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STATEHOUSE DISPATCH: Short but historic session produces election plot lines

March 27, 2006

You can go home now (unless you live in Perry Township) and rest somewhat assured that the governor and state lawmakers won't do anything untoward to you until, at the soonest, November.

Yes, the 2006 short session of the Indiana General Assembly has run its course, and left the state with some key policy and economic legacies.

Not the least of them, as we have discussed at length in this column, and has been covered elsewhere in these pages, are the Major Moves transportation program, telecommunications deregulation, and a change in the way the corporate income tax will be calculated.

But we also learned a number of things from January through March 14 this year.

First, we learned that the so-called short session of the General Assembly can no longer simply be viewed-or used-as a session governed by the electoral precept of "first, do no harm."

While lawmakers in the past have been reluctant to use the short session to offer much in a substantive sense-and have always been concerned about generating controversy just a few short weeks before the primary election and eight months before the general election-voters will

probably no longer draw the distinction

between a regular and "emergency" session, and may now come to expect that if something positive needs to be done, it can get done.

The short session is now simply a supercharged version of the long session, minus the budget-at least for now.

We also learned that a special session is no longer a given after a long or short session. While much of this is due to the fact the Legislature and executive branch are controlled by one party, many veterans are simply sick of having to return to Indianapolis to finish their business, and the new crop of freshmen and even sophomore lawmakers aren't driven by past perception and expectations.

The election can also now be said to decide the agenda, and we don't mean the gubernatorial election. If Gov. Mitch Daniels had been elected without a Republican majority in the House (the Senate GOP majority is now effectively a given), you could have kissed his major agenda items last session and in 2006 goodbye.

The legislative election now determines whether the governor's agenda will pass or fail, but even if the same party controls both chambers of the General Assembly, the success of a party's legislative agenda is not assured (see local government fiscal flexibility, long-term property tax relief, legislative redistricting reform, and a handful of other high-profile issues).

That-and the withering of IndyWorks on the legislative vine-is why you will see the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce play an expanded political role in the next election.

Just a few days after lawmakers headed home from the 2005 long session, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles announced its branch-closing plans, infuriating members of both parties. Legislators postured back home about the closings and how the situation was handled, they promised to return for an interim study of the issue in the summer, and threatened to push legislation that would have required legislative confirmation of key agency directors. Some even pledged to reopen branches via legislative mandates.

But nothing really happened legislatively on this, as the collective legislative will to stand up to the executive branch quickly petered out.

But there was some legislative micromanagement. We had nurses, lawyers, fund-raisers, financiers and others deciding that they knew better than the professional engineers, geologists, environmentalists and surveyors about where the northern terminus of Interstate 69 should be. And while it seemed as though the governor and the Indiana Department of Transportation backed off when the Legislature backed in, at least some who read the Major Moves package (and the governor's body language) suggest there won't be any change.

There remains a great deal on the agenda for the next session.

Long-term real property relief will be a priority, regardless of who controls the House. There will continue to be a debate, however, over just how much fiscal flexibility to afford local governments. The governor will push an education agenda and will find a receptive audience from Democrats for full-day kindergarten. He will also begin to unveil his government efficiency proposals after the election, and you can expect some major howling from virtually every sector affected.

Economic development will also be a major focus, and you can expect more initiatives aimed at job growth, but those also probably won't be unveiled until late in the year.

Follow the election campaigns closely this year to see just what fallout there might be in May and November for backing the time change and toll road lease, and you just might have a leg up on determining whether you'll see significant new legacies emerge from the 2007 session.



Feigenbaum publishes Indiana Legislative Insight. His column appears weekly while the Indiana General Assembly is in session. He can be reached by e-mail at edf@ingrouponline.com.
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