[r54] What Will They Throw Into the Budget Bill This Year? (4/9/2009)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Start Date: 4/9/2009 All Day
End Date: 4/9/2009
Every long, budget session, we surge headlong into the final weeks wondering, "What will they sneak into the budget this time?"

To me, it's a lot like that line from the movie Forrest Gump.  The state's biennial budget is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna get.

I have my own predictions, but I'm not placing any bets.

I'll be looking for the Kernan-Shepard recommendations for local government reform.  They died in House committee weeks ago, but could be resurrected and hidden in the bulky budget bill.  Anything that managed to pass one house of the General Assembly is up for grabs.

One item that may very likely make its way into the bill is the Marion County Capital Improvement Board funding plan.  Essentially, this is a bailout for downtown Indianapolis, and all of Indiana may be asked to foot the bill. 

In a nutshell, the plan, in its current form, would double the state alcohol tax.  To sweeten the deal for folks outside the Indianapolis area, 100 percent of the money resulting from the increase would be distributed to the cities and towns according to the current distribution formula (which doesn't treat all cities and towns the same, I might add). 

Indianapolis' share would be about $8 million per year.  The plan includes increased admission, food, beverage and innkeeper's taxes for Marion County, as well. 

While the plan may change before April 29, the last day of session, this is a raw deal for rural communities and pretty much anybody outside of Marion County.  We're tired of footing the bill for Indianapolis and its budgeting problems, and we shouldn't accept a tax increase to bail the city out this time. 

Moreover, this plan speaks volumes about our legislative priorities.  Supporters of the Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Home have been fighting tooth and nail to keep the historic and valuable home open, and now the legislature is offering this plan to keep Indianapolis' entertainment facilities from going broke. 

Should we find money to support kids in need or to keep highly paid professional athletes in Indianapolis? 

I can tell you that most of us in the legislature don't support this plan, but many of us will vote for it.  Why, you ask?  Because it will probably end up in the budget. 

With all of these awful provisions in the budget, you would think I'd have no problem voting "No."  Yet, it gets more complicated, because there are bound to be other things in the bill I do care about.

As it currently stands, funding to keep the Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Home open remains in the budget. 

In this case, there are no good options.  And many of my friends in the House will find themselves in the same position for one reason or another. 

In the end, we probably won't get the bill more than 24 hours prior to voting on it.  We will have to use those 24 hours to dissect the good from the bad, weigh our options and make the decision we think we'll be best able to defend. 

It's never an easy vote. 

Now more than ever, I encourage you to weigh in and let me know where you stand on these issues.  E-mail me at h54@iga.in.gov or call toll free at 1-800-382-9841.