Play Ball!

Posted by chamberadmin on April 7, 2017

Baseball season got underway this week, but at the General Assembly there’s already a playoff atmosphere:  With third reading deadlines behind us, next week starts conference committees (where appointed conferees reconcile differences between House and Senate versions of bills)…so lawmakers will be urging one another to play ball and make bargains on a whole litany of issues.

There are still fairly significant divisions between the House and Senate on key bills; so like the dedicated Indians fans shivering at Victory Field Thursday night, we anticipate that some of the upcoming committee sessions will be pretty chilly as the conferees feel each other out.  But first, the highlights from the past week’s box score:   

Digesting the Budget Bill: 
Like the free burritos that legislators enjoyed earlier in the week, there’s a lot rolled up in the budget bill that passed the Senate 39-9 on Thursday.    

We described the key differences between the version of HB1001 that emerged from Appropriations and the original House plan last week:  Positive investments in the Regional Cities initiative, support for international flight connections, a slight increase to the Public Mass Transportation Fund, and continued commitments to the Indiana Bioscience Research Center, 21st Century Fund, and Skill Enhancement Fund.    

Shortchanging Pre-K:
The Senate also allocates more money to both higher education and K-12, with a $2M appropriation to support more effective STEM education and a funding formula that could benefit urban and rural districts alike.  But pre-K continues to be a disappointment, with increased pilot program resources slashed from modest (in the House) to almost negligible.  Here’s the latest: 

  • An attempt on the floor to restore the original $20M annual appropriation – doubling the pilot – was defeated in a party-line vote that saw Senate Democrats more in tune with the House GOP.
  • Governor Holcomb has advocated for the $20M spending level as well, but shifted his focus this week to asking legislators to find a way to double the number of children in the pilot; while he may have been signaling flexibility on details, early learning experts calculate that doubling the student headcount would require $31.24M! 
  • With this in mind, we continue to make the argument for a $50M statewide investment in early learning, noting that the Governor’s recent comments bring him even closer to this mark than the existing Senate plan.
  • We’re further seeking a conference committee amendment to protect the pilot funding (at current levels) in participating counties; by slightly increasing the program budget and opening it to more counties, the Senate bill could actually lead to deep cuts in current programs; we’re also asking that in-kind services count towards county match requirements in the pilot, to allow local flexibility.   

We continue to believe that statewide pre-K is ambitious but achievable, and affordable given the return-on-investment.  It brings to mind a timeworn adage:  “If you think the price of education is expensive, try the alternative.”  Indiana’s economy has underperformed for too long under the burden of the alternative. 

Tar in our lungs, not on our roads?
Another major shift by the Senate is the omission of any cigarette tax increase.  Its prospects aren’t stellar:  Speaker Bosma already seemed resigned to a smaller increase, and Governor Holcomb late last week accepted Senator Kenley’s premise that a cigarette hike should be reserved as a hedge against future Medicaid needs.

We continue to support raising the cigarette tax now, to help curb healthcare costs and boost workplace productivity, and to add a revenue stream that frees up gasoline sales tax collections for roads and highways.   

Picture Me Rollin’ 
Today (Friday), Tupac Shakur will be inducted as the first solo rap artist into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  So here’s a callback to his celebratory anthem about driving through LA:  We can still picture a long-term infrastructure bill that keeps Hoosiers rollin’ over good roads – and drives our logistics economy forward, too.  But we have some work to do beforehand.   

The amended version of HB1002 passed the Senate 34-13, with changes we also detailed in the last update: Going slower on gas taxes, adding a new tire fee and urging more reliance on tolling.  With no new cigarette revenue, gas sales taxes stay in the general fund – so the ‘infrastructure deficit’ isn’t fully closed – but at least there’s a commitment to a long-term plan with new revenue options.    

But we can’t be satisfied with a three-fourths solution.  We need a strategy to fully-fund infrastructure needs (roughly a billion dollars in added annual spending) with sustainable revenue (we continue to think a cigarette tax increase is a solid candidate to close the gap).    

Locals Losing?
This overall revenue shortfall, along with technical tweaks to the road funding formula, also shortchanges local governments in the Senate-approved infrastructure bill: 

  • A Senate amendment links local road-funding distributions only to inflation – tying future increases to a baseline year (2017) with no regard for population growth, traffic counts or other criteria;
  • This could slash funds flowing to cities and counties from the Motor Vehicle Highway Account by nearly two-thirds, according to one preliminary estimate;
  • For the Indy region, which accounts for nearly 70% of the state’s population growth – and is the epicenter of its logistics sector – this could be a massive blow;
  • We must protect regional priorities – Indy is already a ‘donor’ region for state taxes, and drives 40% of Indiana’s economic output; our local needs have a statewide impact.  

(Let’s take another lesson from Tupac and urge give-and-take on the details with a final goal in mind – we don’t need an East Coast-West Coast style beef between the House and Senate in conference.)   

School Daze 
There’s no spring break at the Statehouse, but legislators were also focused on schools this week.  In addition to K-12 budget and funding formulas, the Senate acted on several bills: 

  • HB1005 continued its remarkable revival (with Chamber support); plans to convert the Superintendent of Public Instruction to an appointed office passed 28-20; 
  • HB1003, replacing ISTEP with the development of a new ILEARN student assessment, also earned a passing grade (23-16); 
  • Loosened accountability standards for private schools accepting voucher students;
  • SB182, limiting school district liability on superintendent contracts (curbing early buy-out options and other contract terms) passed third reading in the House; 
  • House lawmakers also moved forward plans to take over management of Gary and Muncie public schools;
  • Moving into technical and vocational education, the House also passed SB198 (97-0); with HB1008 passing last week, the House and Senate now have to reconcile their views on coordination among the Department of Workforce Development, Commission for Higher Ed, Ivy Tech and Department of Education in identifying and supporting high-demand career programs, adult education and other workforce efforts (driven by employer needs).   

Striking Out or Sliding into Home? 
We’ll add to this list as we work through the final burst of activity late this week, but here’s what we know about the third-reading fate of other bills of interest to the Chamber agenda: 

  • HB1036, providing a non-partisan, merit-based selection process for Marion County judges, passed the Senate 33-15 in another victory of criminal justice and government reform;  
  • SB242 (Housing First Program) passed the House unanimously (without amendment), paving the way for housing and support for Hoosiers suffering mental illness or chemical dependency;
  • HB1470, the open data proposal that we’ve supported to bring innovative, evidence-based solutions from our tech community into the public sector, passed the Senate (43-14), but faces concerns about privacy and security in conference committee (and has no current funding attached to its proposed Management Performance Hub).