Michael reports from Statehouse

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Statehouse is filled with individuals and special interest groups who come to share their thoughts and concerns about the direction of our state.

While I look forward to the work of each day, I have learned to count on your phone calls and emails. Your input and feedback provides a direct line of communication and gives me good advice and information about critical issues that affect our families, neighbors and state.

This past week, I attended a meeting of the House Roads and Transportation Committee about the federal stimulus dollars that will be allocated to Indiana through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

In total, Indiana expects to receive $4.3 billion that will be divided among a number of areas, including education, health care and energy. Counties, cities and towns will be most interested in the dollars designated for roads and bridges.

To date, the data shows that more than $650 million from the stimulus package for infrastructure improvements, with the majority set aside for projects at the state level and some designated for local work.

The details of the stimulus package's impact upon Indiana are still being worked out, as is its impact on both state and local units of government. I will continue to provide you with more information as it comes to us. I encourage you to keep track of Indiana's use of stimulus dollars through this web site:http://www.in.gov/gov/INvest.htm.

Passage of a new state budget continues to be our first and most important priority for completion by the end of session on April 29. A hearing on House Bill 1001 is scheduled for next Thursday (March 26) in Senate Appropriations Committee. I expect there will be quite an active dialogue as we discuss the best way to fund our state.

While we wait for the outcome of this discussion, a Senate committee has advanced a plan to address the state's unemployment insurance crisis. I continue to hear from citizens in my district about the unexpected job losses and the complication with benefits being provided.

While the Senate plan does provide a way to replenish the bankrupt Unemployment Trust Fund, the Senate proposal increases the base wage rate for employers while reducing benefits, and tightens the eligibility standards at a time when more than 300,000 Hoosiers are out of work.

We need to protect out-of-work Hoosiers as they struggle to care for their families during these unusual times while looking for new jobs in a depressed economy. Again, I will keep you posted on the latest information.

Property taxes and the possibility of a constitutional vote is another area of interest to the district.

Property tax caps are designed to limit property tax bills for homes, farms and businesses to a fixed percentage of a property's assessed valuation. In 2008, the caps became a critical part of the bipartisan property tax reform initiative.

Lawmakers chose a two-part approach in enacting these caps: putting them into state law, then locking them into place in the Indiana Constitution. I would like to remind everyone that the property tax caps are already enforceable by state law (Indiana Code 6-1.1-20.6-7 and 7.5).

Some legislators, along with the governor, would have you believe we need to pass the resolution this year. I feel it makes more sense to wait until the 2010 session before acting. Having better data on the economic situation and the realistic effects on government and the taxpayers will be important.

Additionally, by waiting until next year, we will have gathered vital information to determine the impact of the property tax caps and the effects of trending in the downward market. With the caps being phased in, we still do not have a clear, complete picture of how they will affect our ability to provide all of the programs and services that taxpayers expect from their local governments. I know you want me to make the most informed decision and I've learned time can be the best teacher.

It is also important to remember that if we pass the resolution this year, the people of Indiana won't vote on it until November 2010. If we wait until the 2010 session to act, the referendum vote still won't take place until November 2010.

I continue to work through legislation sent to us from the Indiana Senate. At the same time, I'm keeping an eye on bills that passed the House as they are working their way through the other chamber. My bills are progressing through the process. Please feel free to contact me about a Senate Bill that will be addressed in the House.

If you need to reach me during the 2009 session, you can call my legislative assistant, Lindsay at 317-234-9290 or the toll-free Statehouse telephone number 1-800-382-9842, write to me in care of the Indiana House of Representatives, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46204, or submit your comments to my web site at www.IN.gov/H44. While visiting my web site, you also can sign up to receive regular e-mail updates from the Legislature.