[r53] Cherry Chat: Working to work it out (4/11/2011)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Start Date: 4/11/2011 All Day
End Date: 4/11/2011

"Federal shutdown averted, but bigger battles over spending loom for Obama, Congress." Thankfully, this was the headline I woke up to on Saturday morning as I read about how our congressional leaders in D.C. managed to come to an agreement on the budget, just two hours before the deadline.  

During my time serving as a state legislator, I too have been in that position. As a legislator I have seen my fair share of legislators arguing over what should and shouldn't go into the state budget with only a handful of hours till the midnight deadline. It can be a tough task to create a budget, especially when you don't have many funds to work with from the start.

But fortunately, in Indiana, everything always seems to work out a little better than Congress.

We are now facing less than 15 days of session before we adjourn sine die on April 29. And although we had a couple of bumps in the road-the five-week Democrat walkout being the main "bump"-we are coming along in the process. We have passed the budget bill, House Bill 1001, out of the House and it's now getting hearings in the Senate.

The version passed out of the House is, what I consider to be, sensible. It does not include any new tax increases on already struggling Hoosiers. In addition, it will provide a structural balance by 2013, while also maintaining sufficient reserves to protect taxpayers. And finally, it preserves K-12 education funding at current levels.

Would have I like to have seen more money dedicated to education funding and other areas that affect many, many Hoosiers? Yes, of course, who wouldn't? But is it a budget that spends within our means and spends more than half of its resources on education? Yes, it is.

In order to keep Indiana on the right track out of this recession, we have to live within our means. We can't spend what we don't have. As Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Jeff Espich, says, "If we want to spend a dollar, we have to cut a dollar." I agree.

When we passed the last budget, in 2009 for fiscal years 2010-2011, we spent a billion dollars more than what is being appropriated for this budget. Two factors were at play. First, we don't have the stimulus money that was available to us like the last budget. Second, the revenue forecast is constantly changing.

In a week or so, we will be getting another revenue forecast that will be very telling. That forecast tells us what Indiana is taking in-which, in turn, will tell us how much we can spend. Depending on what it includes, we may be making some drastic changes to the budget before its final passage.

Although Indiana is doing progressively better each day and better than our neighboring states, we are not exactly out of the woods yet.

Once the Senate is done with committee hearings, adding amendments and they vote on the budget bill, I will be interested to see what changes it includes when it comes back to the House.  Again, I am sure everything will work itself out and we will come to a sensible compromise.

Two other pieces of legislation that are getting attention as they make their way through both chambers deal with government transparency and the other tracks ephedrine and pseudoephedrine products.

House Bill 1004 would require the state, school corporations, local governments and higher education institutions to have a universal, user-friendly website reporting all of their expenditures and fund balances. The legislation is currently in the Senate where it should get a committee hearing this week.

Senate Bill 503 would require a retailer to submit information relating to the purchase of nonprescription ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, or PSE, to the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) administered by the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators (NADDI) before completing a sale. The bill would also prohibit a retailer from completing a sale if NPLEx generates a "stop sale" notice.

Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are essential ingredients needed to produce methamphetamine, a highly addictive stimulant that has become increasingly common in Indiana.  Today, meth cookers only need a few pills containing pseudoephedrine, some household products, and a plastic bottle to produce a batch of meth.

Although I think taking measures to track the sell of these products in order to prevent misuse is a generally good idea, I just hope we are considering all or any unintentional consequences that may arise.

Senate Bill 503 passed out of the House and was returned to the Senate-the house of origin-with changes. The Senate members have to decide whether or not they will agree or disagree with the changes for the bill to continue moving.

These and many other bills are currently moving through the legislative process, so I encourage you to stay in the conversation and stay up-to-date on session happenings. You can track legislation by visiting www.in.gov/legislative.