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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, July 30, 2017 1:00 am

Hands off Medicaid, schools chief says

BRIAN FRANCISCO and NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

One statewide elected GOP official was willing to stand up against Medicaid cuts last week.

Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick sent a letter to members of Indiana's congressional delegation urging them to protect Medicaid funding.

She said more than 200 Indiana school districts rely upon Medicaid funding to serve students with disabilities. One recent bill version was projected to cost Indiana schools $2.7 million per year by 2026 and $3.6 million per year by 2036.

“Even though the bill has collapsed, the push to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement and with many unknown factors continues to raise local concerns. Indiana school-based Medicaid claims could be greatly impacted,” McCormick said.

Medicaid funding provides services and equipment for children with specific needs. Programs include screenings to identify vision, hearing and mental health issues, transportation, nursing services, language programs, occupational, speech and physical therapists.

“If Medicaid funding is cut or eliminated without a phase-in, many Indiana schools will be placed in the untenable position of finding replacement funds,” McCormick said in the letter. “Such action will unquestionably result in budget cuts impacting educational programs and opportunities for all students.”

Holcomb deflects

Gov. Eric Holcomb last week wanted nothing to do with the controversial issue of whether transgender citizens should be allowed to serve in the military.

A U.S. Navy veteran and commander of the Indiana National Guard, Holcomb deflected on the policy of the guard.

“My thoughts are simply having served in the military, we'll carry out the guidelines prescribed by the federal government,” Holcomb said.

President Donald Trump tweeted last week that transgender Americans will not be allowed to serve in the military in any capacity. But it has not yet been followed up by an official order.

Bigger picture

Despite being unable to add expenditures to the Fort Wayne city budget, one city councilman is asking Mayor Tom Henry's administration to consider funding for comprehensive planning.

Although the City Council is allowed only to make cuts to the mayor's proposed budget, Councilman Michael Barranda, R-at large, made it clear during Tuesday's council meeting that he would like to see funds to update the comprehensive plan.

“I would support the administration's efforts to fund any type of comprehensive planning,” Barranda said. “It has not been done under this administration yet.”

The City Council must approve its annual budget by Oct. 31.

Jehl offers ideas

Councilman Russ Jehl expressed disappointment in the City Council's vote to increase Allen County's income tax rate but praised the debate. He also offered ideas on where the council could look for future economic development opportunities.

The council voted 6-3 on July 11 to raise the income tax rate by 0.13 percentage points effective Oct. 1.

“I do respect what was done, because it was done with a transparent and robust discussion and it created unity among the various voices and leaders within our government and our quasi-governments,” Jehl, R-2nd, said during Tuesday's City Council meeting. The vote was an example of an opportunity for more unity in future endeavors, he added.

That would involve reaching out to organizations like the city's Community Development office, Greater Fort Wayne Inc. and the Downtown Improvement District to better understand each organization's vision and create a cohesive plan. Such a plan could include a wish list of capital projects from each group.

“What are your top five projects under a $5 million range, under a $10 million range or the $10 million and above range?” Jehl asked. “So often our discussions are just on very large projects, but are they the ones that produce the best value?”

Trump coattails?

Two leaders of Donald Trump's presidential campaign in Indiana are singing the praises of U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita as a candidate for the 2018 Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat.

Rex Early, who was chairman of President Trump's Indiana campaign last year, and Tony Samuel, the vice chairman, have sent a letter to Trump supporters extolling Rokita, R-4th, who is expected to announce his Senate candidacy in August.

“Of the members of Indiana's congressional delegation, Todd Rokita is the only one that actively and specifically campaigned for candidate Trump – never wavering and never jumping on and off the Trump Train,” Early and Samuel wrote.

Rokita “never hesitated in his support, but stood with our great President from early on, just as he stands with the President today,” they wrote.

Greg Pence, chairman of the campaign finance committee for Rep. Luke Messer, R-6th, who announced his Senate candidacy Wednesday, said in an email that although he likes and respects Early and Samuel, their claim about Rokita's loyalty to Trump contains “some inconsistencies.”

“In fact, Congressman Rokita endorsed Senator Rubio” for the GOP presidential nomination, said Pence, the brother of Vice President Mike Pence.

Pence provided a link to an Oct. 5, 2015, story by The Hill news organization reporting that Rokita had become the fifth federal lawmaker to endorse Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida for president.

At the time, The Hill reported, Rubio was running fourth in the polls, which were led by Trump.

Rubio dropped out of the GOP race on March 15, 2016, and Rokita endorsed Trump on May 5, according to the Journal & Courier of Lafayette. The endorsement came two days after Trump won the Indiana primary to clinch the GOP nomination.

Trump's coattails might not be what they were when he received nearly 57 percent of Indiana votes last November. Gallup polling results released last week showed that 47 percent of roughly 1,600 Hoosier adults approved of Trump's job performance as of June 30, compared with 48 percent who disapproved. Five percent expressed no opinion.

Early and Samuel offered a caveat in their letter to Trump supporters: “We are not making an endorsement of any candidate at this point because not all potential contenders have officially entered” the Senate race.

That would include Rokita. Announced Republican candidates for the seat of Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly are Messer, Hamilton County businessman Terry Henderson, Kokomo attorney Mark Hurt and New Albany college administrator Andrew Takami.

There has been widespread speculation that any of three other GOP officeholders – Attorney General Curtis Hill, state Sen. Mike Delph of Carmel and state Rep. Mike Braun of Jasper – might join the race.

Dave Gong of The Journal Gazette contributed to this report.

To reach Political Notebook by email, contact Brian Francisco at bfrancisco@jg.net or Niki Kelly at nkelly@jg.net. An expanded Political Notebook can also be found as a daily blog at www.journalgazette.net/politicalnotebook.