House Introduces 14 New Bills… Why?

Late yesterday it was revealed that the General Assembly has 14 new bills to contend with… or do they?

Four of the measures introduced by House members are procedural in nature: the vehicle bills.  The remaining 10 appear to be hot-button issues that couldn’t find their way to passage during the regular session.  Among them:

  • Elimination of townships outside Marion County
  • Smoking ban in public places
  • Constitutional property tax cap amendment
  • Declaration that marriage is between a man and woman

So why bother with them now during the special session, with less than a week before a state budget needs to be finalized?

It’s called going through the motions says Indiana Chamber health care lobbyist Mike Ripley, himself a former state representative.

“The legislators know realistically these bills are not going to move – maybe they have a 1% chance – and that leadership probably can only deal with the budget matters,” he states. “This comes down to legislators wanting to keep the issues that are most important to them out there, and going on record like this is one way to do that.”

It’s Conference Committee Time — Again

House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Bill Crawford tells the House that work begins at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday on the budget conference committee, that those involved should be prepared to work each day through Sunday, possibly "morning, noon and evening" in the attempt to have a compromise ready by next Monday.

Those words came after, on a voice vote, the House dissented on the Senate budget that was passed earlier in the afternoon. But even that involved a few theatrics.

House Minority Leader Brian Bosma urged opposition to the dissent motion, saying, "It’s time to end the per-diem, end the travel, end the hotel expenses; end the misery for taxpayers, for employees wondering if the state will shut down. It’s time for all that to end."

Democrat Russ Stilwell countered that he wasn’t going to rely on "blind faith" in going along with a Senate proposal that passed three hours earlier. Plenty of shouts from the floor even prompted Speaker Pat Bauer to call for a little decorum.

Crawford and Jeff Espich are the House conferees. Advisors on the Dem side are Goodin, Pelath, Avery and Welch; for the Republicans, Turner, Thompson and Borror. On the Senate side, Luke Kenley and John Broden are the conferees; offering their guidance will be Republicans Hershman, Dillon, Lubbers and Senate Pro Tem Long; Tallian, Hume and Skinner for the Dems.

The clock is ticking. Seven days and counting.

Senate Passes Budget; Governor Urges Vote Now

The Indiana Senate definitely plays nicer than the House. Instead of zingers flying fast and furious, there was predominately a civil tone to today’s activity.  I lost track of how many times a variation of the word “respect” was used by both parties. Quite frankly, it made for some very boring talks. 

Still, when it came time for the Senate to vote on its version of the budget bill (SS 1001), the outcome was predictable – much like the House action last week – and had a distinct partisan flair to it. 

The Senate passed SS 1001 33-17; the catch being that one Democrat – Sen. Frank Mrvan of Hammond – voted for it, while Republican Vaneta Becker of Evansville voted no. 

The so-called budget contingency plan (SS 1) – in case an actual budget fails to pass by June 30 – moved from the Senate on a 32-18 vote (Republican Jean Leising of Oldenburg opposed it).

During today’s proceedings, Senate Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne) said his goal was to have the Senate vote on a finalized budget by no later than June 29. Of course, in order to do that, the House must play nice. Think they can?

The latest: Gov. Daniels issued a plea to the House Democrats to avoid a conference committee and to take a vote on the Senate version of SS 1001. The statement from the governor:

“The Senate compromise, while significantly different from either of my two proposals, protects taxpayers within the limits I’ve requested and I would sign it.  I know there are many House Democrats who would prefer a budget that keeps Indiana in the black to one that takes us into bankruptcy, and we invite them to join this compromise now and bring the special session to a successful close. Mr. Speaker, please just free your followers to vote their conscience and let’s go home.”

The Budget and Education: What You Need to Know

During Monday’s Statehouse debate on the budget, Sen. Connie Sipes (D-New Albany) made an impassioned plea that "money should follow the programs." The former educator added that the "money following the students sounds really good," but it doesn’t work.

Chamber education expert Derek Redelman tackled that issue (funding on a district vs. student perspective) and much more in a recent comprehensive overview of K-12 as it relates to the budget. Read here for a much clearer understanding of these key topics.

Will Everybody End Up Giving a Little on Budget?

On the face of it, today’s series of second reading budget amendments in the Senate appeared to be another partisan exercise. Eight Republican amendments (mostly minor in nature) passed; Democrat offerings elicited strong debate before going down to party-line defeat, with 33-17 becoming the vote count of the day.

Dig a little deeper, though, and the stage may have been set somewhat for conference committee negotiations. Among the developments:

  • Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) adjusting the hastily compiled budget, making adjustments to the school funding formula to try and decrease the dollar discrepancies between growing schools and those continually seeing declining enrollments (closer to the House Democrat model).
  • An amendment from John Broden (D-South Bend), ranking minority member of the appropriations panel, that called for spending $132 million more on education. Although defeated, the debate was spirited and Kenley appeared to remain open to further consideration. House Speaker Pat Bauer (D-South Bend) undoubtedly liked some of the things he heard from Broden and his fellow senators and views some as tools for the end game.
  • A successful Mike Young (R-Indianapolis) amendment (on a voice vote) that introduced publicly a new solution to the Capitol Improvement Board (CIB) mess. It is more of a stopgap measure, allowing the CIB to borrow money from the state treasurer for up to a three-year period to meet its financial obligations. It would eliminate several of the tax increases that have been primary components of the discussion thus far.

 The Senate returns at 11 a.m. Tuesday to pass its version of the budget. The House may be back to officially dissent, and conference committee negotiations round two will begin. Senate Republicans are seemingly in the "compromise" mood; will House Democrats reciprocate?

Committee Easily Breaks the 3-hour Budget Barrier

The Senate has a plan. Not everyone may be in agreement, but at least there is a plan. And the Appropriations Committee fulfilled its part of the mission this afternoon by passing a budget bill (expectedly much more similar to the governor’s proposal than the legislation that passed the House on Thursday) in just over two hours.

Sure, the amendment and full bill were approved on 8-4 party-line votes and the real differences have yet to be heard. While most on both sides applauded the work of the committee in preparing the budget bill, Sen. Earline Rogers (D-Gary) did offer that "it’s not as bad as it could have been."

Limited testimony came from a wide variety of sources (including the Chamber’s Bill Waltz and Derek Redelman), most of whom have worn out a path to the Statehouse for similar sessions the past six months. Redelman, by the way, was questioned by Sen. Lindel Hume (D-Princeton) about the role of the Chamber and why the organization is so interested in education and charter schools. Redelman eloquently answered (no need for further details), Hume lauded the Chamber for its overall work and life went on. An interesting and strange sidebar it was.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne) outlined a plan for second reading amendments to the budget Monday (session begins at 2:30 p.m.; Republicans in caucus at noon and Democrats at 1:30) and third reading passage on Tuesday, leaving one week for conference committee negotiations. Long also introduced a bill that puts a contingency plan in place in case an agreement is not reached by June 30. He explained that the process needed to be initiated today to maintain the rules for bill passage and not force legislators into session (when not needed) and costing the taxpayers more money.

Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson (D-Bloomington) expressed concern that the language gives the state budget director too much power, considers the movement of this bill as "admitting defeat" and called Long’s reasoning for needing to introduce the bill today as a "straw man" argument. Her concerns will likely appear in amendment form on Monday.

The day ended with the full Senate accepting the committee reports on the budget bill and contingency legislation. The drama resumes on Monday. 

Barbs Fly as House Democrats Pass Budget

The elephants and donkeys drew their usual (party) lines in the sand before the House vote this morning on SS 1001, the budget bill.  The result: Everyone looked petty.  In the end, no surprise, the measure passed 52-48 – all on the back of Democrat votes. The parties were on such opposite sides it was hard to believe they were still in the same room.  
 
Among the verbal gems:
 
House Minority Leader Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis: “I found out before I came in here that this budget we’re about to vote on (the House Democrats’ proposal) spends $200 million more in the first year than the bill that was defeated at the end of April … and that was at the end of session with a gun to our head.”
 
Representative Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City:  “Don’t let anyone tell you that we’re not reigning in our budget on this side of the aisle.  We ought to be proud of this budget; I am. But I know – it’s my guess – there will be no votes coming from over there (the Republicans).  (That’s because) we have different priorities. We believe in helping the poor, public education and giving people a chance to earn a living.”
 
Representative Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale: “(The Democrats) seem to think it’s unthinkable for government to flatline spending.  Anyone here not tightened their own belts the past few months? … Good news is we’re going home today, saving taxpayers’ money (on the special session).  The bad news is the Democrats are going to pass a budget that will lead to tax increases.”
 
One of the most unique visits to the microphone came thanks to Rep. Vernon Smith (D-Gary), who led off his remarks touting that several media outlets in Fort Wayne, Lafayette, South Bend and elsewhere have come out in support of the House Democrats budget proposal.  Smith thought this was significant. Really? 
 
Sifting through all the banter, the great divide centers on the Republicans’ view that the Democrats are being free-wheeling with spending, while the Democrats contend that the Republicans and the governor are trying to “decimate school funding” with their approach to the state budget.
 
“I don’t want to get into the governor’s alleged 2% increase in education spending,” remarked Pelath. “It counted all sorts of things that have never been counted before” in terms of federal sources.  “It’s unsettling, gimmicky and didn’t meet his own criteria for what a budget should look like.”
 
Meanwhile, Espich predicts the state “could have another budget crisis four or five months from now – and that  budget crisis in November or January will be worse than the one we have today.”
 
Agreeing with that assessment, Rep. Randy Borror (R-Fort Wayne) warned that if the Legislature ultimately passes a one-year budget, “We will become full-time legislators.” 
 
Borror went on to list many of the digs Democrats made about Gov. Daniels during the proceedings and then closed with, “ At least you can’t accuse him of being stupid.  He knows how to balance a budget. Maybe you should have listened to him a little more.”
 
All in all, another proud day for the Legislature.  Look for Act II from the Senate.

Short Day on Budget; Senate to Revive CIB

I don’t know who wouldn’t want these work hours.  The House of Representatives is done for the day – at noon. 

Heard today were amendments to the budget bill. Among them were pet projects and technical tweaks – many of which involve additional funding requests. House Republicans did register their complaints, saying this session is about establishing the state budget and not a time to keep spending on other things.

The budget measure (SS 1001) was moved to third reading; the House could vote on it as soon as tomorrow, when it is set to reconvene in the morning.

One added bit of drama came courtesy of Rep. Jeff Espich of Uniondale and Rep. Bill Crawford of Indianapolis, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, who exchanged barbs on the House floor. 

The topic was the way the Capital Improvement Board (CIB) bill was handled/manhandled – you can choose your own term – in committee yesterday. 

Espich wanted it known that the Republicans didn’t want the measure withdrawn as Crawford had done (due to lack of bipartisan support).  In his rebuttal, Crawford stated emphatically that “the CIB business now must be addressed in the Senate … it was my call to kill it and my call is it’s dead.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, marked the end of today’s proceedings.

Surprise: Good Idea Goes Nowhere!

Another day, another thought along the lines of: "Is there a prayer we will have a new state budget within the next two weeks?"

Actually, the budget was not even a topic of discussion as the House Ways & Means Committee once again took center stage. But there was no reason for optimism. A brief recap:

  • The best idea came from freshman Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis), who called for giving the governor the power to use millions in township government reserves to solve the Capital Improvement Board (CIB) funding shortfall. Only problem was it made too much sense. A lack of support prevented full consideration and a vote
  • Democrats on the committee did pass numerous other amendments that had little, if anything, to do with the CIB situation. There was random testimony before and after the fact. Only it really didn’t matter. Republicans opposed the bill when it came to a final vote and committee chair Bill Crawford (D-Indianapolis) pulled the bill because he wanted bipartisan support. Like that old Saturday Night Live skit, "Never mind!" Of course, it will be revived in some form in the Senate
  • Ways & Means did pass SS 1003 (audit of administration’s public assistance privatization efforts). House convened for less than five minutes to accept commitee report and called it a day

The drama resumes on Wednesday — full House at 9 a.m. (presumably for second reading on the budget bill) and Ways & Means at 11 a.m. Those around the legislative process, however, know these times mean little.

Four days of special session activity, a lot of people talking and very little accomplished. What’s so special about that? Stay tuned for the next installment. 

CIB Plight Heard in Ways & Means

The governor wasn’t there and neither was Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. So both missed the latest round of questions this afternoon over the multi-million dollar funding proposal to assist Indianapolis’ Capital Improvement Board (CIB).

Instead, Indianapolis city controller David Reynolds and a CIB contractor from the CPA firm London Witte drew the short straws.

Reynolds told the House Ways and Means Committee that the funding on the table will keep the CIB going through 2011; he couldn’t state with certainty, however, that enough efficiencies would be realized to sustain it going forward. 

To say the least, that troubled the committee.

“The CIB has no ability beyond what’s given to it to raise revenues. We don’t see any other options short of what’s being proposed here (in SS 1002),” Reynolds offered.  “(If that doesn’t pass), the CIB will enter into a very precarious situation with the Pacers and of notifying conventions that there may not be a facility there (for the events).”

The London Witte representative revealed that the financial cost of expanding the convention center was not factored into any analysis for the CIB. This seemed to baffle some on the committee.

Testimony has concluded on SS 1002 with amendments now being heard. One that won’t play a factor: a provision for a Gary casino; Rep. Charlie Brown announced at the start of today’s proceedings that he was not going to introduce it. That likely means gambling will not factor into this special session.

Time change: The full House is expected to convene at 5 p.m., to allow for the Ways and Means Committee to finish business.