Education & Workforce Development and Government

STATEHOUSE DISPATCH: Statehouse battles brew as session winds down

April 18, 2005

An awful lot of things need to fall into place between now and April 29 for lawmakers to exit Indianapolis with their heads held high over their ability to get things done this session.

Some may quibble (and others flat-out argue) about whether the legislative agenda this session has been active-positive or active-negative. However, there is no question that, to this point at least, lawmakers-mirroring the new governor-have been proactive. It's a stark contrast to the passive stance of the recent past when legislators felt constrained by a lack of available funds.

What they need to accomplish over the next two weeks to round out the session will largely focus on the budget. As they work toward closure on the budget, however, they will face some major distractions, including daylight-saving time.

Legislative treatment of the daylight-saving time issue continues to confound almost everyone. People outside Indiana seem unable to comprehend why Indiana doesn't follow the rest of the world (or at least some part of it), and why it is such a divisive issue for Hoosiers. Then again, those folks don't typically understand the forces at stake in the class basketball issue, either.

But even within the limestone confines of the Statehouse, lawmakers and the governor have had a tough time dealing with DST. Vote counts by both sides have been inaccurate since the initial House committee hearing on the measure. Lawmakers on both sides of the issue have conveniently absented themselves from key votes. And assorted amendments have been attached that some have perceived as a death knell for the underlying concept, while others have seen them as lifesavers, enabling DST to plod along to the next stage of legislative deliberation.

The DST bill passed the House by one vote, and only then after it failed to obtain a constitutional majority the first time it was voted upon. Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, intervened between those two votes to muster more backing, but not in a way that offended Democrats-many of whom voted for the bill-or DST opponents.

The governor's avoidance of poisoning the well-and his decision not to engage in willy-nilly vote trading for one of his top priorities-will become even more important as the session comes to a conclusion.

DST now moves to the Senate, where prospects for passage aren't decidedly bright. Amendments added in the House may have been necessary to ensure passage there, but they may also have complicated matters for the Senate.

Delicate negotiations will be required in the Senate, and some Democratic votes may also be needed for passage in that chamber. Unfortunately for Democrats, not much near and dear to their hearts is left that they can trade for.

While this drama was playing out in the House, the Senate was busy passing a budget that balances spending with revenue.

Senate Democrats offered a series of amendments that would better fund schools-to the tune of an extra $100 million-without tax hikes. All of them were rejected. Education funding has been the key issue for Senate Democrats this session.

While the Democratic amendments served as little more than an annoyance to the majority, more troublesome to House members will be some proposed tax increases, such as on cigarettes, and the diversion of some $70 million in local riverboat taxes from host communities to the state general fund.

Even House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, acknowledges the Senate might be biting off a bit more than House members can chew with respect to the local option income tax proposal.

Many lawmakers-particularly freshmen House Republicans-have some real problems with the tax provisions, which may lead them to vote against the budget. If a few of those members defect, they could team with enough House Democrats to defeat the bill.

As the remaining session days dwindle, the Colts stadium and Indiana Convention Center expansion plan funding measure will be melded into the budget as well. Daniels and lawmakers will slug it out with Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, a Democrat, and the City-County Council over whether the state or local government will control the project.

That debate could further split Indianapolis Democrats from their colleagues around the state, such as those in Lake County, who seem destined to gain some additional local funds in the budget through a Toll Road toll hike that will stay in northwest Indiana. They may not be willing to go to the well for Indianapolis on oversight if they have already given in on funding and received their own largesse.

The interesting part of the session is just getting under way.



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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