Statehouse Leaves One Searching for the Right Words

I’ve been doing this writing thing for publication for more than 30 years now (must have started from the crib, right?) and rarely experience trouble expressing myself. The problem here is not the dreaded writer’s block, but what not to say following a long, long day at the Indiana Statehouse on Wednesday.

(Indiana Chamber members can get the full story directly from ICC president Kevin Brinegar on Friday from 9:30-10:30 a.m. ET in our monthly Policy Issue Conference Call. Kevin has just about seen it all in his nearly 30 years around the Statehouse, but Wednesday’s developments had him joining others in shaking his head. Remember, this is for members only. Registration is required).

I’ll try to be brief. First key point: At a time when economic fortunes are low and unemployment is high, legislators pass an unemployment insurance trust fund bill that practically guarantees additional job losses. Figure that one out. Second, a state budget proposal (the lone requirement for the nearly four-month session) fails in the House (71-27) and that is the good news. The "compromise" would have started the steady climb up the "cliff" that everyone said needed to be avoided (in other words, relied too heavily on stimulus funds and set the stage for big tax hikes two years from now or sooner) and took several steps in reverse on education policy.

I’ve come to learn in 11 years at the Chamber that negotiations in the final days of the session produce the ultimate final bills on the major issues. I’m not a big fan of that, but I’ve come to accept it as reality. The products of these conference committees, however, seemed to evolve from one-sided negotiations. House Republicans and Senate Democrats, the minorities, talked of being shut out. Senate Republicans unfortunately seemed to be missing in action based on the conference committee outcomes.

Just a few details. The unemployment "solution" was termed a $685 million tax increase on employers over two years. Econ 101, or maybe freshman common sense, tells you struggling employers faced with monumental tax increases will have to cut costs in other ways — quite likely in personnel. Passionate speeches aside from both caucuses, the bill passed the House 52-47 (party line vote) after 96-3 passage in the Senate.

The budget proposal: Too much spending ($28.1 billion over two years when the state doesn’t have that much money to spend). A message that we’re still not serious about education. No scholarship tax credit. A cap on charter schools at a time when everyone from President Obama on down is calling for more school choice. House Minority Leader Brian Bosma said this move would have jeopardized $275 million in education stimulus funding and disqualified the state from Obama’s $5 billion Race to the Top education grant fund.

I’ll stop there. There will be plenty more to come as those two dreaded words — special session — are now reality.

0 thoughts on “Statehouse Leaves One Searching for the Right Words

  1. Tom,
    As a business owner and a political follower I feel your pain. My frustration is not knowing who are the nitwits. No disrespect, but if we are informed about what goes on inside the sausage factory now, by the time November rolls around, word of mouth may make sense. Did someone from Winchester trade a vote of pie for education? Unemployment plan for road construction? Since you are investing your time, and many thanks for that, would you please honor this request.

  2. The Chamber’s PAC, Indiana Business for Responsive Government, will be the lead player in separating the pro-economy, pro-jobs doers from the talkers. A comprehensive Legislative Vote Analysis will provide the proof and candidate recruitment efforts are already part of the IBRG plan. You can be assured that the Chamber and IBRG will continue the fight.

  3. Would you please supply us with the names of the senators that voted against the unemployment fund bail-out? Since there were only three nay votes, one must assume ALL the rest of them voted for one of the most massive tax increases on businesses in Indiana in years (one apparently not voting). Can you explain why it only passed the House on a party line vote while the Senate overwhelmingly supported it?

  4. The three senators who “saw the light” were Republicans Mike Delph (Carmel) and Jean Leising (Oldenburg) and Democrat Jim Lewis (Charlestown). John Waterman of Shelburn did not vote. A grassroots alert ( now active. The next step for all businesses is to let the governor know that he should not sign on to what you accurately described as one of the biggest business tax increases in the state’s history.

    As for the politics, House Republicans stood strong in their opposition. Senate Republicans abandoned the principles that were in place in the legislation they had passed a month earlier. There was apparent pressure to pass this measure, possibly with the intention of trying to make sure there was no special session (which obviously backfired with no budget agreement).