FEIGENBAUM: Expect uncertainty in the 2010 General Assembly

One certainty about the 2010 session of the Indiana General Assembly: It will be over by mid-March.

That, however, may be the only predictable element of a session that convenes during the most turbulent and unpredictable
economic times this state has endured in decades.

As a result, this gathering likely will prove to be a united
and uncontroversial meeting of the minds—as both parties coalesce to pass politically popular proposals that will do
no harm, postponing their tough decisions until after the election (while forcing the governor to be the bad guy). Or they
will jump in and make difficult choices that will allow the state to survive the economic straits and preserve legislative
prerogative in spending decisions.

Today, our money is on the former.

December offers a peek at promises
and priorities as the legislative schedule again opens a month early. The agenda features a bevy of committee hearings in
both the Senate and House of Representatives aimed at expediting packages considered sufficiently important that legislative
leaders deem calendar creep essential.

Many Democrats finally seem to be warming—at least politically—to
adding property tax caps to the Indiana Constitution, but seek protection against “assessment creep” in a trailer
bill. Serving up too many restrictions on assessed values, however, also could pose constitutional problems and further hamper
provision of local government services.

And while some business interests are softening their previous opposition
to the tax caps, that sentiment is universal, and the state’s agricultural community remains largely averse to how application
of the circuit breaker affects Hoosier ag.

Expect a few more prominent issues, some important to business, and
some not, to be the subject of some debate—or debate over why they will not be debated.

While a legislative
interim study committee completed its two-year review of the state’s alcoholic beverage laws and recommended adherence
to the status quo, there remains considerable pent-up demand for some changes. Recent administrative and legal action may
offer additional impetus.

The state’s casino industry—a direct employer of some 14,000 and a major
contributor to state coffers—is at a crossroads, facing coming competition from Ohio and possibly Kentucky. The racinos
seek tax relief; some casinos want tax incentives for non-gambling economic investments, income tax credits against the wagering
tax, or tax deferral on some free-play offerings.

Another interim study committee examined gambling issues and
found it difficult to achieve consensus on equitable assistance, as each property seems to face its individual challenges
and would be affected differently by universal solutions. Tax breaks are not politically palatable, a casino move is a tough
sell, and the only legislation that might emerge could center on allowing land-based gambling at current riverboat sites or
simply eliminating maritime requirements and crews. However, any time a gambling issue comes to the floor, things become complicated.

Township-government reform efforts also will return.

Other emotional issues, such as smoking bans and prohibitions
on texting while driving, will inevitably arise and distract lawmakers.

We’re just jaded enough to believe
that much of the session’s direction will not be evident until close to Feb. 19, the deadline for filing for legislative
office. The 2010 election for the Indiana House of Representatives is acknowledged to be the most important of the decade,
because Democrats need to maintain their majority to affect the drawing of new district lines in 2011.

Both parties
believe their respective ability to “draw the maps” will largely determine which party will be able to control
the House majority for the succeeding 10 years (when Republicans drew the House maps in 1981, they held the majority for all
but one election in that decade; likewise, Democrats were in charge of House mapmaking in 1991 and 2001 and maintained their
majorities in all but one election in each of those two decades, to date).•


Indiana Legislative Insight. Views expressed here are the writer’s.

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