Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Legislators talk education and business tax cut at teacher forum

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The third annual Porter County Retired Teachers Association legislative forum saw less discussion on school vouchers and state takeovers this year and more on business tax cuts, economic development, and the gay marriage amendment.

A crowd of about 50 gathered at the Wheeler High School auditorium Saturday morning to hear a panel consisting of State Reps. Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, and Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, and State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, and Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso.

Association President Barbara Stroud, a retired teacher of the Duneland Schools, gave the welcome and introduced moderator and former state representative Ralph Ayres. Also in attendance was Indiana Retired Teachers Association President Carol Grieser who traveled from her home in Goshen.

The Assembly passed its midpoint last week, Ayres said, and House bills are moving to the Senate to be voted on as Senate bills will be heard in the House.

Questions related to public education included one about the working relationship between the Indiana General Assembly, Indiana Superintendent of Public Education Glenda Ritz, the State Board of Education and Gov. Mike Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation.

In the months leading up to the 2014 session, tensions arose among the boards as Ritz contended that the Governor’s board was attempting to undermine her leadership.

Soliday said he feels that there has been progress and compromises made. He said both sides have well-meaning people working toward the same goal Ð better educational opportunities for Hoosier children.

“Everyone is beginning to talk to each other and I hope that’s good for the future,” Soliday said.

Moseley said what he questions why roughly $1 million of taxpayer money is going to the salaries of the CECI board members.

“Is it sound fiscal responsibility to keep going down this road? Somebody’s got to ask what’s next,” he said.

Tallian also questioned CECI’s funding since it was a created by Pence under an executive order and was never legislatively established. The CECI is pooling the funds and efforts of the State Department of Education and the Department of Workforce Development, she said.

Charbonneau said the workings of the Board of Education and the CECI are being watched closely and he hopes that continues.

Business property tax

The topic generating the most response from lawmakers was the governor’s proposal to give tax breaks to businesses by cutting or eliminating personal property taxes.

Some on the panel argued it makes sense to try to be a more competitive state for business but others feel the risk that local governments will bear the tax burden is too great.

Elimination of the business property tax could mean $25 million in cuts to local governments in Porter County and has been opposed publicly by the Porter County Council and the Duneland School Board.

Moseley said he is concerned for the schools largely in TIF districts and believes that taxes will be shifted to homeowners if the tax breaks are implemented. He feels there should be a summer study session determine what, if any, the benefits would be in terms of job creation.

“I think we need to take a look at this rather than ram this through a short session,” Moseley said.

Tallian said she believes all state lawmakers were “aghast” to hear that $1 billion would be lost for local governments and that is something that neither party wants.

A proposal in the senate would eliminate the tax for businesses with less than $25,000 of equipment, which would soften the blow to local governments.

Charbonneau added that he didn’t think anyone was in favor of harming local government, but he believes Indiana is in a “global jobs war.”

Although Indiana has a 6.9 unemployment rate, lower than the national average, and the state is more job friendly, one way to be more competitive is lowering the corporate income tax, Charbonneau said. Senate Bill 1 proposes to lower Indiana’s corporate income tax from 6.5 percent to 4.9 by 2019.

Corporate income tax funding for the state and local governments may be the winners if more jobs come in as a result of the tax cuts, Charbonneau said.

Soliday said if the entire business property tax was wiped out, the legislature would have to find a way to offset the costs to the local governments. However, he said that there have been proposals to give counties the option of eliminating the tax if they believe it can benefit them.

“If this can help you, you can use it. This is a local empowerment bill,” Soliday said.

Marriage amendment

Ayres said a number of the questions submitted were about the divisive House Joint Resolution 3, defining marriage as between a man and a woman, which has passed out of the House and moved to the Senate where it will be heard early this week.

Soliday said it’s played out in the media that this is the only issue that matters in the Assembly this year when only 17 percent of Indiana residents feel it is a major issue. He said he personally has spent less than 1 percent of his time on the subject, keeping his focus on his role as Transportation Committee chairperson.

Soliday voted in favor of the amendment but also voted to remove the second sentence that would have prohibited state recognized civil unions or domestic partnerships. He said it is likely the U.S. Supreme Court will decide the issue of gay marriage in the next five years as our culture as changing.

Moseley and Tallian both said they both would vote “no” on the amendment.

Tallian said she would never vote for an amendment to the state constitution that would take away people’s rights.

Charbonneau said he has yet to make his decision and the bill will be heard this week by one of his Senate committees.

Ayres commented that the governor does not have the power to veto a constitutional amendment.

13th Check

At other points in the forum, all legislators were applauded by the audience for their support of the HB 1074 to provide a 13th check for members of the Indiana state teachers’ retirement fund.

Tallian became a sponsor of the bill in the Senate.

The panel also heard questions on whether the Valparaiso School Board should be appointed or elected and if elected state officials should be given drug tests.

Ayres thanked everyone for attending and mentioned that there will be another legislative forum hosted by the Dunes Shore District Council of the Indiana State Teachers Association featuring state lawmakers representing Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 22, at South Central High School in LaPorte County.

 

 

Posted 2/10/2014