INDIANAPOLIS -- The first week of February has been another good week of discussion and debate. As Washington, D.C., creates a federal stimulus package that will jump start our economy, lawmakers at the Statehouse are working through plans to support education and job creation and retention.
As always, I am keeping an eye on a number of proposals to see how they will impact the lives of you and your families.
It is no surprise that our discussions are becoming more intense. We have a couple weeks to complete a full review of House bills. Funding-or lack thereof -- is the driving conversation. With the recent announcement that the January revenue collections were $140 million behind projections, our work becomes harder and more important.
This week's challenge revolved around a job creation bill and an education package.
During a lengthly floor session on Thursday, House members on both sides of the aisle joined together to approve changes on a transportation bill (HB 1656) that will provide $1 billion to finance a broad range of INDOT infrastructure projects included on the Major Moves List. More importantly, the bill also gives money to our local units of government to support improvements to roads, streets, bridges and sidewalks. Among the projects on the list are improvements to State Road 240 and a bridge on I-70.
HB 1656 also ensures that the Legislature will have an equal voice in determining how the federal stimulus dollars are used. Early reports from Washington look to attach a lot of strings to that money and it seems to place control of its use in the hands of only a very few people. The Governor has said that he wants to work with the General Assembly in determining how these funds are appropriated. I look forward to our involvement and hope the Governor will embrace our ideas and thoughts.
On the education front, we are moving toward final House approval of HB 1173, which would provide an average increase of two percent in state funding for our schools. Not all schools will receive an increase in funding, but no school will receive less than current funding levels in the proposal.
This bill is somewhat unusual as it provides a school funding plan that covers one year instead of the typical two years. By comparison, Governor Daniels has proposed a plan that will cut funding by flat-lining state support without taking into consideration the rising costs of utilities, transportation and insurance. While this is a complicated task, I am optimistic that we will come out with a workable solution.
My second bill was presented to the Local Government Committee last Tuesday. house Bill 1670 directs the Government Finance (DLGF) to put together an action plan to restore the timeliness of the property tax system.
Due to many factors, 85 of Indiana's 92 counties have been delayed in getting their property tax bills mailed. In return, local units of government have borrowed thousands of dollars, which generate unnecessary interest costs that are passed on to the taxpayer.
The blame cannot be put on one entity. there are many factors at work here, and rather than spend our time at fault, we need to find out what we can do to keep this from happening again.
The DLGF will be required to consult with groups that represent counties, cities and towns to look at the entire process, from assessing property to setting rates to issuing property tax statements to taxpayers. If my bill becomes law, this group will begin meeting this summer and recommendations ready for implementation by 2011.
Here's a brief look at other bills under consideration:
House Bill 1193 enables school corporations, college and universities to be eligible for E-85 grants that would allow them to build ethanol stations.
House Bill 1524 makes a number of changes in the operations of the State Egg Board, including requiring permits for people who take eggs to Farmer's Markets.
House Bill 1182, initiated by the Indiana Sheriff's Association, addresses appropriate rates to be paid for services and charges for inmate care. This bill is by a sub-committee on which I serve. I believe we will propose a fee that is fair and reasonable for the county and providers.
I thank you for the opportunity to serve. I appreciate your phone calls, emails and visits to the Statehouse. If you need to reach me during the 2009 session, you can call the toll-free Statehouse telephone number 1-800-382-9842, write to me in care of the Indiana House of Representatives, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46204, or submit your comments to my web site at www.in.gov/H44. While visiting my website, you can also sign up to receive regular e-mail updates from the Legislature.