Legislators gear up for 2010 session

Thursday, December 24, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS -- With the start of the 2010 Indiana General Assembly just a couple of weeks away, we are starting to see the issues that will establish our discussions in the session to come.

Lawmakers will consider permanent property tax relief for Hoosier homeowners, make sure that Indiana jobs go to Indiana workers, restrict efforts to privatize government operations and demand more ethical behavior from legislators, lobbyists and statewide elected officials.

Recently, Indiana House committees passed a series of proposals covering each of the subjects mentioned. They will be eligible for floor debate in the first few days after the House and Senate return to the Statehouse on Jan. 5.

Included among these proposals is a plan (House Joint Resolution 1) that would allow the people of Indiana to decide whether to place the 1-2-3 percent property tax caps into the state's constitution in a statewide referendum next November. A similar proposal (Senate Joint Resolution 1) has also been approved by an Indiana Senate committee.

One matter that some believe we need to address is a problem caused by unchecked growth in assessed valuations on property. Many homeowners have property tax bills that are less than 1 percent of their homes' assessed valuation. However, any increase in assessed value will raise the cap level.

To address that problem, the House will consider a companion measure through HJR 1 (House Bill 1004) that will cap the amount that tax bills can grow each year on homesteads and farmland. Additionally, there is another proposal in a Senate bill that will propose limiting the growth of the tax bill to 10 percent.

The merits of each bill will need to be discussed at length. This will be a part of our negotiations that will begin in January. As always, there are pros and cons to these policy questions that need to be reviewed to evaluate the long-term effect on taxpayers and the services that are supported by these funds.

Regarding the unemployment issue of nearly 300,000 Hoosiers, Indiana must explore new ways to bring more jobs to our state. One approach is contained in House Bill 1002, which would require contractors interested in receiving state and local public works contracts that are funded through Hoosier tax dollars to commit to using Indiana workers on those projects.

The construction of buildings, roads and bridges is a good example of the type of work that historically has been proven to put people back to work. An added benefit from this type of investment in communities is the attraction for economic development that ultimately creates more jobs.

Lawmakers are seeking a more critical examination of the effects of privatizing government services through House Bill 1003. The measure would prevent the Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) from allowing private contractors to handle processing and eligibility of food stamp, Medicaid and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) services.

This legislation will help to make sure that these programs -- which are so critical for many Hoosiers who are struggling right now -- are provided in the most efficient, cost-effective manner possible.

Finally, we will be considering several reforms in the way state government conducts business.

These reforms, contained in a measure (House Bill 1001) that was approved by the House Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee, will toughen requirements for reporting gifts to legislators and staff and will create a longer waiting period for legislators and other executive branch appointees to register as lobbyists.

The language will also prevent lobbyists from representing multiple clients if there are conflicts of interest between those clients. Additionally, people who have contracts with the state or bid on those contracts will not be allowed to make political contributions to anyone who seeks or holds state office.

All of this work will take place within the framework of our state's financial picture, which was recently updated on Dec. 15. The latest revenue forecast indicated that the state will take in $1.8 billion less in revenues than originally expected. The governor has proposed to reduce state support for both K-12 and higher education. A group of individuals are working on a proposal to advise the Governor where to make cuts. I will keep you posted on the progress of this debate as it unfolds.

I want to personally thank those individuals who were able to stop in to see us when we brought my Statehouse office back to the district last Friday. It is helpful to have personal time in the district to better understand the issues facing our friends and families.

If you want to talk with me about the upcoming session, you can reach me by calling the toll-free Statehouse telephone number of (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.

We will be heading back to the Statehouse on Jan. 5. As always, you have an open invitation to come and visit during the session.