Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 27, 2013

Public eye - Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013

By Ken de la Bastide and Scott Smith
Tribune columnists

Someone else’s back yard

During a stop at the Kokomo Tribune last Thursday, Mike Rucker, the CEO of juwi Wind Energy’s North American operations, was asked if he personally lives near a wind farm.

His company is in the process of developing the Prairie Breeze Wind Farm, a project slated to install up to 94 turbines in Prairie and Liberty townships in northern Tipton County. Most of the opposition to the project is coming from homeowners who say they simply don’t want to live next to 300-foot tall windmills.

As it turns out, Rucker does not live near or in the midst of windmills.

Rucker said he currently resides in Boulder, Colo., and he said from his office can see the wind turbines at the National Wind Technology Center, which is about 7 miles away.

Rucker said he lived near a wind farm at a previous address in California.

Opponents of the juwi project are citing a loss of property values, noise from the turbine operation and shadow flicker from the turning turbine blades.

Done with that idea

When Republican Mitch Daniels was governor a repeated topic of discussion by members of the Indiana General Assembly was government reform based on the Kernan-Shepherd Report which advocated elimination of township government and the streamlining of county government offices.

During the Third House session last week local lawmakers were asked if local government reform would return to the front-burner during the first legislative session of Gov. Mike Pence.

State Rep. Heath VanNatter said “no” in reference to the plan as it existed during Daniels’ tenure.

“Merging townships has not been popular,” he said.

State Sen. Jim Buck said it’s a divisive issue among lawmakers.

“It will create a large bureaucracy,” he said.

State Rep. Mike Karickhoff said no bills have been filed and none were likely to be introduced during the 2013 session.

“Local voters rejected township consolidation,” he said in reference to last year’s local referendum vote on a plan to consolidate six Howard County townships into two units.

More of the same?

When the recession hit in 2008, Daniels rescinded a $300 million annual school funding increase the Legislature had already voted on, saying the state didn’t have the money. It wasn’t a cut, but rather a flatlining of the schools’ funding for the next two years. Two years later, the Legislature continued that flatline budget, while simultaneously finding money for school vouchers. Now newly elected Gov. Mike Pence is proposing a 1 percent increase for K-12 public education for the next two years and expanded vouchers.

By the end of the next biennium, that plan would mean school funding (as separate from full-day kindergarten) will have been essentially frozen for six years running. Pence is also calling for the Legislature to fund a $790 million state income tax cut.

We asked Karickhoff what he thought of a 1 percent increase in school funding for another two years.

“It’s too early to tell,” Karickhoff said. “I just got a 144-page summary of Gov. Pence’s budget plan, and I’m going to look at it. I don’t want to offer an opinion right now.”

Back on the agenda

VanNatter, as expected, signed on as a co-author of a bill to require welfare recipients to be drug tested. The idea is wildly popular among VanNatter’s ultra-conservative base in District 38, but is viewed as unconstitutional and mean-spirited by opponents. It went nowhere last year; we’ll see how it fares this time.