[r54] General Assembly Moving Too Fast on Many Issues (1/30/2009)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Start Date: 1/30/2009 All Day
End Date: 1/30/2009

Usually, the General Assembly is criticized for moving too slow, but this session, it seems we're rushing. And the consequences could be dire.

We haven't had a lot of good news about anything lately, and that's causing a lot of citizens and lawmakers to panic. Take a look:

      ·         State revenue forecasts show a $767 million gap between projected income and projected spending from 2010-2011.

·         Indiana's unemployment rate jumped almost 1 percent in a single month, reaching 8.2 percent in December.

·         In Henry County, the unemployment rate jumped to 9.3 percent; in Wayne County, it jumped to 9.8 percent; and in Randolph County, it jumped to 9.6 percent.

However, when we rush to create solutions without working hard to consider our options and collaborate, we create more problems down the road.

Consider, for example, the case of the state's dwindling Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. From 1997 to 2005, we increased the maximum weekly benefit every year. We did this to confront worries that the state wasn't supporting unemployed folks adequately.

However, businesses didn't want to pay more taxes to compensate for the increases.

So, in the end, we increased the benefits to jobless Hoosiers without increasing taxes on businesses to compensate. That's the kind of bad math a first-grader could recognize.

Now, facing rising unemployment, the fund is dry. We've even taken loans from the federal government to keep benefits going.

This year, we have to come up with a solution. My hope is the solution isn't just a quick fix that puts us in more trouble 10 years from now.

Moving on to the budget: Yes, we need to make a lot of difficult choices to cut costs wherever we can, but we also need to prioritize and think through our options. In a rush to cut, cut, cut, we could be compromising the quality of the services we already provide.

The announcement of the Indiana State Department of Health's plan to close the Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Children's Home is a great example of this. In the rush to cut, we fail Hoosier children. We need to slow down and find the most ideal areas to cut costs.

What about jobs? They've got to be the top priority. And who can argue with that?

Consider, however, the latest bill certain legislators are touting as a "job creation" solution. The bill would redirect Major Moves funding that is already slated to fund road construction and maintenance projects all over the state, including almost $14 million for District 54 projects alone.

In the Roads and Transportation Committee, I tried, without success, to convince the committee chair to put off a vote on the bill until the obvious problems could be resolved. Unfortunately, we rushed a vote on the bill, and it passed the committee, 7-5.  

If successful, the bill would do exactly the opposite of what it intended to do. Ninety percent of those employed on these Major Moves projects today are Indiana citizens. This bill will likely cost them their jobs and cost the Indiana Department of Transportation about $245 million over the next two years.  All of this because we were in a hurry to come up with a solution.

Here's perhaps the most heavily advertised move that seems to me to be rushed: Constitutionally protected property tax caps.

Why are we rushing to get these into the Indiana Constitution? They already are in state law. They are already in effect. Let's take the time to see how they work before we make them permanent. We have nothing to lose by waiting.

It's natural in times of perceived crisis to panic, but what would benefit Hoosiers the most is a little restraint and consideration. So far, all of our moves have been reactionary, not creative or proactive.

We need to slow down. We need real, well-reasoned and well-researched solutions. Because right now, we're just throwing out ideas and seeing what sticks.

And there's no guarantee we'll like what we end up with.