Given the state of the economy, Kenley expects it to be a tough task. "It's not the greatest year to have to do it, because everyone's going to be unhappy," Kenley joked. "But that's what leadership's about. Hopefully, I'll make the best of it."
Kenley expects a great deal of belt tightening in 2009, since state tax collections have been falling well short of the flat growth projections Indiana had already anticipated. Kenley said he remains dedicated to delivering a balanced state budget, but that it'll almost certainly require strategic cuts. For now, he's willing to say only which areas he'd protect, not where he'd seek expense reductions.
Kenley said he hopes to dedicate as much revenue as possible to education. Improving college affordability for lower- and middle-income students is a top priority. But lawmakers' choices will be shaped by the state of the economy.
"I'm hoping the economy doesn't falter anymore," Kenley said. "It's going to be difficult in any event. But it'll be really grueling if we think we have to cut a lot."
One silver lining of the economic cloud: Kenley expects the Kernan-Shepard Commission's government consolidation recommendations to gain new momentum. He also anticipates bipartisan support for a constitutional amendment permanently establishing property tax caps.
Bipartisanship will be necessary, since Democrats control the Indiana House of Representatives. Kenley said he has a good working relationship with Bill Crawford, D-Indianapolis, his counterpart who leads the House Ways and Means Committee.
"We've been able to solve some pretty tough problems before. I think we can do it again, if we're all willing to," Kenley said. "I'm really looking forward to the challenge, and I think it's a great opportunity."