The two-hour meeting kicked off with a discussion about the economic pinch the state is currently in. The drastic financial situation has left the state a whopping $142 million behind its estimated goal, which has led to major changes being implemented in the state budget.
Instead of implementing a two-year budget, which is what has been done in past sessions, Indiana has switched to a one-year plan.
Clyde Kersey, Representative from District 43, said this was being done because it is difficult to know where money will be most needed down the line due to the current state of the economy.
"This is a difficult situation," Kersey said. "The economy is going downhill and we don't know where we're going to be in two years."
One major focus of the state is job creation. Unemployment rose from 7.1 percent statewide in December to 8.2 percent in January.
Vern Tincher, Representative of District 46, said this was a bad situation that was only going to get worse if drastic action wasn't taken.
The representatives discussed the passing of House Bill 1656, a job creation bill, which would take $500 million from the "Major Moves Trust Fund," a funding system for highway repair. By doing this, they were hoping to create more jobs. The road funds would then be replaced when the state receives its cut from President Obama's recently passed stimulus package.
By rule, the funding taken from "Major Moves" can only be used on jobs related to road repair. Tincher also said the goal was to make so that no less than 90 percent of the jobs created by this action would go to Indiana residents, saying "if we're spending Hoosier dollars, we should be hiring Hoosier workers."
There was also discussion about delaying upcoming property tax cuts. Under the current "caps" system, which dictates what percentage property tax is paid by homeowners, farmers, businesses and homeowners.
Homeowners pay 1.5 percent, farmers pay 2.5 percent and businesses pay 3.5 percent under the current system.
These percentages were set to drop to 1, 2 and 3 percent respectively by 2010. While property tax decrease is usually greeted fondly by citizens, Kersey felt it would be in the best interest of the state to push these tax breaks back.
Kersey's reasoning was that a decrease in property taxes could lead to the dissolution of public services. This was already seen in Terre Haute recently, as three library branches were shut down. Kersey argued that a tax break at this time could lead to further losses and cuts of public service, which could reach as far as the fire and police departments.
Lastly, there was a fairly fiery discussion about the Kernan-Shepard report, which would call for a complete reorganization of local government.
According to Kersey, if passed, the bill would allow for one elected official to appoint various other governmental positions such as sheriff, auditor, and town clerk, rather than having all these positions filled via election. Kersey said if this bill were to pass, it would be a "hit for Democracy."
Also speaking out in a passionate dismissal of Kernan-Shepard was Clay County Commissioner Paul Sinders.
Sinders strongest objection with the bill was that it was being passed by big city politicians, working out of cities such as Indianapolis, South Bend, Fort Wayne and Bloomington.
Sinders took exception to big city officials trying to dictate the ways of rural Indiana, even though they had no first-hand knowledge of how government was run in these areas. The commissioner warned against the passing of the bill, saying the people who wanted it implemented didn't have the interest of small town citizens in mind.
"I caution people in Clay County to watch this," Sinders said. "We are a rural state being run by the big city."
Kersey reemphasized his adamant opposing of the bill, saying that it is not only misguided, but that due to the quality of work of local government, it wasn't needed.
"Before the recession, Indiana was fifth in the nation at job creation," Kersey said. "Why reorganize when making changes could be more costly in the long run?"
The next Cracker Barrel is scheduled for Saturday, March 21. No location has been set yet.