble hiding his excitement.  “Tomorrow’s announcement with GE aviation is among a series of stories in Indiana we’re excited to be a part of,” he said.

One state official called the GE deal Mike Pence’s “Honda” in reference to the Honda Assembly plant that Mitch Daniels lured to Greensburg.

Initial indications are that it’s not that big.  Honda has 2-thousand employees.

But it’s a major announcement, nonetheless.