FEIGENBAUM: What does the 2013 session have in store for you?

January 5, 2013

The 2012 elections brought us a new Republican governor, a GOP House and Senate super-majority for the first time in a generation, and the first Democrat elected to a state office other than governor since 2000. We also welcome a second wave (tsunami) of new House members—another 25 added to the 20 who started in 2011.

That’s lots of change, particularly on top of change in the last two years. Since change means uncertainty, we’ll try to sort through things, reverting to our old rubric of explaining how the usual tensions shake out.

Governor vs. General Assembly. A Republican governor and super-majority in both chambers doesn’t mean Republicans will get whatever they want, nor that the Legislature will accede to every gubernatorial whim.

Legislators are protective of their turf (the Daniels phenomenon was a once-in-a-century force of nature) and despite the proverbial “honeymoon” period, legislative life isn’t always copacetic for a new governor—and Gov.-elect Mike Pence didn’t even win an electoral majority.

The Pence campaign centerpiece was a 10-percent individual income tax rate cut, but legislative leaders were lukewarm to the idea in the hot summer, and remain cool this winter. Daniels saw his high-earner tax surcharge slapped down in his first year; while lawmakers won’t immediately kill a Pence tax cut, it will not gain traction until after the April fiscal forecast as legislators review the first round of corporate and inheritance tax-cut numbers (and additional hits to gambling taxes) to determine whether another cut is sustainable.

Regardless, lawmakers have other spending plans they prefer (including an additional corporate income tax cut, and quicker inheritance tax phase-out), and recent Ball State University polling shows the public favoring funding education and work-force training more than tax cuts.

Senate vs. House. Traditionally, the Senate has been a check on a rowdy House, but those roles flipped in 2012. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, should be able to temper any non-mainstream bills potentially emerging again from the Senate.

The Senate, however, will have the upper hand in the legislative fiscal debate. An old hand, Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, oversees the budget process there, while the House fiscal shop’s two lead money mechanics are new not only to their respective roles, but also to the House Committee on Ways and Means itself.

Democrats vs. Republicans. Pence has already reached out and pledged not to run roughshod over Democrats. Bosma again selected a Democrat as a committee chair, and says the right things about inclusiveness. Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R, Fort Wayne) didn’t shut Democrats out in 2012; expect the same this year in a body in which no sitting Democrat has served in the majority and no current Republican has ever been in its minority.

Democrats do, however, have new House and Senate leaders, and the role each adopts will evolve, particularly House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, who was chosen to counter a non-inclusive leadership style.

Watch how Democrats leverage the newly won office of superintendent of public instruction. There are education issues on which they are eager to work with Republicans (such as vocational education), but they will also likely seek to exact a quid pro quo for this, and their cooperation on other issues.

Managing the budget. This is a budget year. Early indications are that the state is in good fiscal condition, and Democrats talk loudly about restoring education and human services funding cuts and helping local governments hurt by budget cuts … but big-buck spending will be a tough sell.

More cautionary notes emanate from GOP fiscal leaders. They look to draw basic budget outlines, with a modicum of “strategic investments” (or restoration of funding cut from key programs), but deferring dramatic budget changes until April.

Expect a debate on how much government spending is appropriate as the economy improves. The bulk of legislators elected since 2010 aren’t big spending fans (and none were chastised by the electorate for what they did or didn’t do in 2011-2012).

Your 2013 bottom line. The tenor headed into the 2012 session was acerbic on both sides and the session played out accordingly. This year, however, there is a cooperative attitude, and the atmosphere appears entirely positive. Even the ultra-minority Democrats are approaching the session without a chip on their shoulders, presuming they will be respected until proven otherwise. By May, this could be as positive a session as could be hoped for within the assorted constraints (disclaimer: individual results may vary).

And the best news of all: You’ll enjoy a respite from partisan elections in  2013, the sole year in the four-year cycle with none.•

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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.co.   

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