The Indiana General Assembly goes to work next Wednesday and regional
lawmakers say the biggest debate for 2012 may not be education or even
right-to-work, but what is to be done with the untouched $320 million found
missing from the state’s General Fund.
“There are all kinds of talk. It’s all over the board,” said state Rep. Ed
A recent audit revealed the millions in corporate income tax payments had
not been properly placed into the state’s General Fund since 2007.
While general fund money pays for state services, individuals have called
for the money to be spent on programs that received the ax over the past
three years, like K-12 education which saw $300 million in cuts.
Another option suggests the money should be held onto or invested for future
needs, while others have pitched the idea of using the money for tax relief.
A recently enacted bill would give taxpayers an automatic refund if what is
left in state reserves exceeds ten percent of the state’s operating budget,
said state Rep. Charles Moseley, D-Portage.
“I think if we have a bill saying we should do that, then by golly I guess
we need to keep our promise and do it,” Moseley said. “I don’t think we
should sit there and hoard it because the taxpayers are the ones who put it
there, not the politicians.”
State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, who serves as an advisor on the
state’s budget committee, said committee members were curious as to why
revenues from corporate income taxes were coming up short, but thought it
possibly an effect of the dwindling economy, until the accounting error was
The possibility of reopening the budget to include the missing funds is
doubtful since the committee has already set the budget for this year,
Tallian said, with approximately $1.1 billion in reserves.
“It is unfortunate because we have cut a lot of programs that we have
needed. We could have used that (money) in other places,” said Tallian.
Should the money be used for tax relief, Tallian said the reimbursements
would be minimal, probably less than $50 per taxpayer, and some lawmakers
have asked to reconsider dispensing the money back into state funded
programs. Refunds can be canceled if the state increases its’ spending or
changes the parameters of the law.
While believing in a strong education system for the state, Soliday said
those who are urging the money go to K-12 education should take notice that
education was the least cut program last year. State workers suffered huge
layoffs to minimize cuts to education, he said.
“I think we should take care of our teachers, but they have to appreciate
there were no raises given for years to state workers,” he said. “Giving the
($320 million) to schools may sound good but there is a time to keep our
roads paved and other basics of government.”
Representing House District 9 which now includes northeast sections of
Porter County, state Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said he plans to
ask the State Budget Committee to conduct an independent review of state
finances to ensure there are no other cases of un-transferred monies “lying
around” in the state coffers.
“We must, as lawmakers, need to ensure that there is no additional money
lying around. We need to restore credibility to our budgeting process and
see that the people of Indiana are not asked to sacrifice any more,” said
Thorough checks can put plans in place to prevent any more accounting gaffes
in the future, he said.
A motion made on Dec. 14 by State Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, to have
the State Budget Committee hire an outside auditor was voted down by the
Republican majority who consequently decided the matter should be looked at
by the State Board of Accounts.
While the 2011 General Assembly arguably made the biggest reform to the
state’s education system in over 50 years (passing bills that would allow
state funding vouchers for charter schools, private companies to take over
troubled schools and restricting teacher bargaining rights), regional
lawmakers say little is expected in this year’s session regarding schools.
Soliday said some reformers had been pressuring leaders of the house and
senate earlier this month to do more in education but both Speaker of the
House Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Pro Tem of the Senate David Long,
R-Fort Wayne, have advocated holding off on any further measures until
tangible results can be seen from the 2011 reforms.
Reactions to school vouchers were mixed, but Soliday pointed out the state
put a 7,500 person cap on the vouchers and only 3,800 signed up for them,
mainly in the larger cities.
The assembly leadership are also interested in hearing results of the
teacher evaluation law before “passing a bunch of other stuff,” Soliday
Tallian mentioned a few members of her caucus, Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary,
and Sen. Tim Skinner, D-Terre Haute, have authored bills that will provide
oversight and accountability on private schools receiving school vouchers
and organizations that have been contracted with the state to run
In a separate matter, the state may consider bills taking up the issue of
half or whole day kindergarten. Tallian is one lawmaker who has drafted a
bill calling for half-day kindergarten to be mandated after discovering
there is no such rule in the current law.
“Most people send their kids to kindergarten but it is expected there are a
few thousand parents, just for whatever reason, don’t,” said Tallian.
The so-called “Right-to-Work” bill has already caused a stir among
politicians and labor groups alike.
Bosma announced in November passing the bill is his top priority for the
upcoming legislative session.
The bill, which would make it illegal for an employer to require a worker to
pay union dues as a condition of employment, has come under fire by
Democrats who hold only 40 seats out of 100 in the house and 13 out of 50 in
Pelath is one of the house’s most outspoken opponents of the measure, vowing
to fight against any legislation he believes attacks the wages of middle
class workers. He contends the plan would cause people to work longer hours
for less pay for union and non-union members alike.
“It will destroy the same middle class jobs we need in order to cure this
economy. It’s wrong and I’ve made it clear in the past,” he said. “I feel
very good in the fact that there is some very strong bipartisan opposition
to the measure and I am hoping that we can build upon that.”
Meanwhile, Soliday, said he is unsure whether the bill will pass.
“All it has done so far is make a lot of noise,” said Soliday.
The last state to adopt a Right-to-Work law was Oklahoma over a decade ago,
Soliday said, and many of the other Right-to-Work states are in the south.
“There are a lot of things we have to get done (in session) and suddenly
this is our number one issue?” he said.
Moseley said he sees the Right-to-Work issue as nothing more than “political
bologna’ that has been dragged out by certain lawmakers.
“I’m really disappointed that the number one priority in some people’s minds
is a political issue when we have so many people out of work. You’d think we
would have a lot more things to make a priority,” said Moseley.
As ranking minority member of the state senate’s Pensions and Labor
Committee, Tallian said she plans to spend much of her time debating the
issues of the Right-to-Work bill.
Counties in Indiana, including Porter, are asking state lawmakers to devise
a way to make more funds available for Enhanced 911 systems. Revenues have
been driven down due to the general decrease in use of landline phones.
Porter County officials say they will see shortfalls of $2 million per year
starting in 2013 if no remedy is implemented.
A boost in charges for cell phones or pay-as-you-go phone cards has been
advocated but it is uncertain if any changes will pass in the upcoming
As a standing member on the Public Safety committee, Soliday said he plans
to have a bill drafted in the next few days but cautioned there will need to
be much more discussion as the issue carries “very conflicting” sides.
While not breaking down the specifics of the bill, Soliday said he would
like to see fairness created for those with landline surcharges and secondly
to let the counties know exactly the amount of state funding they will
receive for their E-911 centers.
• Moseley on Thursday morning announced a bill he authored that would create
more opportunities for eligible steel fabrication companies in the state to
produce wind turbines. A longtime advocate of local steel production,
Moseley said this would be the biggest jobs bill for Northwest Indiana,
encouraging steel companies to build fabrication sites in the area. If
passed, the measure would give a host of tax credits to the companies as
economic incentives. The project would be directed by the Indiana Economic
“It’s real important. I hope people realize this is a shot for putting more
people to work,” said Moseley.
• Tallian will introduce her bill on categorizing marijuana possession as an
infraction instead of felony or misdemeanor with no jail time. She says she
has yet to decide what amount of marijuana would be permissible under the
infraction rule as other states have differed in their possession laws.
Tallian called for the study done this past year on the state’s marijuana
possession laws as a the first step to lessen the severity of punishment.
• Soliday is a co-author of bill that would lower the minimum bid for a
property at a sheriff’s sale starting at 75 percent of its assessed
valuation. Delinquent taxpayers would also be given the opportunity to work
out a payment plan with the county’s treasurer office on taxes that are past