Gov. Mitch Daniels and Indiana House Speaker Patrick Bauer have more in common than they might think.
Both are headstrong politicians who wield tremendous power. And both have a way with words, especially when they aren’t getting what they want.
So it’s no surprise that the Republican governor and the Democratic speaker are once again sparring over some weighty issues before the General Assembly – issues on which they have vastly different views.
Take two of Daniels’ top legislative priorities – streamlining local government and taking the next step toward amending caps on property tax bills into the state constitution.
Daniels says both should be considered musts this session. He says local government is antiquated, overlapping, too confusing and costly, and the caps should be in the constitution so judges can’t overrule them and lawmakers can’t easily repeal them.
Bauer has been cool to the local government changes, saying they’re not pressing matters this session. And he says lawmakers should wait until next year to consider a resolution that would put the question of constitutional property tax caps before voters so they can better gauge how the caps affecct taxpayers and local governments.
Daniels recently touched on Bauer’s stands on those issues with sharp words.
“We all know nothing happens in the House of Representatives that Speaker Bauer doesn’t permit,” Daniels said. “He’s never challenged. His authority is total.
“So with regard to questions like this [on local government] or property-tax caps, it is a matter of him deciding – either because it’s good government, or if that doesn’t matter, because it’s good politics for him – to let some of these things move forward, and I hope for both reasons that he’ll decide to do that.”
Daniels trashed a one-year budget plan that Bauer-led House Democrats drafted and passed with no Republican votes, saying it would wipe out the state’s budget surplus.
“It’s a good thing we don’t give midterm grades,” Daniels said. “The budget is of almost no use at all. In fact, it’s of no use at all.”
Daniels proposed many of the recommendations on local government reform that were made by a commission led by former Democratic Gov. Joe Kernan and Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepard.
Daniels has tried to paint a rosy picture of how they fared in the Republican-ruled Senate. The Senate did pass a bill that could lead to reorganized county government, but Bauer – with a gleam in his eyes – noted that many of the bills struggled in the Senate. Some were watered down, some killed outright.
Bauer is now mockingly calling the Kernan-Shepard report just the “Shepard report.”
“They [Daniels’ proposals] have been sheared and they look like – they don’t look like sheep to me,” Bauer said. “They look like some kind of raw animal that’s been cut down.”
Bauer accuses Daniels of being absent from the debate on one of the session’s most pressing issues – fixing an unemployment insurance fund that has been borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government to pay benefits to the jobless.
Daniels says any solution has to include adjustments in benefits and how much employers pay into the system, but he has not publicly presented a plan for fixing the fund.
“He’s not even been present,” Bauer said. “He’s been totally absent, or truant. He ignored the unemployment problem, which has been brewing for some time, and he had the facts. He has got to be making public pronouncements of what he thinks he can do.”
There was a time when Daniels and Bauer publicly praised each other. On the last day of the 2007 legislative session, lawmakers passed some weighty bills, including a two-year budget and property tax relief.
Bauer credited Daniels for his strategy that session of laying low publicly, and Daniels said Bauer “did a very good job of docking some very large boats, and I have nothing but compliments for the way he handled his leadership responsibilities.”
Maybe this session will end with the two exchanging such niceties. For now, however, they’re in their more regular mode of clashing in their politics and personalities.