Legislature and Opinion and Statehouse Dispatch and Capital Improvement Board and Legislation and Politics and Government and Government Reform

CIB solution may be wrapped into state budget

April 6, 2009

The Legislature has been behaving as expected lately: little public sound and fury, but action beginning to stir behind the scenes.

The only major public event of much consequence within the last week took place after the deadline for this column, a "redo" of sorts in the House Committee on Government and Regulatory Reform. The committee chairman, Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis, was bringing back for review local-government-reform legislation that appeared to have died on the vine.

An internal Democratic caucus debate saw three Indianapolis Democratic freshmen, Reps. Ed DeLaney, Mary Ann Sullivan and John Barnes, push for action on at least some components of the package, which has undergone more changes recently than the public image of the Indiana Pacers.

One other interesting thing that transpired in public was unanimous Senate passage of a bill calling for the creation of new-business-recruitment grants in economically disadvantaged areas—counties posting unemployment rates exceeding the statewide average by at least 2 percent.

That measure, House Bill 1434, authored by freshman Rep. David Yarde, R-Garrett, is intended to jump-start economic development efforts in rural counties that border counties that are more urban. While this would not generally benefit Marion and the collar counties, some counties outside the doughnut could benefit, as well as larger counties in the area that have been hard hit by manufacturing defections, such as Madison County.

The bill heads to conference committee, and while the intent sounds good and the votes were overwhelmingly in favor in both chambers, it faces an uncertain future. Some existing state grant programs focused on economic development have already been frozen; lawmakers have already achieved their political goal of going on record in favor of the ostensibly good bill, and it may be difficult to find consensus on a measure that spends more money and treats counties unequally.

This grant concept could, however, find itself wrapped up in a statewide solution to the operating deficits posted locally by the Capital Improvement Board.

You've heard all the frustration expressed outside central Indiana over the past several years about how "Indianapolis" controls the Legislature, but at the top leadership levels, that's not been true.

Indianapolis has not been home to the leader of the Senate majority or minority in decades. While the last two Republican speakers of the House have been from Indianapolis, Republicans have controlled that body in only four years since the late 1980s, and none of the top Democrats during that period were from Indianapolis.

The fact that the current Senate leader hails from Fort Wayne and the House speaker from South Bend is playing a part in the CIB tug of war. In addition to hearing from their members outside the doughnut about not wanting to pay for what their constituents largely see as an Indianapolis problem, the leaders themselves are initially skeptical about devising a statewide solution.

To this equation, you must add the complicated local situation: a mayor who has been reluctant to step forward with a proposal, the public perception that the owners of the NFL and NBA franchises that benefit from the facility packages have received sweetheart deals and aren't stepping up to the plate as part of the solution, public antipathy to paying any further taxes to fund these facilities, and the collar counties that have already been part of the regional taxing district.

Parochialism will play a part in how this is resolved, and you should expect sweeteners for areas far from Indianapolis to make any statewide solution palatable. But such incentives, if not in the form of offering local authority to do something, usually cost something.

That's why this is expected to be wrapped up in the budget. On the final day for bills to clear committee, Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, will unveil his (two-year) budget proposal in the Senate Committee on Appropriations that he chairs. The panel will pass it that day, and, on tax day, April 15, you can expect the full Senate to do so, on a split vote.

There will then be two weeks until adjournment, and the game(s) will truly begin.
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Feigenbaum publishes
Indiana Legislative Insight. His column appears weekly while the Indiana General Assembly is in session. He can be reached at edf@ingrouponline.com.

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