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Buses, Buzzer Beaters and Budget Battles

Posted by jpellman on March 3, 2017

It’s March in Indianapolis.  Big Ten basketball fans are streaming into town for the Women’s Tournament, high school sectionals are underway, and Selection Sunday is just a week away.

Over at the Statehouse, legislators are putting on their game faces as we tip off the second half of the session.  Bills that were on the bubble have largely been benched as third reading deadlines passed in both houses.  And even though opponents tried to force overtime (with a last-ditch motion to delay the final vote), mass transit earned a blowout victory in the City-County Council.

Transit Triumph – Years of Effort & Advocacy Pay Off: 
Like a 16 seed’s path to the Final Four, it’s been a grueling gauntlet to reach this week’s mass transit success.  Bringing the public and private sectors to create a realistic approach, lobbying the General Assembly for the authority to act, and the final push to persuade the electorate and their Councillors – it all paid off with a 60% referendum victory and a 17-8 vote on Monday night.



With another capacity crowd of ‘Transit Drives Indy’ supporters looking on, the Indianapolis City-Council endorsed an expanded mass transit system that delivers more convenient service, new rapid transit options and wider access to jobs, education and other daily needs for the average resident.  It’s a business climate boost for employers, too, with the ability to recruit a more reliable workforce from across the city.

Improved transit also enhances Indy’s appeal to new talent going forward.  Studies convincingly show the Millennial workforce prefers walkable neighborhoods with convenient transit access – twice as many 20-30-year-olds use public transit regularly than their older peers.  It may have taken a decade, but this investment in mobility, economic competitiveness and quality of life will pay off for generations to come.  

Thank you to Councillors:

  • Robinson (District 1)
  • Fanning (District 2)
  • McQuillen (District 4)
  • McHenry (District 6)
  • Gray (District 8)
  • Oliver (District 9)
  • Lewis (District 11)
  • Johnson (District 12)
  • Jackson (District 14)
  • Pfisterer (District 15)
  • Miller (District 16)
  • Adamson (District 17)
  • Ray (District 19)
  • Mascari (District 21)
  •  Evans (District 22)
  • Kreider (District 23)

Back at the Statehouse – Buzzer-Beating Bills 
To paraphrase the legendary Coach ‘Jimmy V’ Valvano, the name of the game in the General Assembly this week was “survive and advance,” as time ran out for bills to move to the second house for consideration.  Here a few notable proposals that beat the third reading buzzer:

  • HB1008 – as described last week, minus the employer-driven tax credits but calling for greater coordination and long-term planning in Indiana’s workforce development system;
  • SB198 (Career Technical Education - CTE) moves to the House with a similar push to consolidate workforce functions as in HB1008, shifting CTE funds under the Department of Workforce Development;
  • HB1578, with changes also noted last week – supporting smoking cessation programs, helping employers manage smoking-related healthcare costs, but leaving the smoking age at 18 (and with its $1-per-pack cigarette tax increase moved into HB1001);
  • SB9 allowing supplemental SNAP benefits to former drug offenders; 
  • SB514 creating a pilot program for Entrepreneurial/Enterprise Districts to empower cities to support local start-up activity; 
  • SJR7, a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Indiana Constitution; and
  • SB507 (the IEDC bill detailed in this update) – we reported on its third reading success last week, but it bears repeating that (as with HB1578) even bills that keep moving can be gutted by a twist in the broader budget debate – this legislation suggests administrative changes to the Regional Cities Initiative, while HB1001 fails to provide minimal funding for it.  (We hope this important investment re-emerges in later budget talks.)  

Late Push Needed for Early Learning: 
On the pre-K front, SB276 passed third reading after falling victim to the austerity axe last week;  again, the original $20M annual appropriation (a $10M increase) was slashed to just $13M – this $3M increase was “supplemented” by a $1M iPad-based online program pilot that’s largely unproven in quality outcomes or social and educational value.   

While this bill heads to the House, HB1004 goes to the Senate and is scheduled to be heard next Wednesday afternoon (3/8 at 1:30pm) by the Education Committee. While the funding for the House plan was moved to the budget, it reflects the doubled pilot ($20M) expanded to ten counties with eligible households at or below 200% of federal poverty level.   

The House plan also allows the 10% county match to be provided by in-kind services, a positive for county flexibility.  SB276, however, allows more counties with qualified programs to opt-in, and has stronger provisions for coordination of federal funds; it pegs eligibility to 128% of federal poverty.    

In short, two different bills continue to move amid significant concerns over the overall funding level.  Hopefully, divergent approaches don’t put Indiana’s modest pre-K progress in jeopardy.  All IN for Pre-K advocates are organizing testimony and supporters for Wednesday’s Education Committee hearing, in an attempt to ‘reboot’ the Senate debate and push for a $50M statewide investment.   

March Madness – Budget Edition: 
The pre-K funding issue is among a host of differences between House and Senate fiscal leadership on tax and spending policy.  We’ve detailed the back-and-forth on gas taxes and if their revenues should be dedicated wholly to roads, if the cigarette tax hike should cover the resulting general fund gap, the potential of tolling and other differences on infrastructure funding.   The longer-term (preferred) House highway plan (HB1002) has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.  But that doesn’t mean the debate has stalled.   

As with HB1004 and HB1578, the fiscal framework of these bills have been shifted to the budget.  So while important hearings may be taking place in Education, Tax and Fiscal Policy and other key committees, the real action on spending priorities has shifted to Senate Appropriations, as Senator Kenley and his colleagues receives HB1001 authored by Ways and Means Chair Tim Brown.

The next action in this ‘Big Dance’ of negotiation and reconciliation comes Monday morning (3/6), as the Appropriations Committee hears HB1001 for the first time.  We’ll deliver the play-by-play over the next several weeks, along with other key issues and the fate of ‘zombie bills’ still staggering through the session and ‘Christmas trees’ getting loaded up with all sorts of pet policies as we move toward conference committees.  Maybe there’s even time to take another run at mandating single-class basketball.