An Energy/Environmental Issue Primer for the Start of Session

The 2015 legislative session began Tuesday and will adjourn no later than April 29. This “long session” will include the state’s $30 billion biennial budget and likely see more than 1,000 bills filed. Bill filing deadlines are January 13 and 14 for the House and Senate, respectively. You can count on the environmental and energy area to add its fair share of legislative ideas to the mix. In the environmental arena, we expect to see the following:

  • The Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s perennial laundry list of technical “clean-up” items
  • Rep. David Wolkins’ “No More Stringent Than” annual initiative
  • Something related to “brownfields” and clean-up efforts
  • Anti-harvesting of Indiana’s hardwoods
  • Above-ground storage tanks controls

In the “water resources” area, we expect to see the following:

  • Legislation to direct the Indiana Finance Authority to survey/examine the larger – and a few smaller – water supply utilities in the state
  • Establish an Indiana Water Resources Institute
  • Create incentives to promote water utilities to invest in infrastructure improvements

And it is likely that the electric power/energy area will really heat up (sorry) as multiple issues rise:

  • Legislation related to the Governor’s energy plan
  • Energy efficiency measures
  • Allowance to purchase electric power outside the current provider
  • Install a requirement that any new electric power generation be allowed competitive bids/procurement
  • Establish a rate case schedule for electric power utilities of XX (to be determined number of) years
  • Address the rural vs. municipal territorial/compensation dispute

Not all of these issues are ones that the Indiana Chamber will necessarily oppose or support – they will be part of the discussion but some may never get a hearing. This is like your friendly weather forecaster trying to tell you if it will rain, snow or be sunny in one month.

On Tap in ’15: Road Funding, Sunday Alcohol Sales and 21st Century Fund

Republican supermajorities and the biennial budget will be the context for all issues during the 2015 Indiana General Assembly, as a two-year budget must be passed and any caucus with 71 members (e.g., House Republicans) inevitably will have its internal disagreements. But, in the areas of economic development and infrastructure, another contextual factor will be a major road funding study by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) due in summer 2015 – after the Legislature has adjourned.

This INDOT study will examine existing fuel excise taxes, their future revenue potential and alternative funding mechanisms and revenue streams, such as vehicle miles traveled (VMT) or tolling. The study will provide a tool to address an acknowledged $750 million annual funding gap between current revenues and identified maintenance needs, let alone any new projects (such as third lanes on congested portions of Indiana interstates).

Legislative leadership and fiscal and transportation policy experts within the General Assembly seem content to await the results of the INDOT study before pursuing any significant changes to the way Indiana funds its roads, bridges and highways. Nevertheless, in the 2015 session we expect issues such as fees for electric or alternative-fuel vehicles to be addressed; examination of using more revenue from the 7% sales tax on gasoline for the state’s highway fund; and a discussion of indexing fuel taxes for inflation.

The INDOT study follows a report by the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation Infrastructure identifying a set of priority projects and laying out a long-term vision for surface transportation infrastructure across Indiana. This report includes recommendations for waterborne, air and rail commerce that may be taken up by the General Assembly, including the creation of dedicated funds for these important modes of transportation.

Likewise, while the final segment of Interstate 69 has yet to undergo regulatory review and be announced, current law prevents it from running through Perry Township in Marion County as an option; we expect legislation to remove that prohibition to be introduced. We also expect investment in next-generation telecommunications infrastructure to be addressed through legislation that streamlines zoning and regulatory approvals, seeking to make them less cumbersome and more consistent across different political jurisdictions within the state.

In the area of economic development, many items will be discussed. Along with continued reform of Indiana’s business personal property tax, other anticipated issues include: examination of tax increment financing (TIF) districts; repealing Indiana’s ban on the Sunday sales of alcohol; increasing production limits on craft breweries; renewal and reform of the state’s 21st Century Fund; film production incentives; and review of both the existing patent-derived income tax exemption and the state’s venture capital tax credit.

Indeed, we expect a major thrust for fiscal leaders this session to be a re-examination of many of the state’s existing economic development programs and tax provisions, as well as discussion of a new Regional Cities Initiative by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and the Pence administration.

Given mixed economic signals and the continued emphasis on job creation, we anticipate it will be a very busy session.

Teaching Time: It’s All About the Preparation

Many things can be said about teachers. A number of good ones are dramatically underpaid. Some classroom veterans who don't want to adapt likely make too much (simply due to longevity) based on their current contributions.

One of the few things people can agree upon is that a quality teacher is the most important factor in student achievement. With that in mind, it's not only the classroom leaders — but also those who prepare them for their careers — who are under increased scrutiny.

This Stateline story focuses on a growing number of states raising the bar on teacher preparation. It includes the following from Indiana and legislator Dennis Kruse, chair of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee.

In Indiana, the General Assembly this spring approved Senate Bill 409, which requires the state department of education to develop rules, standards and benchmarks of performance for teacher education programs and those who complete the programs. Under the legislation, the state will develop a rating system for teacher preparation programs. State Sen. Dennis Kruse, an author of the bill, said that after the legislature adopted tougher standards for teachers in 2011, lawmakers realized they had to hold the schools who train teachers accountable as well.

“We felt it was not really being fair to the teachers if they aren’t being trained correctly, so we felt we ought go to back to the schools to see which schools of education in Indiana are turning out teachers” who are effective, said Kruse, a Republican. “The ultimate goal is for students to succeed in the classroom and one of the best ways is to have an effective or highly effective teacher teaching them.”

Read the full story to learn about efforts in other states and at the national level.

 

Lawmakers Joining Blogging World

Stateline.org does an overall excellent job of covering policy and political news from, as the name suggests, a state perspective. But the massive nature of its mission produces some not totally unexpected errors.

This week’s story about lawmaker bloggers includes a list of state legislators who have become active blog participants. For Indiana, it lists Rep. Ryan Dvorak (D-South Bend) and Sen. David Ford (R-Hartford City).

Ford, of course, passed away earlier this year after being diagnosed with cancer near the start of the legislative session. We forgive the news organization for the oversight and will use it as an opportunity to once again celebrate the accomplishments of Ford, who represented portions of Adams, Allen, Blackford, Grant and Wells counties.

Ford was the Indiana General Assembly’s technology pioneer. He spent countless hours working toward increased technical capabilities in schools and other venues throughout the state. He also worked hard to convince his colleagues about the importance of the issues that many self-admittedly did not understand.

Chairman of the Senate’s Economic Development and Technology committee, Ford was co-winner of the Chamber’s 2004 Government Leader of the Year award — among many honors. In an interview in late 2007, he said his laptop was indispensable and he was happy to see more members of the Senate and House utilizing technology.

There would be no argument, either, that Ford was one of the true gentlemen to serve in the Indiana Legislature.