[r44] Home Stretch to End of Session Full of Difficult Votes for House (2/28/2008)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Start Date: 2/28/2008 All Day
End Date: 2/28/2008

There are many things I have learned about state government and politics since I was first elected as a state representative prior to the 2007 legislative session - too many to describe in a single column. 

However, one of the most difficult lessons for me to learn is that, often, legislators will have to weigh the positives and negatives of proposed legislation and decide if the good outweighs the bad. For me and for many of my colleagues in the Indiana House of Representatives, this has been extremely difficult because the issues we are discussing are so important to the lives of Hoosiers.

This Thursday, we were confronted with two such issues: the immigration bill, Senate Bill 345 (SB 345), and a resolution to constitutionally protect property tax caps, Senate Joint Resolution 1(SJR 1). In both cases, the issues were important, and legislators from both sides of the political divide agreed that something must be done to confront these problems facing Indiana.

Unfortunately, over the course of the session, this bill and resolution were altered significantly, and the changes, for many of us, were not for the better.

Take, for example, the immigration bill.  I shared with you my reservations about the bill a few weeks ago. In its original form, I felt it lacked the strength to adequately address our problems with illegal immigrant workers. Still, I thought it was a step in the right direction that could be made stronger in the amendment process at second reading.  House Republicans were blindsided by Democrat leadership at second-reading deadline, when they inserted the entire immigration bill into an unrelated labor issues bill at the last minute, a move that blocked us from offering amendments to create more effective provisions to deter businesses from hiring illegal immigrant workers. 

The political gamesmanship that took place with this bill is unfortunate, and it put us all in a tough situation.  Should we vote against the bill because it doesn't do enough, or should we vote for it because illegal immigration is becoming such a problem in our state? In the end, I opted to vote for the bill, with the hope that it will be strengthened in conference committee.

Conference committees make up the final weeks of the legislative session, and typically one legislator from each caucus (House and Senate Republican and House and Senate Democrat) meet to decide the final version of a bill before it returns to each chamber for a final vote. These are four very powerful individuals, and it is the hope of all of us that they will work together wisely to create the best outcomes for Hoosiers. 

Senate Joint Resolution 1, the resolution originally containing the governor's proposed 1-, 2- and 3- percent property tax caps on assessed value for residential, rental/agricultural and business properties passed the House at third reading on Thursday with a vote of 64-35. This time, however, I could not vote for the bill. To me, and to many of my colleagues (including a few on the other side of the aisle) the negatives of the resolution were too great and put Indiana in a dangerous position.

As I said before, the original version of this resolution was strong and had bipartisan support in the House and Senate. However, the Democratic chair of the House Ways and Means Committee added an amendment to the resolution that changed everything. The amendment changed the 1-percent tax cap on residential properties by making it based on household income of the property owner and not assessed value, as the Senate version of the resolution proposed. 

I was philosophically opposed to this change. To me, it seemed like an income tax disguised as a property tax. What's more, there is no reliable data to suggest how this income-based property tax cap will affect homeowners, schools, businesses and local governments. Many worry this may bankrupt our cities and towns. Personally, I believe this fear is warranted. What's more, this revised tax cap raises issues of privacy. Property taxes are public record; anyone can view them. If your property taxes are suddenly based on your household income, anybody will be able to view and determine how much your family earns a year. In my view, that is a gross invasion of personal privacy. 

Also, simply administrating this type of proposal will be extremely difficult and costly to counties. Basing residential property taxes on household income will create new layers of bureaucracy, as counties will need to hire new employees simply to comply with this mandate. 

Once again, despite these big problems, many of my colleagues voted for the resolution to keep it alive; however this time I could not, in good faith, vote to advance this resolution. I am hopeful the absurd income-based cap on residential property taxes will be removed in conference committee before it returns to the House for a final vote.

For all of us who were so torn over how to vote on these issues this Thursday, conference committees are the last chance to make SB 345 and SJR 1 everything they need to be. I only hope these legislators will have the wisdom to make the necessary changes to benefit all Hoosiers.

The next two weeks will move quickly. I will keep you posted on the progress of these and other bills. We're in the home stretch now, and all these difficult decisions will, with luck and wisdom, amount to positive changes for our state.