Notes from Legislative Update 4-4-09

Legislative Update – April 4, 2009 – Muncie, Indiana
In the hallway there is a board listing some of the hot issues. You are encouraged to vote by placing a sticker on the issues which interest you the most. This is where most of the question from the moderator came from.
In attendance: Senator Sue Errington; Representatives Bill Davis, Jack Lutz and Dennis Tyler; Concerned Citizens from Muncie al beyond; Moderator: Al Rent
Hope I can read the notes I took. Will try and be as accurate and on target as possible. Much was said and for me, it is nearly impossible to keep up. Here it is in a nutshell. (P.S. W.I.P.B. taped it, so it may be aired again.)
Meeting begins with opening comments. Bill Davis talked about the overwhelming support on property tax caps and waiting for the Speaker of the House (P. Bauer) to call the bill down for a vote, which allows us as voters to have a nay or yea at the polls come Election Day. He touched on the problems with the Capital Improvement Board in Indy.
Jack Lutz was second. He echoed Davis’s comments and he would love the opportunity to vote on property tax caps. Unemployment insurance is a big problem, some of the other big things happening is state budget which were sent over for one year and 3 separate bills. Usually, it is a 2 year budget under one bill.
Sue Errington thought the big issue was the budget. She dealt with unemployment insurance in conference committee. She believes we are all affected by unemployment bill, if you are drawing or working. She said the Kernan-Shepard bill has come back to life for amendments. Moving the mayoral elections to even years, forbidding holding government jobs if elected, and moving school board elections to the fall. Now it is back in elections committee. She drew applause. (See the Kernan-Shepard Report at Interesting Places.)
Dennis Tyler agrees with Lutz and Errington. His most pressing issue was unemployment insurance and he said Indiana fastest rising unemployment. The state has or will borrow $400 million. (Didn’t catch his statement.) He is hoping the stimulus money will help.
Property Tax Reform:
Davis: Allow property owner s to keep their money. Encourages speaker of the house to vote on Property Tax Caps and to keep the promises made 2 years ago. The cap of 1, 2, and 3 was quick, and Mr. Davis said that’s how quick we can change an amendment if desired. Believes voters should be allowed to vote and make it permanent.
Lutz: Echoed Davis’ comments. Republicans are in the minority with 48 members out of 100 and he believed there was not enough time to allow government to start planning and would be left out on a limb. We will lose the right to vote on referendums for construction costs if it becomes a “green” project. He wants to see a balanced budget and keep reserves for the future.
Errington: Senate leaders not supporting 1, 2, and 3 caps and the caps are in the statute. She believes the local government has had plenty of time to prepare for less revenue. Waiting one year won’t make a difference and more information should be available to voters.
Tyler: Quoted Davis as saying the vote for 1, 2, and 3 caps were on a whim, Davis said quickly not on a whim. If SJR1 comes to floor, he will support it.
Balanced budget:
Davis: First balanced budget was in 2005. Balanced budget has allowed Indiana to weather the storm, far better off than surrounding states. Increasing of funds or setting up funds from stimulus bill, will raise taxes once the funding is gone.
Lutz: Agrees with Davis. Reserves saved for rainy day, tighten belts on spending. He wants a budget without gimmicks like delayed payments for schools causing the state to borrow money.
Errington: She is expecting a 2 year budget. When the budget goes from senate to house, this is where the bargaining begins.
Tyler: House sent balanced budget for one year with 3 bills. Need to adequately prepare if 2 year budget is approved. He believes this may punish the schools, as an example.
180 Day School Year:
Davis: Bennett believes in 180 day school year without exception. Believes children do not learn better going to class less. Parent/Teacher conferences and snow days are built with additional days around 185 in contract. Encourages parents to be more involved in children’s education.
Lutz: Same as Davis. The law is intended for 180 school days. Believes state should pick up costs if the school goes over snow days, conferences, etc.
Errington: Supports 180 day law. No money in budget to cover extra days and feels is it an unfunded mandate. Concerned with not just quantity but quality of education. Teachers are frustrated, loosing ability to best help students. So much is dictated teacher s losing spontaneity and creativity.
Tyler: Agrees with all three. Concerned with all the time spent on standardized testing and possible loss of parent teacher conferences.
Bailing out the Indianapolis Capital Board (Alcohol Tax):
Tyler: Why another tax when the state is trying to lower taxes?
Errington: Only the taxes collected in Marion County go to Marion County. Taxes collected stay in area where paid, for example Muncie could gain $705,000.00, Albany $25,000, Daleville $15,000, etc.
Lutz: Errington is correct. He is not for or against the tax, money goes to city and towns only, not the counties.
Davis: Hasn’t seen the bill yet. He believes a tax is a tax and a bailout is a bailout. Against raising any taxes and understand the importance of the Convention Center’s revenue to the state.
Why should COIT and LOIT taxes be assessed when the newspaper has uncovered so much waste?
Tyler: Proponent for local government to use taxes if needed. Tyler said property tax caps are the right thing.
Errington: Agrees with Tyler. Knew drop in revenue would occur when helping homeowners deal with property taxes. Built in options to take advantage of local government to deal with revenue loss. How much belt tightening can be done? Libraries are doing it. Money is not there, we must figure out how to get along with what we have.
Lutz: Tweak revenues and increase revenues. One way to increase revenue is through economic development.
Davis: Seen increased in sales tax, schools & welfare born by the state, remonstrance and referendums have been stripped. One problem, never sure where you are being taxed from, need to be careful not taxed from everywhere, LOIT and COIT.
Kernan-Shepard Report:
Errington: Said Kernan-Shepard is another avenue for local government to find ways to save money, mentioned Delaware County and the Modernization and Consolidation.
Tyler: Hasn’t heard anything from the people on the Kernan-Shepard Report. Not sure if the locals understand how the Kernan-Shepard report works. Likes lots of the report.
Lutz: Said house not able to digest the report.
Davis: Feels the Kernan-Shepard report is another step to transparent and efficient government. Believes breaking the report into small pieces and voting on issues important to them is a good idea. Doesn’t doubt or question the motives of those who put it together.
211 – Will funding be included in 2010/11 budget?
Davis: Worked with Tiny Adams on this bill. Believes Tiny would be proud to see it up and running today. Funding should come from donations and faith-based initiatives. Hope some funding from budget, has proved to be a valuable program.
Lutz: Excellent program, would like to fund all excellent programs, there are plenty excellent programs to fund.
Errington: Excellent program-not available in all counties. Currently funded by private dollars, no state dollars. State agencies have their own hot-lines. Proposed doing an analysis and closing down some, and having the people call 211. Lifestream (where 211 are housed) has no extra money to hire more staff or publicize the service. State should fund some of it.
Tyler: Davis and I are on the Ways and Means committee, have heard presentations from 211. I believe Dennis said 15% of the calls were family services, a state program, so the state should fund 211.
Budgeting and Funding for the Arts. More money for athletics then the arts:
Tyler: Received testimony from the arts saying a 50% cut couldn’t happen. He asked what cut could, and the local arts could survive a 10% cut. Tyler said people associate the arts with wealthy and well to do, he has seen children from Whitely and Industry neighborhoods learning to dance. Imperative to get funding.
Errington: Agree with Tyler. Considers it a form of economic development. Cited the Governor Arts Award coming to Muncie in September and the money it would generate.
Lutz: Cut by 10% and should look for ways to promote the arts. Considers it an important part of education.
Davis: Agrees arts play an important part in economic development. Need to prioritize spending. When people are doing all they can and have to sacrifice-in these times we need to prioritize. As all our constituents are cutting back, we (government) have to do the same.
Each person received a paper with Yes or No and it was used as an informal vote. Here are the 3 issues voted on by the audience: (Keep in mind this is an informal vote.)
Issue # 1 – Do you believe in nationwide background checks for state employees? Yes.
Issue #2 – Do you believe seniors should be allowed to opt out of jury duty? Evenly split.
Issue #3 – Do you believe 180 days and no allowance for parent/teacher conferences and/or training? Evenly split.
The legislatures ask the audience questions: (Again, an informal vote.)
Tyler: Are you concerned with the unemployment fund problems? Yes.
Errington: In favor of doubling alcohol tax? 60% No, 40% Yes.
Lutz: Tax caps now? 70% Yes and 30% No.
Tyler mentioned the unemployment compensation was $219.00 per week and would decrease the longer you stayed on it. Davis corrected Tyler reading figures from a report at the highest amount of unemployment is $390 per week with a 14% decrease, and the lowest was $292 per week with a 27% decrease staggered over time. Errington said the lowest was $50/week decrease to 21%. Would increase benefit from 26 weeks to 42 weeks for seasonal. Errington said it was very complicated, and Davis agreed nobody has the same information and it is all very complicated, something that definitely needs to be watched.
Errington: Said the stimulus package would give us a big chunk for unemployment. It comes with some strings attached if accepted.
1.) 22,000 Hoosiers would become eligible for unemployment if we change how we count eligibility.
2.) Allow part-time workers to be eligible. This could add 15,000-20,000 more people.


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