Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Chamber legislative review: Deficit, shortfall loom over state

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By KEVIN NEVERS

It’s just past mid-point in this year’s short session of the Indiana General Assembly, and while legislators will continue to make sausage until March 14—when the session closes—the two big problems facing the state right now won’t be solved by any amount of legislation.

At a legislative review Friday, sponsored by the Chesterton/Duneland Chamber of Commerce, Vince Griffin of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce brass-tacked it like this. On the one hand, plummeting revenues will put the State of Indiana $1 billion into the red by the end of the fiscal year on July 1. On the other hand, Indiana is already $1.5 billion into the feds in loans for its tapped-out unemployment trust fund, which ran out of cash in November 2008.

On hand for the review were State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, and State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso. Failing to make the review were State. Rep. Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, and Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary.

Tallian noted that chances of finding other revenue sources right now are “slim” and said that “a whole range of bills have been introduced to cut this program, cut that program, consolidate.” But it’s the short session “and we can’t re-write the budget this year.”

The General Assembly, Tallian added, is itself partly to blame for the shortfall in the unemployment trust fund. Not so many years ago there was a “huge surplus” in the fund, “so we increased benefits, decreased the tax, and then got hit by the economic downtown and the trust fund really took a dive very quickly.”

Right now more than 30 other states are roughly in the same boat and the hope right now, Tallian said, is that the federal government forgives the loans or otherwise finds a way to bail out the states. At the moment a bill still alive in the House would raise the premium paid by businesses but also affect benefits “We don’t want to hit businesses because that will only make the problem worse.”

The Other

800-Pound Gorillas

Griffin gave Chamber members a brief synopsis of the other “800-pound gorillas” currently beating their chests in Indie:

•This year is a census year, so next year’s a re-districting year. “That’s huge,” Griffin said. The Senate is probably safely Republican, the House is not so safely Democrat, and in practice “the body in control will re-draw the districts.”

•In November Hoosiers will vote on a referendum which would codify in the State Constitution a 1-percent cap on residential property-taxes, a 2-percent on rental property-taxes, and a 3-percent on industrial property-taxes. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce isn’t crazy about that arrangement on the grounds that business and industry would pay three times more in property taxes than residents would, Griffin said. For his part Soliday expects the constitutional amendment to pass—he said that in his polling 81 percent of folks favor the caps—but that those caps would essentially affect only 22 percent of property owners in Porter County, as those caps wouldn’t be triggered until a lot of non-constitutional statutory thresholds are hit.

•Local government reform remains an issue, Griffin said, although legislators are mulling some other ways beyond consolidation to do it, say, bills which would address nepotism, conflict of interests, and better reporting. Soliday, again citing polling data, said for his part that only 22 percent of Hoosiers have any interest in local government reform.

•Finally, Griffin spoke briefly about ethics legislation which would forbid retired legislators from becoming lobbyists until they’ve been out of the State House for a year. That legislation may also decrease the reportable expense threshold from $100 to $50. Both Tallian and Soliday expect that legislation to pass, given the fact that it’s an election year, but neither appeared to be outspoken proponents of it. Tallian argued that the reportable expense threshold needs to make sense: would the bill require legislators to report the gifts of insignificant trinkets, for instance? While Soliday suggested that no amount of legislating is going to make a sinner a saint. “If a guy’s a crook, he’s going to cheat you, no matter how many rules you make.”

Legislative Hook-Ups

Chamber Executive Director Heather Ennis reminded members that through the end of the short session the Chamber is holding a legislative hook-up at 7:30 a.m. on the first and third Fridays of the month at the Duneland School Corporation’s administrative offices.

 

 

Posted 2/8/2010

 

 

 

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