As the Governor presented his address, the message focused on no tax increases, protection of the $1.3 billion state reserves, government reform, providing discipline in the classroom and a call to pass permanent caps on property taxes in the State's Constitution.
While I appreciate his vision, 2009 will present a tremendous amount of challenges that will require patience and collaboration.
In the last year, our state has lost more than 80,000 jobs with even more losses expected in the months to come. Unemployment has hit an average of 7 percent across the state. It is evident the national recession is in full force in Indiana. While the unemployment crisis was missing from the Governors' speech, state lawmakers must be ready to pass laws that will stimulate job creation for our citizens and provide for a sustainable unemployment fund.
Education will be debated on many fronts. While he spoke about the importance of education for our students, the governor has proposed flat-lining school expenditures and cutting funds to higher education by an average of 4 percent.
The reality of these steps will mean higher tuition costs to families and a reduction in operational costs for our schools. Additionally, as we discuss another round of consolidating smaller schools, our teachers, administrators and families are continuing to fight for smaller classrooms in order to have a lower teacher-to-student ratio, which has been proven to result in improved classroom performance.
As for the constitutional amendment on property tax caps, the legislature passed this amendment in the 2008 session. Before it can go before the people of Indiana in a referendum vote, we must pass it again in 2009 or 2010.
Since the caps do not become effective until this year, we have not experienced the full impact on property taxes and local government services. Many of us believe it would be prudent to take another year to gain actual data before passing the amendment in 2010. It doesn't matter whether we pass it in 2009 or 2010 -- the people of Indiana still cannot vote on this issue until November 2010. I believe we need more time to make our judgment based on the facts.
Beyond the general goals for this session, many members have their own agendas. To date, 736 bills have been filed in the House. Committees will consider the measure, hear testimony on its pros and cons, consider changes and finally vote to pass or reject the proposal.
The hallways are becoming more active as our citizens and organizations around the state are coming to introduce themselves and their interests.
I have already enjoyed the opportunity to hear from my friends and residents from Clay, Putnam, Parke and Vigo counties. I have met with officials from a number of organizations, including Indiana Farm Bureau, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, DePauw University, Ivy Tech, Indiana State, the Indiana CPA Society and Indiana Energy.
While there are endless meetings to attend, the schedule is dictated by our committee assignments, preparation for the presentation of bills and addressing constituent needs.
The schedule for the balance of January has been adjusted in honor of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday and the inauguration of President Barack Obama on Tuesday. After that time, we will begin this session's work in earnest.
If you need to reach me during session, you may call the toll-free Statehouse telephone number at 1-800-382-9842 or write to me in care of the Indiana House of Representatives, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, Ind., 46204, or submit your comments on my website at www.IN.gov/H44.
While visiting my website, you may also sign up to receive regular e-mail updates from the legislature.