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STATEHOUSE DISPATCH: Legislative action heats up, but end-game still elusive

February 21, 2005

Last week was busy for members of the Indiana General Assembly.

A budget was moved to the House floor, the daylightsaving time initiative was fully debated for the first time in years, slots for the state's two pari-mutuel horse-racing tracks received a committee vote, the Indianapolis Colts stadium issue was at the forefront of hallway debate, the Indianapolis Works program was the subject of some debate, and some controversial charter school issues received an airing.

But while there was a great deal of action, there was little resolution, at least in terms of what each of these matters may mean in the long run.

House Republicans floated details of their draft budget on Feb. 11, took testimony on it in the Ways and Means Committee, and sent it on to the full House on a 15-10 party-line vote on Feb. 15.

And while it excludes the governor's 1-percent surtax proposal, authorizes tens of millions more in new spending than he would like, and makes rosy assumptions about Medicaid spending, Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels was upbeat-at least about how the House budget serves as a new starting point.

Democrats who hoped the differences between the House Republican budget offered by Rep. Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, and that suggested by Daniels would drive a wedge between legislative Republicans and their governor were quickly disappointed.

Republicans who hoped House Democrats would support a GOP budget that spent more than the governor offered and provided more funding to schools were equally disappointed.

Daylight-saving time was billed as the most contentious issue of the session, splitting lawmakers, but not along partisan lines. This issue looks as if it will be resolved, though no one is quite sure in which direction, in a much more civil manner than initially expected.

When the executive director of the Indiana Republican Party and the Marion County Republican Party chairman-both lawmakers-introduced the two bills that would provide funding for the Indianapolis Colts stadium sought by the Democratic mayor of Indianapolis, and to do so by expanding gambling, stadium backers were quite optimistic.

Then Daniels and Espich raised questions about expanded gambling. Then Rep. Robert Alderman, R-Fort Wayne, chairman of the House Public Policy and Veterans Affairs Committee, began to hear from some of his fellow reps who did not want to vote on gambling expansion. He also was concerned that Democrats wanted to force vulnerable House GOP freshmen into such a vote.

Alderman separated slots at the track from Colts stadium funding to determine whether the slots could stand on their own.

With Democrats upset about the separation and refusing to support a slots-only bill, that measure died early last week, leaving Democratic Mayor Bart Peterson and others wondering whether it could be resurrected.

At the same time, Peterson also saw his Indianapolis Works consolidation proposal die a painful death in a panel chaired by a former Indianapolis City-County councilor, Rep. Phil Hinkle, R-Indianapolis. Hinkle thinks the consolidation issue is ripe for study this summer, but not yet for passage.

So what will happen?

The budget moves to the full House and the Colts stadium remains alive as well. But simply because the slot issue died in committee does not mean the opportunity for stadium funding was killed with it. Espich has laid a series of potential tax tools on the table for Peterson to tap into and Rep. Mike Murphy, R-Indianapolis, also has proposed a diversion of regional tax revenue.

And some form of gambling expansion to help fund the stadium and other items is still a prospect.

Daniels still thinks a Colts stadium will be funded this session, and that is an important factor, too. Everyone with a stake in the process wants to get a deal done and it's likely it will be achieved.

Look for the stadium funding to be part of the budget bill come late April, although each of those involved will have to give a little and Peterson will have to give the most.

While we saw a week of action, it failed to preview a specific end. Considerable time remains for the politics and economics of everything from a Colts stadium to charter school expansion to play out.



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