[r72] A Clere view of the Statehouse 1/29/10 (2/1/2010)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Start Date: 2/1/2010 All Day
End Date: 2/1/2010

I asked and you answered

If last year's legislative session was a stroll, this year's is a sprint.

With things happening so quickly, it's important for me to know in advance where you stand on the issues.

In December, I mailed an eight-question survey to every registered voter in my district. As of the beginning of last week, I had received 739 surveys - 501 in the mail and 238 online. Surveys are still coming in. If you haven't returned one, it's not too late. Go ahead and mail it, or complete it online at www.in.gov/h72.

Thank you to everyone who has completed a survey. Many of you made comments, and I read - and consider - every one of them. The survey isn't scientific, but it nonetheless gives me valuable insight into what you're thinking.

Here are the questions (in bold), followed by the results and my comments:

Do you support giving Hoosiers a chance to vote on a constitutional amendment capping residential property taxes at 1 percent of a home's assessed value, 2 percent for agriculture and rental properties and 3 percent for business property?

Eighty-two percent of survey respondents want a chance to vote on tax caps, and they will get it. After a year of blocking a vote on the caps, House Speaker Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, finally relented. I was part of the bipartisan 75-23 majority that supported the caps. The Senate, which was on board all along, reaffirmed its support last week, and the question will be on the ballot in November. Now it's up to Hoosiers voters to decide whether the caps will become part of the state constitution.

Caps will limit property taxes as a percentage of assessed value, but caps alone won't keep property taxes from rising. We must ensure that property assessment doesn't become a back-door way of increasing property taxes, and now that the legislative debate over tax caps is behind us, that's where we should turn our attention.

In the future, if the state's frugal spending and money management creates a reserve that reaches a certain threshold level, should any money above that level be returned to taxpayers through income tax credits or should the reserve be used for education spending?

Sixty-seven percent of respondents favor tax credits, and 33 percent want excess revenue to go to education. Because of the current recession, there will be no excess revenue in the foreseeable future, but, if we continue to manage well, we may have the opportunity to debate this question sooner than many other states.

Do you support Indiana schools being required to move their start dates to a date after Sept. 1, while at the same time maintaining the 180 school day requirement and the making up of snow days?

Fifty percent support a start date after Sept. 1, with 28 percent opposed and 22 percent undecided - by far the highest undecided percentage on the survey.

Senate Bill 150 would prohibit schools from starting before the Tuesday after Labor Day and from ending after June 10 of the following year, beginning with the 2012-2013 school year. The bill is scheduled for a committee vote tomorrow. If the committee moves the bill and the full Senate then passes it, it is likely to come to the House Education Committee, of which I am a member. As with all issues, if you have an opinion on this issue and haven't returned a survey, please contact me as soon as possible.

Should college tuition increases at state-funded colleges be capped at the rate of inflation?

Eighty-two percent support a cap, with 12 percent opposed and the remainder undecided. College should be affordable for Hoosier families. We need to find a way to accomplish that while also ensuring that our state schools have the necessary resources to develop and maintain excellent programs.

Should package, convenience and grocery stores be allowed to sell beer, wine and liquor on Sunday?

This question generated the most evenly divided responses, with 52 percent in favor of Sunday sales, 43 percent against and the rest undecided.

Would you support a statewide smoking ban?

Fifty-five percent support a ban, 39 percent oppose a ban and the remaining 6 percent are undecided. House Bill 1131 would ban smoking in public places statewide. As introduced, the bill included an exception for casinos. It was scheduled for action in the House yesterday and was expected to be amended to include additional exceptions and other provisions. It's likely to receive a final vote in the House this week.

Should the state regulate the use of cell phones by all drivers?

Seventy-three percent want regulation, 21 percent oppose it and 6 percent are undecided. Distracted driving is dangerous, and there's no question that cell phones are a major cause of distraction. Common-sense legislation would save lives.

What should the General Assembly's top priority be?

The response to this question reflects concern over the economy. There were five response options. Job creation, retention and training programs is the top concern for 51 percent of respondents, followed by 27 percent who favor expanded tax relief as their top priority. Sixteen percent rank K-12 education first. Higher education and welfare programs for family and child services each receive 3 percent support as a top priority.

As the legislative session continues, we will have opportunities to support job creation and to make progress in the other areas.

Thanks to your participation in my survey, I have a better understanding of where you would like the legislature to focus its attention, and I will do everything I can to make sure we make the most of the rest of the session. I'm sure everyone can support that.