FEIGENBAUM: Right-to-work issue still alive and kicking

After largely leaving legislative events in Indiana to Hoosiers to debate and defuse, the passage of time—and the apparent end to arguably analogous circumstances in Wisconsin—seems to have resulted in national political parties and policy interest groups’ turning their attention to a new Midwestern battleground.

This new notoriety, directed at assorted audiences for seemingly different purposes, is not aimed at resolving the impasse more quickly, and could further complicate and even inflame the proceedings.

The first wave of this campaign appeared as the Senate Committee on Appropriations opened budget hearings, even without a formal budget bill.

The committee chairman, Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, a veteran of the budget process, knew that neither the Senate nor the General Assembly as a body could wait much longer on developing a budget bill. While House Democrats would be judged irresponsible for not returning to vote on a budget before the end of April, Republicans would be equally culpable if they failed to ready a relatively reasonable budget bill for an eventual vote.

So Kenley opened budget hearings March 21 with testimony from the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Committee on Ways and Means about the budget bill that has been languishing on the House calendar for a month. The high-level discussion was fiscal- and policy-oriented, devoid of politics, and even included praise from Rep. Bill Crawford, D-Indianapolis, for Kenley’s opening the budget to extensive public testimony, something that wasn’t able to occur on the House side, given how late the proposed budget bill came together there.

Kenley also hopes his budget-process openness helps bring Democrats back.

His hearings include a long look at education policy and finance, both K-12 and higher education; Medicaid; and prisons—given how their combined needs effectively control the bulk of the budget. He also blocks out time to address controversial aspects of the House Republican plan, such as redirecting some horse-racing subsidy cash from the ag-equine industry to high-tech economic development and General Fund needs.

No final Appropriations Committee budget vote is expected before at least April 7, but that still leaves plenty of time for the full Senate to have a shot at it, and for leaders to decide what, if any, bills hurt by the House Democratic walkout should be wrapped up in the budget or with other measures.

Keep your eye particularly on charter-school and voucher bills for potential inclusion in the budget. There may even be a quiet push to resurrect parts of the energy-related legislation that surprisingly failed earlier in the Senate.

This could prove problematic.

Sports commentators pontificated at length after Butler University’s last-second NCAA tournament win over the University of Pittsburgh Panthers about whether the standard for a foul at the end of a close tournament game was—or should be—the same as a foul in the opening minutes of the contest.

Such decisions are an art, not a science, and legislative observers wonder whether this session’s unique nature may convince Senate leaders to be a bit more flexible in ruling on germaneness. But as the budget bill is shaped in committee, it comes against a mixed message of intervention by national groups.

The National Right to Work Committee weighs in with a $100,000 statewide multimedia campaign. The direct mail, telephone campaign and statewide newspaper ads (and potential broadcast spots) aren’t pursuing Democrats and organized labor for blocking a right-to-work bill, but rather seek to place the spotlight—and pressure—on House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels for readily acceding to Democratic demands.

This comes even as the governor continues to contemplate a presidential race amid questions about preferring to take divisive issues such as right to work off the agenda for now.

NRTWC President Mark Mix contends his group’s objective is to apply public pressure on GOP officials to “show some backbone,” and on Democrats to return to work and vote on a right-to-work bill. “If Speaker Bosma and Gov. Daniels continue their policy of appeasement, they will be as much to blame as the Democrats for killing right to work by their refusal to stand up and fight,” Mix added.

Democrats point to this campaign as evidence that right to work isn’t truly dead.

As the NRTWC effort gears up, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee also weighs in. A new TV spot slams Daniels and legislative Republicans for seeking “to kill collective bargaining, slash wages for workers, and decimate public schools by sending our tax dollars to private schools.” The DLCC spot thanks Democrats for bucking this “anti-middle-class agenda.”

Regardless of where you place blame, local visibility has been ratcheted up as the national implications have been elevated. This fails to portend an early resolution to the lengthy walkout.•


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

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