Thank you for giving me the opportunity to continue serving as your voice in Indianapolis. I appreciate the support of everyone who voted for me, and I will work to earn the trust of those who didn't. As I said, it's time to put politics aside, and I look forward to representing everyone in my district - not just those who voted for me.
A week from today is Organization Day, the official kickoff of the legislative session. It's largely ceremonial, with the swearing in of newly elected legislators, official election of the heads of the House and Senate and various housekeeping matters. The session will start in early January and must conclude by the end of April.
The biggest job will be crafting the state's next two-year budget. The current $27.9 billion budget runs through June.
Numbers from the most recent quarter indicate that Indiana may be starting to climb out of the recession, but it is slow going. State revenues exceeded the same quarter from last year by 7.5 percent, but they were still well below previous years. In fact, after being adjusted for the 2008 increase in the sales tax, revenues for the current fiscal year are expected to finish below 2006 levels.
Revenues for the current two-year period are on pace to finish $1.7 billion short of what we expected when we passed the budget. Gov. Mitch Daniels has reduced state spending by almost $1 billion, but that still leaves us about $1 billion behind.
A revenue forecast for the next two years will be available next month and will provide critical information for writing the next budget.
The budget is not the only major task facing the Indiana General Assembly. In a process that takes place once every 10 years, the legislature will use data from this year's census to redraw all 150 state legislative districts (100 House districts and 50 Senate districts) and all nine congressional districts. It's a politically charged topic, and it will be our job to draw fair maps based on logical geographic and community boundaries.
Another critical issue that must be addressed is Indiana's bankrupt unemployment trust fund. The fund went broke in late 2008, and the state has borrowed almost $2 billion from the federal government to fund unemployment benefits.
The problem was created over a period of years, and it will take years to fix the system completely. As with many other problems at both the state and federal levels, we need to work together on a solution instead of worrying about who created the problem. Solving the problem with the unemployment insurance trust fund will require bipartisan effort and cooperation from all stakeholders. We can't keep borrowing.
Of course, the surest way to minimize the need for borrowing is to reduce unemployment by promoting job creation. We should be doing everything possible to create the most favorable environment possible for private employers to maintain and create jobs.
Most of what I've discussed so far is reactive; we should also find time to be proactive.
K-12 education reform is at the top of the list. I'll be looking to teachers, parents and other stakeholders for input and advice on a number of proposals. If education reform is first on the list, then local government reform should be next. As with education reform, I'll be looking to local government officials and others for insight and ideas.
The legislature will be dealing with many high-stakes issues. The state budget, legislative redistricting, the unemployment trust fund, education reform and local government reform were issues driving much of the interest in state legislative contests last week.
During the campaign season, the word "battle" was used frequently, and we're sure to hear it and similar words as the legislative session approaches. Participants and observers frequently employ the terminology of war in describing political campaigns and legislative debates. It's OK, as long as we keep it in perspective.
As we commemorate Veterans Day on Thursday, we should pause to remember that our veterans fought real wars and real battles on real battlegrounds. They withstood real bullets and real bombs and suffered real casualties. They did it so we could have free and peaceful elections and open policy debates.
This year's election season was particularly ugly, but there were no tanks in the streets or violence at the polls. We owe that to our veterans. Thanks to them, we have the freedom to disagree.
Just because we have the freedom to disagree, however, doesn't mean we should try to disagree. To the contrary, we should be looking for areas of agreement. That is how we will move forward together.
If you have an idea for legislation or wish to learn more about or comment on possible legislation, please call my legislative assistant, Clinton Bohm, at 1-800-382-9841, or e-mail email@example.com.