FEIGENBAUM: Legislators agree to sacrifice perfect for good

Ed FeigenbaumIs it ideal? No. 

Are the results largely driven by artificial deadlines? Yes. 

Does it work? Yes.

And, as of this writing, it was apparent that the 2017 session of the Indiana General Assembly would end as scheduled, a week before its mandated adjournment date.

The average Hoosier would expect that, given the Republican supermajority and a GOP governor, things should end early, with agreement on key issues easily accommodated.

But that’s not the case, and, as we told you last week, several creative tensions conspired to contribute to (or complicate) divisions and keep things interesting through the end.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, warned his crew entering the final week that he sought agreement on the big three outstanding concerns: the budget, road funding, and the late-to-arise alcohol regulation concern that discombobulated solons … and that he wasn’t planning to stick around to fine-tune any flotsam still floating about seeking conference committee signatures.

In the end, it was largely philosophical differences between the House and Senate that prevented early agreements on the big-ticket items and moved members inevitably—if reluctantly—toward compromise.

Bosma, the Chuck Pagano of the locker room at this time of the year, admonished his locker room not to let the quest for perfect be the enemy of the good and, as usual, members listened (or wanted to head home for the year before the end of the Pacers/ Cavaliers NBA playoff series).

So compromise took the Statehouse by storm in the final days and, given the marginal role of Democrats writ large in the end–game process, real negotiations were between the House and the Senate, with guidance from the Governor’s Office. 

On the elected superintendent of public instruction legislation, work around the margins shaped a bill addressing concerns in both chambers about qualifications and timing. Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, played a key role in configuring the pre-K expansion, even as the Senate budget architect, Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, grumbled over insufficient justification for major expansion and its fiscal impact. 

The two big money bills proved most problematic over the final week.

The biggest sticking point on road funding: a House wedded to a gas-tax hike and shift of general fund gas-tax dollars to roads, and a Senate preferring to leave current general fund gas-tax allocations right there. The bodies also tussled over amounts returned to local governments for their road needs, with locals favoring the House approach.

The budget had to wait for resolution of road funding issues and the shape of pre-K changes. Some of that time was spent smoothing differences between chambers on K-12 and higher education increases. The House sought smaller K-12 hikes and formula and complexity funding increases than the Senate, and the Senate wanted annual teacher appreciation bonuses. The Senate also pushed bigger higher education operating increases over the biennium.

These differences were large in dollars if not so disparate in programming, but the deal-making on these big-buck discrepancies wasn’t quite as high-profile as in years past, largely assuming a back seat to other conference issues.  

The process works largely because legislative leaders and the governor—regardless of the party in charge—offer benevolent and pragmatic leadership, aberrational overreaches (and overreactions) aside.

And there’s always the option of avoiding decisions today by sending items to summer study.

Several majority lawmakers—at least a half-dozen—look to join three former General Assembly members in Congress. Why leave a smoothly running system in which they can make positive contributions to join a largely dysfunctional system? They’ll tell you they want to bring a dose of that Hoosier common sense and pragmatism to Washington.

Such a sense of coming to closure and accepting the good and getting better at the expense of the perfect (even in a supermajority context) within deadlines separates Indianapolis from D.C.

Hoosiers should appreciate such a display even as they pine for perfection.•


Feigenbaum publishes Indiana Legislative Insight. He can be reached at edf@ingrouponline.com.

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