Michael speaks on struggles at Statehouse

Monday, May 4, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS -- Members of the General Assembly departed the Statehouse at midnight on April 29 after passing many important public policy issues, including a resolution for the problems facing our unemployment insurance program. On the most important issue of all, though, we did not get our work done.

Lawmakers were unable to pass a 200-page biennial budget that must be done in a long legislative session. As a result, we will be going back to the Statehouse for a special legislative session to complete our work.

While I am very disappointed that the budget could not be resolved, the process is not easy. Different people have different priorities, and we must be willing to compromise in order to reach a final resolution.

As the clock ticked down to the end of this session, parties appeared to have reached a budget agreement that was based primarily on guidelines established by Indiana Senate Republicans and seemingly endorsed by the governor.

The plan placed a high priority on maintaining a state budget surplus and using a portion of the stimulus dollars for the next two years.

My priorities during this session were focused on creating jobs for Hoosiers as quickly as possible, sustaining businesses, supporting our state agencies and preserving state support for Indiana schools. It was clear that other parties would not support a budget that would affect the size of the state surplus.

At one point in the game, the House and Senate were in agreement to maintain a surplus of $1.3 billion. However, the Governor changed his mind early on April 29, saying that the state needed a reserve balance of $1.4 billion. Reaching that figure meant cutting state support for schools by $100 million.

The Senate proposal contained funding for construction projects for our universities, prisons, and a green initiative for manufacturing, but did not provide the level of state support for schools that I felt was important.

The proposal estimated that the schools located within District 44 would be supplemented by federal stimulus dollars over the next two years. In the long run, I fear reliance on a temporary federal stimulus will be detrimental to the financial health of our schools in 2012 and 2013, when the stimulus dollars will not be available.

Many of us in the House majority were not thrilled about the proposed plan. There was a huge reliance on federal dollars for operations and a cap on charter schools that threatened the availability of additional federal dollars for school technology and innovation. There also was no doubt that the House minority hated it as much as anyone and declined to provide a single vote in support of it.

The governor later threatened to veto the bill if it reached his desk. Although the proposal was passed by the Senate, it did fail in the House.

As we move forward, negotiators will need to start meeting on a budget plan early. Once they reach an agreement, the governor can bring us back for a single-day special session -- probably in June -- and we can complete our work in the shortest possible time. (Just so you know, it costs state taxpayers about $25,700 every day we are in a special session.)

As you have just seen from the events of the session's final days, there is nothing that is easy about this process. We are there to make the hard decisions in order to provide strength to our state.

There has been speculation that budget discussions could include debate on assistance for the Indianapolis Capital Improvement Board (CIB) that operates Lucas Oil Stadium and Conseco Fieldhouse, as well as talk about a potential expansion of gaming in Indiana. I will keep you informed as more information becomes available.

The governor stated in his post-session press conference, "At this point, the best thing is for the legislators to all go home, get away from the special interests and listen to some real taxpayers."

I have driven back and forth every week to stay in contact with citizens as much as possible. Your phone calls, e-mails and Statehouse visits have been invaluable to help me understand the district's concerns.

At this point, I believe the governor needs to be involved from the beginning of negotiations and have an attitude of "give and take." CIB is not our number one priority. We must create a budget that is responsible for the operations of state services.

I encourage you to stay in touch as we finish our responsibilities before June 30. In the weeks to come, I will be reviewing some of the other accomplishments of the 2009 session.

As we wait for the start of the special session, you still can reach me by calling the toll-free Statehouse telephone number of 1-800-382-9842, writing to me in care of the Indiana House of Representatives, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46204, or submitting 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.