The League of Women Voters of Brown County sent questionnaires to all candidates who have opposition in the May 3 primary in the following races: U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress District 9 (ran in paper March 30), State Senate District 44, State House District 65, Brown County Council at-large (ran April 6), Brown County Commissioner District 3 (ran April 13) and Brown County Recorder (ran April 6). Remaining Q&As will appear in upcoming editions of the Brown County Democrat. The League of Women Voters of Brown County — a nonpartisan organization — chose the questions. Answers appear in the candidates’ own words, though some were trimmed to fit available space. Candidates who do not have an opponent in the primary were not asked to complete a questionnaire yet; they will be asked before the November general election.
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The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has lost funding and is monetizing a critical natural resource in our county and throughout Indiana by significantly increasing logging of state forests. What is your position on this, and what are your recommendations for funding the DNR as well as protecting our valuable asset?
Josh Anderson (R): It is very important that we find ways to adequately fund the DNR so that we do not put our natural resources in jeopardy. A robust conservation program is not only good for our health and environment, but it also is key to our economic health by making our state attractive to entrepreneurs and tourists. As a conservative, I am committed to cutting wasteful spending in order to appropriate tax dollars to programs such as our state parks that directly improve the quality of life of Hoosiers.
Eric Koch (R): The DNR general fund appropriation actually increased from $41.6 million in FY 2015 to $44.2 million in FY 2016.
Where do you see our state in five to 10 years as far as energy development and the role of renewable energy?
Anderson: Indiana has an opportunity to become a leader in renewable energy. Investing in renewable energy will not only reduce the cost of energy in Indiana, it also will bring in the jobs of tomorrow. Developing and manufacturing renewable energy will boost our local economies and provide a whole new job market. Not only can we be a leader in the development of the technology, we can also be a leader in the manufacturing of the technology. Meanwhile, we have some of the best and hardest working farmers in the country. There have been new developments in ethanol, making it more efficient, requiring less water and able to be produced with stalks and chaff, cutting down the strain on the food supply.
Koch: Indiana’s electric rates have historically been among the lowest in the nation. EPA regulatory overreach, however, has caused rates to rise and Indiana is making the transition from coal to natural gas, which is cheap and abundant thanks to hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. It is also important to note that energy markets are regional in nature and Indiana is located within the territories of MISO and PJM, which foster wholesale electric competition. During my tenure in the Legislature, Indiana’s annual production of non-hydro-renewable energy has soared 4,462 percent from 2002 to 2015. So, Indiana is doing quite well in this regard. At this time, the future is unclear until the Supreme Court decides whether or not the federal Clean Power Plan is unconstitutional. Indiana is among the states that have brought the constitutional challenge.
Given severe infrastructure issues such as water, roads and bridges, what is your vision for Indiana’s future to address these needs?
Anderson: It is important that Indiana has a viable and strong infrastructure. In this year’s legislative session, a short-term solution to address this need was passed. Each community has varying needs in this department. I am dedicated to working with the individual communities throughout District 44 to address the specific infrastructure needs and working together for long-term solutions that will improve our economies. Again, the issue comes to better appropriating the taxpayers’ dollars to issues that directly effect their everyday lives.
Koch: Through passage of HEA 1001 and SEA 67, the General Assembly has provided $1 billion in new state and local road and bridge funding over the next two years with no state tax increases or debt. Brown County units of government will soon receive a special LOIT distribution of $1,076,361. A study committee with report back to the Legislature next year about long-term funding solutions. As these bills progressed, I maintained communication with Brown County’s commissioners and highway superintendent. I have been working for several years with Sen. Ed Charbonneau on water and wastewater infrastructure. The EPA has estimated that over the next 20 years, the cost of our state’s water and wastewater infrastructure improvements will be $14 billion. In some parts of the state, we have water lines over 100 years old and line loss of 25 percent. We have been proactive in data collection and are a national leader in water policy.
How do you respond to critics who say our public schools are underfunded while Indiana has one of the fastest-growing voucher systems in the country?
Anderson: Parents should have the opportunity to pursue the best education possible for their children, but it is equally as important that we have the appropriate eligibility requirements on the voucher system so that we are not taking money out of our public schools unnecessarily. As a parent, I am blessed to live in a school district in Bedford that is A-rated. So I am personally dedicated to making sure our schools and the fantastic teachers and administrators are properly funded.
Koch: The current budget appropriates more money to K-12 public education than ever before; it is 52 percent of the state budget. State tuition support per student for Brown County has gone from $5,432 (statewide average $5,614) in 2002 to $7,057 (statewide average $6,528) estimated for 2017. The intent of the voucher program was to give low-income students an alternative when their needs were not met in the public school system. The money following a voucher student is less than the tuition support that would go to the home public school. In FY 2015, 33 of the 29,000 voucher students in Indiana were from Brown County. Children living in other school districts who receive a voucher actually have a positive impact on Brown County funding in that a voucher student costs the state either 90 percent or 50 percent of the amount that would otherwise go to the home public school, which leaves more money in the pot and drives up per-student funding for all other schools. In FY 2015, voucher students accounted for 2.9 percent of students statewide, but only 1.7 percent of the funding. Nonetheless, we need to carefully monitor the ongoing impact of vouchers and give our public schools more freedom to be innovative in the way voucher schools are able to be. The biggest funding challenge facing rural schools is declining enrollment.
Indiana is currently ranked 41st in health in the country. What would your vision be to better improve the health of our citizens?
Anderson: We need to begin shift our focus in health care from treatment to prevention. Encouraging our communities to get out and enjoy our state parks is a great way to get people moving. Incentivizing businesses and communities to create a culture of health and fitness along with a little friendly competition is also a great way to get people active. Fitness is only one aspect of health; nutrition is also an area that Indiana can improve on. Educating our children to be health-literate and to be in control of their own health is key. Getting them involved in projects such as community gardening makes fruits and vegetables more palatable. Farmers markets and keeping our food sources local are great ways to improve the health of our communities.
Koch: HIP 2.0, Indiana’s innovative, market-based alternative to traditional Medicaid, has brought insurance coverage to 370,000 previously uninsured Hoosiers. This will significantly improve that statistic as more Hoosiers now have access to health care.