[r53] Cherry Chat: Keeping Indiana on the Right Track (2/9/2009)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Start Date: 2/9/2009 All Day
End Date: 2/9/2009

Congress is reportedly working toward a mid-February deadline to hammer out differences between U.S. House and Senate versions of the stimulus package, either of which could send billions to Indiana for use by schools, state and local governments.

I would prefer more tax credits and incentives to help small businesses and Hoosier families to keep more of their own money.

However, Gov. Mitch Daniels estimates Indiana could receive $4 billion and $5 billion in formula-based funding alone, according to preliminary analysis. Because the governor sees the package as designed for states with larger budget concerns than ours, he will urge that money be spent for one-time projects that don't increase the state's budget base to a level that cannot be maintained when the stimulus payments cease.

The stimulus package comes at a welcome time, and how we spend that money will be vital to our future's success and our ability to weather this economic storm. If we use the money to  create or expand programs that involve long-term spending, we are making a recipe for disaster. I fear tax increases would be inevitable.

The governor expects $1.5 billion to $2 billion will be designated for capital projects. Additional categories and approximate amounts Indiana could receive from the stimulus package:

# $750 million: Roads and bridges         # $130 million: Higher education building

# $150 million: Clean-water projects      # $100 million: Mass transit

# $150 million: Weatherization               # $100 million: Energy efficiency

# $250 million: K-12 renovation, repair and lab space

The idea is to create good jobs quickly in the hardest-hit areas of the state, whether they are urban or rural, Republican or Democrat. Last December, the state's unemployment rate was 8.2 percent, up from 7.1 percent the previous month and up from 4.5 percent in December 2007. This was the state's highest rate in more than two decades, dating back to February 1985.

We have been working diligently to find commonsense ways to stimulate job growth and grow Indiana's economy. Take for example, House Bill 1656, once a bill to nowhere, now has a new direction, thanks to a Republican amendment approved by a unanimous House vote.

The amendment would provide jobs for Hoosiers, allow local government to improve streets, roads and highways in their areas and protect important Major Moves projects that will be the basis for longer-range economic development and even more jobs for Hoosiers.

The amendment was offered by Republican Leader Brian Bosma and approved 99-0 by the House. Here is what the amendment does:

-The Republican plan retains all existing funding for Major Moves projects, preserving funding for U.S. 31, the Hoosier Heartland Highway, Interstate 69 South, the Fort to Port project and dozens of other scheduled projects.
- In fiscal years 2009 and 2010, municipalities and county governments would receive a total of $500 million for road construction, maintenance and repair from the newly established Local Road Special Projects Fund.
-$250 million in federal highway funding would be placed in the fund from these existing state funds:  Surface Transportation Fund, Bridge Fund Equity Bonus Fund. 
-$250 million in money generated through the federal stimulus bill would also be placed in the Local Roads Special Projects Fund.
-As the federal stimulus road dollars contain aggressive timeline restrictions, and the Special Projects Fund also contains timeline restrictions placing difficult challenges before local communities, the state would establish a $20 million Community Infrastructure Assistance Fund from unallocated stabilization fund monies to assist local units with technical and engineering expertise to qualify and utilize the federal stimulus money and the Special Project Fund.
-Indiana residents who have lost their jobs in the past year due to reductions in the workforce would be eligible for Adult Workforce Retraining Grants administered by the Department of Workforce Development.
-Out-of-work Hoosiers would be eligible to receive a $3,000-per-year grant for two years to be used at any two- or four-year year institution of higher learning. 
-Under the federal stimulus bill, Indiana will receive money from the Higher Education Modernization, Renovation and Repair Fund. House Republicans believe this money should be utilized immediately to put Hoosier tradesmen to work on needed higher-education projects. 

As always, please contact me with questions or comments. Send letters to me at the Statehouse, 200 W. Washington St., Room 401, Indianapolis, IN 46204. E-mail me at H53@in.gov, or call me toll-free at 1-800-382-9841.