Legislators getting head start on 2010

Monday, December 7, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS -- As we close in on the final weeks of 2009, I am happy to report that members of the General Assembly are working behind the scenes in preparation for an intense 2010 session at the Statehouse.

Dec.14 is the deadline for lawmakers to request language for bills to be considered in the 2010 session. After this date, the Legislative Services Agency (LSA) will prepare our proposals in a format that will meet the criteria for introducing or changing Indiana law.

Members of the Indiana House and Senate are getting an early jump on the 2010 session by conducting committee meetings over the next couple of weeks. By doing this work now, we will be able to move quickly on these matters when we return to the Capitol Building on Jan. 5.

Here is an early preview of some of the issues that will top our legislative agenda next year:

First and foremost, we will debate the need for an amendment to our Indiana constitution that will incorporate the 1 percent, 2 percent and 3 percent property tax caps.

Current law calculates the cap based on gross assessed value. In 2010, there will be a cap of 1 percent on home values, 2 percent for farmland and rental properties, and 3 percent for businesses and personal property of farms.

To make a change in our constitution requires the Legislature to pass a joint resolution in the 2010 session that authorizes a public referendum on the question in the November 2010 general election.

Though property taxes are a great concern for all of us, we also must address the most appropriate way of supporting local government services.

Being fair to all, ensuring that people have the ability to pay, and being fiscally responsible should be our focus. There is still an unsolved issue of curbing unchecked growth in assessed values of homes and farmland.

To explain, if the 1 percent cap has been reached on a piece of property, an increase in the assessed value on that property will raise the cap. For example, a property with an assessed value of $100,000 will have a $1,000 cap. If the assessed value increases to $110,000, the cap increases to $1,100. That could mean paying more in property taxes.

In other words, the cap will not protect a homeowner because there is no cap on assessed value.

To address the problem, the House Ways and Means Committee will be conducting an early hearing Dec. 7 on a joint resolution (HJR 1) to conduct a public referendum on placing the 1-2-3 in the state Constitution and a separate measure (House Bill 1004) to limit increases in homestead assessments to 1 percent annually and farmland assessments to 2 percent annually.

To complicate the issue, we must keep in mind that any limitation to the natural growth of an assessment could interfere with the Indiana Supreme Court's decision that assessed valuation must represent market value. With this, we will have much to discuss over the next many weeks. It will make for an interesting session.

Secondly, as we look to protect jobs for Indiana, the Ways and Means Committee also will conduct hearings on legislation designed to prioritize contractors who hire Hoosiers first on publicly-financed construction projects across Indiana (House Bill 1002).

With close to 300,000 Hoosiers still out of work -- a number that does not include folks who have stopped looking for work or have stopped getting unemployment benefits -- state government must make a strong statement that we are committed to finding jobs for these people, and sooner rather than later.

House Bill 1002 would prohibit contractors from receiving any public works contract (such as buildings, roads and bridges) financed by state tax dollars unless Indiana residents make up at least 80 percent of the employees working on the contract. If the contract is being financed through federal funds, and the state's commitment to Hoosier workers raises the risk of losing the federal dollars, the 80 percent target becomes a goal rather than a requirement.

Lastly, our committee will look at a proposal that would prevent public assistance programs like Medicaid and food stamps from being run by private contractors (House Bill 1003).

When the Daniels Administration responded to a public outcry and removed IBM as lead contractor for the state's Medicaid and food stamp programs, it pointed out the problems that result when critical state services are placed under the control of private entities that are motivated primarily by earning profits.

As the state attempts to find a new way to handle welfare, there are serious concerns that other private companies will continue to be part of a revised "hybrid" system. Many of these companies have not done well in handling welfare services in other states, and we cannot afford to see any more problems with lost documents and delays in determining eligibility and providing benefits.

House Bill 1003 will give advocates of privatization every chance to prove that their way provides services efficiently at a demonstrated savings to Indiana taxpayers. In the end, we need to meet the needs of those who are served by the program.

I thank you for your attention to my newsletters. This is just a glimpse at a few items that will demand our attention in 2010. In the coming days, I will be providing more details and some information on state services that are available to you.

Should you need to reach me about the upcoming session, you may call the toll-free Statehouse telephone number of (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.