INDIANAPOLIS -- This week, Indiana lawmakers spent their time debating a variety of issues, including the state's unemployment trust fund, the number of instructional days for students and property tax caps.
Unemployment in Indiana is an issue we must address before our April 29 deadline.
To date, more than 300,000 people are out of work. The state has had to borrow more than $580 million from the federal government to cover unemployment costs for Hoosiers.
By the end of the year, it is expected that we will be indebted up to $1 billion to the federal government.
Here is the core of the problem. Hoosiers are not finding jobs. Employers do not feel that they can pay more in unemployment taxes.
The state is spending out more in benefits than it receives through employer taxes.
It is not a new problem, but one that will keep growing unless the legislature does something to make the fund solvent again.
House Bill 1739 contains a plan crafted by the Indiana Senate majority.
The proposal, which passed out of the Senate this week, proposes to cut benefits to the unemployed by more than $540 million, and making it even more difficult to qualify for those benefits.
It also increases the taxes charged to employers.
On Thursday, the House voted to send the legislation to a conference committee where members of the General Assembly can begin to work out a compromise.
As the debate continues, I would like to see the governor take a more active role in this matter.
So far, he has stated that he doesn't believe Indiana needs $148 million in federal stimulus money to help the unemployed, but he does think that out-of-work Hoosiers already receive "Rolls-Royce" benefits.
For your information, the average weekly benefit provided currently is about $300 before taxes re taken out.
I want to mention two other issues that came before the House this week.
House members passed legislation (Senate Bill 126) designed to make sure that parent-teacher conferences remain an integral part of the school year.
The Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction recently notified all schools that he was changing the method for counting instruction days in the future.
We all agree that students can use more time in the classroom, but the problem exists with changing the rule after schools have prepared budgets and calendars for 2010-11.
While the governor states legislators put adults before children by passing Senate Bill 126, I claim that we need to properly prepare for changes that can be worked into a controlled budget.
Making this implementation without working with our educators is problematic.
Finally, representatives passed a measure (Senate Bill 388) that will advance the implementation of the 1, 2 and 3 percent property tax caps.
Many people have been led to believe that property caps are not in place until we pass a constitutional amendment.
While this has been a hot issue to many taxpayers, the General Assembly passed legislation in 2008 that put the caps into state law.
Putting these caps into the Indiana constitution concerns many people because it would state that it is OK to treat groups of taxpayers differently.
I believe fairness is important and we should strive for a method that gives reasonable relief and equitable treatment to all.
The purpose of speeding up the enactment of the property tax caps already in law would show how the caps will affect homeowners, rental property, farms, business owners, schools and other local units of government.
I am concerned that this will cause another delay of tax bills.
It will generate more interest payments by local units of government if money must be borrowed to maintain a cash flow for operations.
It might cause services and programs to be cut.
I also am concerned that we still do not have the necessary data to make an informed decision.
We have five weeks left to resolve important issues.
I am proud to say that both sides agree on more than 90 percent of bills that make it through the process.
However, in that remaining 10 percent are some challenging subjects: A state budget, creating jobs, helping those who are looking for work, and speeding up property tax caps.
Please let me know what you think about these issues as we work on them.
If you need to reach me during the 2009 session, you can call the toll-free Statehouse telephone number of 1-800-382-9842, write to me in care of the Indiana House of Representatives, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, Ind., 46204, or submit your comments to my website at www.in.gov/H44.
While visiting my website, you my also sign up to receive regular e-mail updates from the legislature.