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FEIGENBAUM: Upbeat forecast paves way for final deals

April 20, 2013

Ed FeigenbaumThe 2013 legislative session is scheduled to end on April 29, and leaders are hoping to be able to wrap things up by April 26. A largely positive revenue-collection forecast released April 16 precipitated a spate of comments from the key players in the budget process suggesting that compromise will not be difficult to achieve on the session’s focal point, and will allow lawmakers to focus on a handful of other vexing matters.

Just a few short weeks ago, the list of issues long on controversy left participants wondering if common ground could be found on many of them. But prodding by leaders and an epidemic of Hoosier common sense seems to have led lawmakers on their own to solutions that appear to be on their respective paths to adoption.

Let’s review some:

• A relatively innocuous school-safety-resource officer proposal in the Senate advocated by Republican Attorney General Greg Zoeller morphed into a House mandate to arm an individual in each school building—before being recast as a summer study committee agenda item after intervention from House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.

• The highly emotional “ag-gag” bill penalizing the taking of unauthorized images on farm and industrial property was scaled back to a trespass measure.

• The legal grandfathering of “high fence” penned-in hunting preserves is expected to be blocked by Republican Senate President Pro Tem David Long.

• The central Indiana mass transit system proposal was a lightning rod. With local legislative delegations split evenly on a referendum, it also heads to a study panel.

Left for serious deliberation in conference committee are measures that will present tough tests for legislators. But, oddly enough, none is likely to be decided on overtly partisan grounds. You might think that was likely with the Republican super-majority and GOP governor, but the key remaining issues simply don’t shake out along partisan lines.

The Leucadia coal gasification plant bill was amended on the House floor largely with Republican backing against the will and judgment of Bosma and House Committee on Utilities Chairman Eric Koch, R-Bedford.

After a Republican amendment effectively stripping any easy way to stop the plant, Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville, simply opted not to call her bill for a final vote—meaning a home will have to be found for provisions that can be made acceptable to both sides. Plant advocates must worry about overreaching, lest a skeptical Gov. Mike Pence exercise his veto power.

Financial help for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was tied to the racinos and the gambling bill, confusing many lawmakers and seemingly angering those who understood its implications.

As approved by the House, the package tied racino payments to a Speedway loan and financial assistance fund for tracks and the motorsports industry across the state. Republican resistance arose among those not pleased with forcing one private business to subsidize another, and—in the case of the money headed to places other than IMS—to businesses that hadn’t even sought state help. Many Democrats were not pleased with diverting funds from the racinos that are just emerging from bankruptcy.

The IMS bill almost failed on Third Reading (it took a second vote to pass it). Look for this Gordian knot to be untied, with the final form to be determined.

The gambling bill itself will center on live table games for racinos—legislation that’s being pushed as “the” jobs bill this session—and the final amount of tax deductions and credits for promotional play and capital investment.

The level of tax help will be straightened out quickly (and a change in admissions taxes could be part of a deal), but finding the sweet spot for live table games will be difficult given opposition from Pence and Bosma.

Assorted school-related measures will be hammered out in conference, from a philosophically debated grass-roots Common Core Standards bill to expansion of school vouchers.

The budget seems closest to resolution. As the governor continues to lobby lawmakers and the public for his 10-percent individual income tax rate cut, fiscal leaders appear to be moving toward a $500 million total tax cut centered on elimination of the inheritance tax, and a smaller individual income tax cut than the governor has sought. Still unresolved is the Medicaid component.

Given that he can declare victory with any individual income tax cut, Pence is warming to the idea of a minimal individual income tax cut coupled with inheritance tax elimination.•

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

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