Bosma, Torr: Time is Now for Right-to-Work

More than 100 Indiana Chamber members "tuned in" Friday to hear the latest on right-to-work from Indiana Speaker of the House Brian Bosma and Rep. Jerry Torr. After the latest in our monthly Policy Issue Conference Calls, one had to be impressed with the leaders on this critical issue, their strong knowledge of the facts and their dedication to setting Indiana apart from its competitors.

Bosma addressed some of the myths out there about RTW:

  • Myth: It’s an attempt to destroy unions. Fact: "I carried a similar bill in 1995 that passed that was basically right-to-work for teachers" and no one can argue about the ongoing strength of the Indiana State Teachers Association.
  • Myth: Wages will drop: Fact: One must adjust for cost of living and real purchasing power to accurately compare states. When doing so, workers in right-to-work states win.
  • Myth: Hoosiers don’t want RTW. Fact: No matter the demographic, support for RTW is strong. Young people, in particular, regardless of political affiliation, favor the move by a 3-to-1 margin.

Torr adds that many opponents simply don’t understand what the bill does. When the opportunity to explain presents itself, the viewpoint often changes.

The bottom line is all about jobs. Bosma: "Despite all we’ve done in the last decade to make Indiana a job creation hub, we still have 9% unemployment and that’s just the official number. People are removing themselves from the search and others hold two part-time jobs and that doesn’t show up in the numbers. The simple, single reason is the need for jobs."

Another benefit, Torr explains, is the border effect. Indiana would be the only RTW state that would have non-RTW neighbors on every border. The others would likely move quickly to try and adopt RTW, but Indiana would have the definite advantage.

The two legislators urge business leaders and employees to contact their legislators and let them know their support. Legislators knowing that they have the backing of their constituents in taking this important step could ultimately decide whether this important initiative becomes a reality.

Need more information? Check out our new web site — and get involved!

Two Work Together for One Big Year

OK, I tried this little history lesson below as a possible lead to my BizVoice magazine story on the 2011 Government Leaders of the Year. I was rightfully told that it didn’t work — at least for that purpose. After a second look, I quickly agreed.

But you get it here, with the primary purpose to get you to the full story about Brian Bosma and David Long — and the accomplishments they helped produce in this year’s Indiana General Assembly session.

There are reasons that 49 states (Nebraska being the exception) and many countries operate with bicameral governing bodies. Bicameral simply refers to two chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate at the state and congressional levels.

While not delving too far into a history lesson, the Founding Fathers of our country established the House to represent the will of the people. This is exemplified by their smaller districts and two-year election cycle. The Senate, on the other hand, is viewed as much more deliberative, with its members representing larger geographic areas and serving six-year terms.

The two-chamber model provides a checks and balances to the governing system. But the House and Senate – and particularly their leadership – must work together. To do so is progress; to fail in that effort often results in gridlock.

The 2011 Indiana General Assembly session is largely regarded as a tremendous success. Leading the way were the two people at the top – House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long.

Check out the full story here and go online to view all the award winner videos.

Less Than 350 Days Until the Next Big Show

We like to say here at the Indiana Chamber that we have the biggest and best annual business celebration. Sure I’m a little biased, but I think that was proven to be the case again Thursday night.

Don’t take our word for it. The 1,400-plus attendees certainly seemed to enjoy themselves. Governor Mitch Daniels helped get the ball rolling and the night closed with keynote speaker Terry Bradshaw putting on an excellent show.

There were the three major awards, of course. Congratulations to Business Leader of the Year Jean Wojtowicz, Government Leaders Brian Bosma and David Long, and Community of the Year Kokomo. Check out their video profiles and stay tuned for photos, a video recap of the event and more in the coming days and weeks.

It’s about much more than just the awards. It’s business, community and political leaders coming together and celebrating what makes Indiana great.

It’s only 11 months and 12 days until the 23rd Annual Awards Dinner, which will feature Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on the 40th anniversary of Watergate and the lessons learned that apply to today’s political world. Join us November 1, 2012 and see for yourself what a great event this is.

The Speaker is Coming, the Speaker is Coming!

What does all this legislative activity (all indications are lawmakers will complete their work on time today) mean for companies, employees and citizens throughout the state? The Indiana Chamber will have some answers during its May 13 Policy Issue Conference Call for members.

Providing some of the analysis will be none other than House Speaker Brian Bosma, who weathered the five-week Demcorat walkout and has helped orchestrate what will go down as one of the most successful General Assembly sessions in quite some time.

Chamber members, you don’t want to miss this one. Sign up today!

Charter Schools Bill Amended & Approved

The following is an update on HB 1002, regarding charter schools:

Authors: Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis), Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan (D-Indianapolis) and Rep. Cindy Noe (R-Indianapolis)
Sponsor: Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn)

Summary: Allows private universities to serve as charter school authorizers.  Creates the Indiana Charter School Board to serve as a statewide authorizer. (Continues authorizing authority for state universities and the Indianapolis mayor.) Makes unused and underutilized public school facilities available for charter school use. Eliminates limits on charter schools approved by the Indianapolis mayor and on virtual charter schools. Increases funding for virtual charter schools from 80% of average state tuition support to 85%. Cancels interest payments on loans from the state that charter schools have acquired as the result of delayed tuition payments. Makes additional changes. 

Chamber Position: Support
Status: The Senate Appropriations Committee made additional changes this week that would increase funding for virtual charter schools to 85% of the state average rather than 90%, as proposed originally. Additional amendments were made to adjust how charter schools receive first semester funds (an ongoing concern that has caused charter schools to incur substantial operating loans) and to improve accountability for charter schools. The committee approved the amended bill on an 8-2 vote, with Sen. Earline Rogers (D-Gary) and Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) joining Republicans in support of the bill; it is now eligible for consideration by the full Senate. 

Update/Chamber Action:  The Indiana Chamber continued to work much of this week in helping to develop an accountability component for charter school authorizers that would raise performance expectations without putting charter schools at risk of future political swings. We believe that the amendment adopted this week accomplishes that balance. As the bill continues to progress, we join Speaker Bosma, the author of this bill, in wanting to see the triggers for conversion charter schools improved. Those triggers, we believe, should focus on some super-majority of parents in the school, rather than a focus on teachers who often do not live in the school boundaries, do not send children to the school and do not pay taxes in the district. We also note some continuing frustration with a small minority of legislators who remain unwilling to acknowledge that charter schools are public schools and who continue to portray these schools as siphoning funds from "real" public schools.  Nonetheless, we continue to be pleased that this substantial bill is progressing and will continue to work with legislative leaders, the Indiana Department of Education and other charter school supporters to continue improving and advancing the bill. 

Need to Raise Indiana Taxes?

The Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute (IFPI) says in its September report that a combination of tax increases and spending cuts is "the politically obvious path … and likely …" but in reaction to such a suggestion, the budget makers and politicians are all saying otherwise.

Chris Ruhl, the governor’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, said, "A general tax increase on Hoosiers is a terrible and unnecessary idea and one the governor firmly opposes." Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is reported as saying "… Hoosiers are already suffering … and it would not be fair to them for the state to raise their taxes, too." The leaders of both caucuses in the House were likewise dismissive. Speaker Pat Bauer (D-South Bend) simply said,  "We are not going to raise taxes" and Minority Leader Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), who could well be speaker if the Republicans gain a majority in the House, said, "Republicans pledge to enact a balanced state budget without a general tax increase."

So, increasing taxes doesn’t seem to be too obvious to those in charge. But do increases remain a possibility, regardless of across-the-board rejections? Well, maybe. Unfortunately, tax increases can take many forms. And what exactly is being ruled out when a politician says there will be no "general tax increase" is open for interpretation and qualification. Similarly, the constituent-friendly term "Hoosiers" rather than "taxpayers" may indicate they mean only individuals and the general taxes they collectively pay – or conversely, to exclude business entities and the taxes they pay.

Suffice it to say, these "no-new-tax" statements may not end up covering things like changes in how a business’ taxable income is defined, special application taxes, tax law changes that only impact a group of taxpayers, fees or other changes that raise revenue but do not affect broad categories of taxpayers. Yet, these actions are all effectively tax increases for somebody. Don’t be surprised if at some point down the road, the politicians qualify what they mean when they say they won’t raise taxes.  

Whatever happens from here (suggestions of tax increases aside), the IFPI is to be commended for nicely compiling the facts in appropriate context, presenting the issues and focusing attention on the realities of our fiscal situation. The steep decline in revenues is a problem and certain to make it very difficult to formulate a budget. But, the problem cannot be resolved by looking at the revenue side of the equation. Expenditures must be kept in line with revenues – whatever they may turn out to be. One reality that cannot be ignored: budget makers must look at education expenditures.

K-12 funding is by far the biggest piece of the pie and the only category where relatively small percentage reductions translate to significant savings. (Everything else has been cut to the bone or legitimately considered non discretionary.) As undesirable as it is, it should be acknowledged that the only way to balance the books is to find ways to reduce this biggest ticket item. How the problem is addressed will depend on how severe the situation is come next year.

Read the IFPI study here.

A Little Less Talk, a Lot More Action at Statehouse?

Tuesday morning at the Indiana Statehouse was a good time for catchy phrases. Whether the rest of the week will see substantive legislative action is yet to be seen.

House Speaker Pat Bauer has reconfirmed his plan to adjourn this session by the end of Thursday (10 days before the March 14 deadline date for such action). His closing words to House members (before calling for a recess until 2:30 today) as he urged them to work diligently on conference committees: "If you can make an agreement, so be it; if you can’t make an agreement, so be it."

Prior to that, House Minority Leader Brian Bosma said his caucus was not opposed to a Thursday ending as long as all the needed business was taken care of. He cited five priorities, led by a clean and clear delay in the unemployment insurance tax increase, that would thwart the "go home early" plan. His final comment: "It’s better to be a little slow and right than quick and wrong."

The Senate has not publicly weighed in today (it has a light calendar with a 1:30 beginning), although President Pro Tem David Long has previously stated there is nothing wrong with an early ending, but not before key issues are addressed.

The real work is taking place in conference committees and in negotiations among leadership. Stay tuned for the outcomes.

Bauer, Bosma, Long and Simpson Set the Stage

The 2010 legislative session might officially begin Tuesday with Organization Day. The discussion started today, however, at the Indiana Chamber’s Central Indiana Legislative Preview. The four caucus leaders had plenty to say during an hour-plus dialogue. Just a few of the highlights:

  • Plenty of debate and disagreement over the property tax caps. House Speaker Pat Bauer (D-South Bend) tried to insert some ABCs into the 1-2-3 argument, with his main point being that assessment problems still need to be fixed. Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne) warned of constitutional challenges (lawsuits) if the caps are not passed. Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson (D-Bloomington) offered that "we really don’t know if 1-2-3 are the right numbers" and said there should be no exemptions for any counties
  • State budget: House Minority Leader Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) says there are two priorities for his caucus — no new taxes and no additional spending. Long: "Any bill that has spending in it is more than likely dead on arrival."
  • Party lines were clearly at play on federal health care reform, with Long "scared to death about what they’re talking about in Washington," while Simpson is "all for a national health insurance plan that insures more people." Bauer arrived in time to add that a fortune could be made and debt problems resolved if a 25% premium charge was placed on every advertisement both for and against health care reform
  • Local government reform: Simpson says exemptions for certain counties or areas have no place in such legislation; Long sees much duplication in township services in urban areas, but not necessarily in rural places; and Bauer gave arguments on both sides of the question before asserting that reform "must take place in steps and some steps will be taken this session."
  • Support of delay in unemployment insurance tax increase on employers: Bosma said "yes" to delay or even permanently postpone; Bauer adds that modifying those increases should take place in conjunction with a jobs program; and Simpson notes her caucus will "undoubtedly support a delay" but also believes that reforms in the hearings and appeals processes should be part of the equation
  • Education reform was addressed with Long contending that while some say Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett is a bull in a china shop, "I say we need a bull in a china shop. He needs to continue to push the envelope." Simpson says Democrats are more open to these discussions due to the efforts of President Obama. Bauer wants the focus more on students, expecially those struggling in inner cities, than teachers. Bosma sees the coming decade as one of "examination and action" on education, but that will not be the case in the 2010 General Assembly session

Bottom line: Excellent discussion; there will be plenty of issues in play during the short two-month session; and no one really knows what the outcomes will be.

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.