Chesterton Tribune



Region lawmakers bipartisan on business tax cut, public schools, jobs

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A group of Northwest Indiana state legislators on Saturday found much to agree on.

Four Democrats and three Republicans made up a panel at the annual legislative breakfast sponsored by the Dunes Shore District Council of the Indiana State Teachers Association. This year the event was held in the South Central High School cafeteria.

Present were the four officials that represent the Duneland area Ð State Reps. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, and State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes. Joining them were State Sens. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, and Jim Arnold, D-LaPorte, and State Rep. Thomas Dermondy, R-LaPorte.

The panel members found common ground on strengthening public schools, supporting retired teachers, spurring job growth and finding support for local governments which might be impacted by Governor Mike Pence’s plan to do away with personal property tax.

Pelath, who is the Minority Leader for the House, said the proposal caught everyone in the statehouse “a little off guard” but he personally believes there are other ways to attract businesses such as having a skilled work force.

“Business taxes are not the problem. We need to invest in our middle class. They are the economic engine of Indiana,” Pelath said.

Businesses are also looking for local governments that can afford to keep the roads plowed and provide police protection, he added.

The governor’s plan would be a tax shift, Pelath said, and while “it’s not the worst idea” there are other priorities that come first.

Charbonneau said there are “many pieces of the puzzle” to the governor’s plan but the fact is Indiana is in a “perpetual competition for economic opportunity and jobs.”

Moseley said he applauds the many legislators on both sides of the aisle who have raised questions on the business property tax cuts during this short session. He said that he feels the state has already done “a fine job” attracting businesses and wishes General Assembly would spend more time finding ways to raise wages for working Hoosiers and to provide health care coverage.

Dermondy pointed out local governments have the tools to attract business themselves with such measures as TIF districts.

While it is the governor’s role to provide some vision, it is the House and Senate that work out the compromises, Soliday said, and cutting out $1 billion from local tax collections statewide is something that probably won’t happen.

The House version of the bill for the tax elimination would allow counties to decide whether they want the tax cuts. Problems with local empowerment bills like this, Soliday said, is that they may benefit one county but not another.

“One size does not fit all for everywhere in the state,” he said.

Tallian said she also questioned the measure as many school districts and local governments are already strapped for funds.

Education, labor

Other questions asked for input on teachers’ collective bargaining, school safety, public employees’ retirement plans and effects of the right-to-work law.

One question specifically directed towards Soliday and Pelath asked their opinions of the perception General Assembly members have of teachers.

Both said that they do not know of one colleague in either the House or the Senate who hates teachers. Pelath said there is some resentment however against teacher unions. He also said that looking at voting records, you can see there are splits between legislators who support traditional public schools versus unregulated charter schools and private/religious schools with vouchers.

Meanwhile, Moseley said despite the promise of high-paying jobs to Indiana, right-to-work “has done nothing” in terms of workforce development. The contentious measure signed into law two years ago means that workers do not have to pay dues to a union group in order to be represented.

Pelath and Soliday both agreed that right-to-work has not brought one new job to the state. Soliday said he was one of the few House Republicans who cast a no vote on the right to work bill. He believes the type of high-paying jobs needed in the state are those related to computer technology.

Pelath expressed frustration over the Assembly’s actions to limit collective bargaining rights and benefits for teachers. When the teachers feel better about their jobs, the classroom benefits as well as the workplace, he said. He said he believes organized labor is key to growing the middle class.

Tallian added that as ranking minority member of the Senate’s Pension and Labor committee, she’s heard a plethora of bills that “peck away” not just at teacher unions, but unions in all trades.

Also at Saturday’s forum, the lawmakers voiced their hopes of getting policies in place to give teachers the most out of their Annuity Savings Account when they retire. Part of the struggle is adjusting the rates of fixed income to offset inflation.

In other issues related to education, Soliday talked about a house bill being considered to put cameras on the stop sign swing arms of school buses that would facilitate issuance of fines to drivers that illegally drive past. The problem is especially prevalent in urban areas like Indianapolis.

Tallian spoke about concerns she has with education bills that are being drafted and pushed through by lawmakers who do not have any experience in the field of education. She calls upon those in the Assembly to let Indiana Superintendent of Public Education Glenda Ritz “do her job.”



Posted 2/26/2014