Competing with five other precincts, Clay County arranged to gather state legislators for the first crackerbarrel of 2003 to a standing room only crowd of citizens.
Clay County Chamber of Commerce and Clay County Farm Bureau co-sponsored the event Saturday morning at Stoll's Blue Bonnet with state senators Richard Bray and John Waterman and state representatives Clyde Kersey, Brooks LaPlante and Andrew Thomas. They each had a chance to speak before hearing questions and comments from the crowd.
Legislators just began the first session of 2003 and have met only a few times.
LaPlante said he is on three committees: Commerce and Economic Develpment, Financial Institutions and International Cooperation.
Kersey said more than 1,000 bills will come before the House and Senate. Maybe 300 will pass.
The biggest issue to face is the budget, he said, and gave four options to overcome the state's budget deficit: Massive program cuts, bonding and securitization of 40 percent of settlement money from tobacco companies, delay property tax reassessment for a year or raise taxes.
Waterman said specialty items within the budget are extremely easy to hide. He said it is time for legislators to step out and take a look at these problems and establish spending guidelines.
Bray said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last Thursday that states may not have special legislation. He said it is not a new law and will not be universally applied and special circumstances will allow special, localized legislation.
Thomas said he co-authored House Bill 1087 to form a five-member volunteer committee for every legislator to make sure projects are coming along and money is dispensed properly, referring to the Build Indiana Funds mess.
Marvin Schopmeyer, retired teacher, asked about the teacher's retirement fund being dipped into to ease the state's budget woes. John Driscoll asked about CAGIT, the County's Adjusted Gross Income Tax, possibly being raised by a quarter of a percent to fund a new Clay County Jail. Richard Johansen, St. Vincent Clay Hospital CEO, wondered what health issues were on the table before the legislature now concerning state-funded health care, the uninsured and Medicaid. Jack Knust, Clay County Farm Bureau president, questioned how much revenue the Indiana Lottery brings and about the possibililty of establishing an entertainment tax.
Terry Barr, Clay Community Schools board trustee, asked about plans to move the ISTEP test to the spring.
Vickie Switzer, First Steps/Step Ahead coordinator, reminded legislators that funding for the intervention program is in danger. She said the Clay County program received $17,000 last year and by working with between 20 to 30 agencies, $20 is leveraged for every $1 received. Mayor Kenny Crabb asked about potentially imposing a gasoline tax on SUVs.
The next Clay County Crackerbarrel is set for Feb. 22. By that time, state elected officials will have voted on several issues and area citizens can find out why an official cast his vote the way he did.