Straight from the op-ed pages

This week’s editorials: Police safety, same-sex marriages and the state’s $2 billion surplus.

Posted on July 18, 2014 at 2:25 p.m.

Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers:

Look for ways to make police, cities safer

The fatal shooting of a Gary police officer early Sunday (July 6) closely followed the death of an Indianapolis police officer. It is a time to mourn the loss of these two officers, but also to look for responses to these two incidents and other attacks on police officers.

Gary Patrolman Jeffrey Westerfield was shot to death in his patrol car. A resident called police and reported an officer bleeding in his car. Westerfield, a 19-year veteran of the police force, was working the midnight shift.

Indianapolis police Officer Perry Renn, an officer for more than 20 years, was killed in a gun battle Saturday night (July 5). Renn was wearing a protective vest, but the bullet pierced the vest.

Renn is the second Indianapolis officer killed in the line of duty in the past 10 months and the eighth Indianapolis police officer shot during the last 18 months.

What can be done to make officers safer? That's a crucial question that needs to be asked. Because when police officers are gunned down, no one in the neighborhood, or even the entire community, feels safe.

This is where Indiana Gov. Mike Pence can show some quick leadership.

When Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson asked for additional manpower on the city's streets, Pence — unlike Gov. Evan Bayh years earlier — didn't agree to send in state troopers. He sent in a team to evaluate Gary Police Department operations and procedures instead.

Now it's time for Pence to order a statewide examination of public safety in Indiana's urban areas — not just Gary and Indianapolis, but throughout the state.

What can be done to make officers in these cities safer? What can be done to make the public safer? We don't have the answers. Like others, we just have the questions now. But until someone starts looking for the answers, they won't be found.

Gov. Pence, here's your opportunity to lead on this issue.

— The Times of Northwest Indiana

Legal marriages should be honored

An eager and probably nervous couple stands before a minister or a judge or a county clerk and exchanges vows, accepting the legal, moral and ethical obligations of a marriage.

The couple has properly obtained a marriage license and has had its application approved by the county office that issues such licenses. By the power vested in the person performing the ceremony, the couple is declared legally married in the eyes of the State of Indiana.

The couple embraces and kisses, and the dearly beloved who are assembled cheer and throw rice or bird seed or blow bubbles. A meal, cake, speeches, dancing and celebration quickly follow.

A few days later, the couple learns its marriage, which was perfectly legal in the eyes of the state when it was performed, is now under further review — and could be for several months or even years.

This is a hypothetical couple, but it has hundreds of real-life Hoosier counterparts, including several in the Wabash Valley. These couples are now not living in the State of Indiana but instead in the State of Limbo. They will remain there until a federal appeals court — or the U.S. Supreme Court — rules on the question of whether an Indiana law banning same-sex marriage is constitutional. U.S. District Judge Richard Young ruled the ban unconstitutional on June 25.

Gov. Mike Pence, in a dismissive manner, has added to the uncertainty for these couples — and the families and friends of all political persuasions who love and support them — by declaring on Wednesday that state agencies that report to his office should act as if couples who were legally married are not married at all.

Pence says he’s doing so to comply with a federal district court ruling that stayed — put on hold — Young’s ruling of unconstitutionality until it can move through the federal appeals court process.

Such a stay is appropriate so the existing law’s constitutionality can be more widely debated in the courts. That is not to make a judgment on the matter at issue. That is the process. One side wins a case. The other side appeals. A higher court hears the appeal and issues a decision — on up the line until the highest court makes a supreme ruling, or declines to hear the case.

What is not appropriate and what is in fact objectionable is for Pence to presume that until proven otherwise, these same-sex couples are not married. Quite to the contrary, those couples should be presumed to be married until proven otherwise. In making his determination, Pence, of course, decided in favor of his long-held bias: That marriage can only be between one man and one woman.

The correct final decision is what Judge Young has stated in his Indiana ruling (see a salient quote from it here). Same-sex couples in all states should be allowed to marry, with full legal rights.

But even if the final court decision comes out against same-sex marriage, those Indiana marriages that were performed in the three days that such marriages were legal should forever remain legal and fully recognized as such. And those same-sex, married couples, at the very least, should be welcomed back to the State of Indiana and be able to say goodbye to the State of Limbo.

— The Tribune-Star, Terre Haute

A deceptive surplus

We all like to save money. And it’s nice to have a little something set aside for a rainy day.

For Indiana, the 2014 fiscal year just ended with a $106 million operating surplus, with a $2 billion reserve more than intact.

But before we break out the champagne and party hats, it might be wise to look at the larger picture of Indiana’s fiscal health.

Yes, the state managed to turn a troubling downturn in revenue into what looks like a banner year.

But as the outlook clouded, Gov. Mike Pence ordered $150 million in budget cuts, including $34 million in college and university funds.

He pushed for a billion-dollar tax break for business, which the legislature wisely modified.

But local governments, already strapped for funds because of property tax caps, now have been forced to think about even deeper cuts.

In some communities, public schools are struggling to keep their bus routes and preserve physical fitness and arts programs.

County jails, having already assumed the improper and impossible burden of caring for mentally ill prisoners, now are preparing for an onslaught of prisoners who used to be housed in state prisons, at state expense.

Some cities, including Indianapolis, have struggled with public safety funding. Fort Wayne sidestepped that problem with a supplemental income tax increase last year. But this year, the City Council used general budget-tightening concern to eviscerate the city’s non-public-safety unions.

Meanwhile, a promise to families who save the state money by adopting children with special needs has gone unfulfilled. While “surpluses” and “reserves” pile up, those parents continue to be told that Indiana simply can’t afford to give them the modest stipends for their children’s care that all other states provide.

Saving for a rainy day is a good thing, but a state that truly wants to be the one that “works” will also make sure that its communities are safe, its schools and parks and libraries are healthy, and that children in need are provided for. That kind of a state, we believe, is likely to develop, attract and retain the kinds of citizens who will help us naturally build an economy more truly robust than Indiana’s yet is.

Living within its means always should be the state’s goal, but across-the-board cuts can have the effect of leaving waste untouched while programs that support Indiana’s long-term economic health are crippled. A surplus to celebrate is one that comes not from widespread budget-slashing, but through careful spending and strong economic fortunes.

— The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne

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