A look at some of the most important news stories of the past year
Highway to hell
Ending more than a decade of public opposition and political stalemate, Gov. Mitch Daniels has done what three previous administrations failed to do and found a way to construct the I-69 highway from Evansville to Indianapolis. While the southern portion of the new highway will not be a toll road, Daniels will use the billions of dollars the state received to lease the northern Indiana toll and the funds he plans to receive for leasing his proposed bypass toll road around the city of Indianapolis to help build the I-69 extension. Conservatively, Indiana could forfeit $10 billion in public money that would otherwise go in the state budget in exchange for Major Moves. That is approximately the cost of the entire NAFTA Highway project from Mexico to Canada, and five times the amount needed to build the I-69 extension from Indianapolis to Evansville. To say nothing of the destruction of 5,500 acres of farmland and forests, the Patoka National Wetlands and Wildlife Refuge and God knows how many endangered species.
Privatizing state services
The federal government gave its approval last week to Daniels’ plan to outsource the application process for food stamps and other benefits now handled by the Family and Social Services Administration. Under the contract proposed by the Daniels Administration, a team of vendors led by IBM Corp. would help process applications for food stamps and welfare and lend technical support to FSSA in return for $1.16 billion over 10 years. This is but one of Daniels’ plans to privatize state services announced this year. He has also announced plans to privatize some state highways, the state lottery, aspects of Medicaid and other duties previously performed by government agencies.
In his ruling against exclusively Christian prayer in the Indiana Statehouse, federal Judge David Hamilton saw Christian prayer as violating the separation of church and state made clear in the U.S. Constitution. “The Founders also knew centuries of history in which religious conflicts had caused war and oppression,” he wrote. “They recognized that even the best intentions of people of faith can lead to division, exclusion and worse. And they recognized that a majority who sees its faith as true and benign can be tempted in a democratic republic to try to use the power and prestige of government to advance that faith in ways that would actually divide and exclude.” The decision in the case brought by the Indiana Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a variety of plaintiffs, all Christians, required that Speaker of the House Brian Bosma cease permitting sectarian prayer as part of the official House proceedings. Bosma has appealed the decision.
Clean water … finally
The city of Indianapolis finally implemented a plan to correct the violations and reduce raw sewage overflows into the waterways that contribute to bacteria and pollution exceeding environmental standards. It will construct tunnels and tanks to store sewage underground until water levels subside after storms. The combined sewer system was built more than a century ago when underground pipes controlled stormwater, not raw sewage. Since the invention of indoor plumbing, the sewers have not been updated. Now streams and rivers bear the burden of raw sewage as well. Several lawsuits filed by environmental groups in the state challenged Indianapolis’ slow response to meet federal sewer requirements, and are credited with prompting Indianapolis to finally map out its options and chose a plan that will be finalized in 2025.
Attorney General Steve Carter’s attempt to seize the confidential records of patients at Planned Parenthood centers in Indiana was blocked last fall when the Indiana Appellate Court ruled in favor of a Planned Parenthood lawsuit. In March 2005, the Office of the Indiana Attorney General attempted to seize the confidential records of Planned Parenthood clients in Bloomington, Franklin and Lafayette, demanding medical information for specific minors who had received reproductive health services. Limited information regarding eight patients was turned over to the agent. But then Planned Parenthood was told that the Medicaid fraud investigative unit intended to seize an additional 73 records from 19 health centers. That’s when Planned Parenthood filed suit to protect patient privacy. Carter has announced he will not appeal the ruling.
A deadly year in the Circle City
A string of murders over the summer pushed Indianapolis’ murder rate up nearly 40 percent from the same period in 2005, including the execution-style killing of seven family members in the near-Eastside Hamilton Street neighborhood. In November, the shooting deaths of three and the stabbing of another brought this year’s homicides to 134. By comparison, Cincinnati saw 79 murders in the same time period. Indianapolis’ homicide rate is well on its way to becoming the highest since 1998, when a total of 162 homicides were recorded.
There’s more than corn …
Since becoming governor in January of 2005, Daniels has orchestrated a series of projects that will result in Indiana becoming the leading producer of bio-fuels in the country. In 2006, the industry has grown from one alternative fuels plant to 10, with more to come. These plants represent an investment of more than $600 million and will pay $9 million per plant in annual taxes at full production, according to the Governor’s Office. Indiana’s pace of rapid growth in bio-fuel took a major step forward in March with the announcement that Louis Dreyfus Agriculture plans to build the world’s largest bio-diesel plant near Claypool, Ind. When completed, the plant will produce more than 80 million gallons of bio-diesel fuel annually from Indiana soybeans.
Losing sleep over daylight-saving
Only in Indiana could clocks become a major news story. When daylight-saving time went into effect this year, many politicians and regular Joes and Janes spent an incredible amount of energy lamenting the horrors of springing forward and falling back by an hour. The promise of even more evening sun under DST proved too much for some of the westernmost counties, leading 19 to petition the U.S. Department of Transportation by a Sept. 16 deadline for a hearing to try to switch to Central Time. It also gave Democrats in the state another weak platform for lambasting Gov. Daniels and his cursed habit of changing the way things have been done around these parts for damn near ever.
Coal makes a comeback
As part of his “Hoosier Homegrown” energy plan, Daniels has decided to bring coal back as one of Indiana’s most prominent industries and energy sources. Touting the idealistic and scientifically unproven method of sequestering the staggering amount of carbon dioxide produced when coal is burned through “clean coal technology,” Daniels is dismissing concerns about coal’s inherent environmental determent, slowing down on the alternative fuel options to replace fossil fuel production and consumption, and helping out some very powerful (and generous campaign donors) big coal companies with more than $100 million in tax credits for increased coal production in the state.
New police department
On Jan.1, 2007, Indianapolis and Marion County residents will have a new division of law enforcement protecting and serving when the Indianapolis Police Department and the Marion County Sheriff’s Department consolidate as the new Metropolitan Police Department. In addition to the new name, officers will get new uniforms and new patrol vehicles, but keep their current leaders. Current Indianapolis Police Department Chief of Police Michael Spears, a 24-year veteran, has been appointed the new chief for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. Chief Spears will report to Sheriff Frank Anderson, who was re-elected to office in the last election. While city leaders are touting the efficiency and increased security under the merger, the real reason is money. The city is expected to save $10 million annually with the consolidation, after an expense of about $2 million in transitional costs.