Have you ever been riding in a car on a long trip where you're stuck in the back seat with your feet on the hump and you begin to see signs that your destination is just a few exits ahead?
You impatiently begin to gather up your stuff, tell the kids to put their shoes on and eagerly prepare for the end of your long journey.
Suddenly the driver takes the wrong exit. Instead of being home, with your trip completed, you find yourself lost and don't really know when you will arrive. That best describes yesterday in the General Assembly.
This has been a fast and hectic session. Since January you could tell that this session was going to come down to two issues: education and unemployment, in the form of two specific bills: House Bill (HB) 1367 (education) and Senate Bill (SB) 23 (unemployment).
The way schools are funded-and what they can do with certain funds-is very complicated.
The simple way to look at this is that schools have different buckets of money for different items (i.e., the transportation fund and capital improvement fund). When one bucket is empty they cannot take money out of the other buckets to cover the shortfall.
HB1367 is an effort to allow schools the flexibility to kind of dump everything into one bucket, which sounds simple enough and everyone down here in the General Assembly likes that idea.
The sticking point comes with what schools are allowed to do with this bucket of money. We, the Republicans, wanted to have one restriction - the "extra" money could not be used for additional raises.
Teachers currently get incremental raises every year and if they obtain certain levels of their own education they receive an increase in pay. The Democrats wanted to allow schools the ability to spend wherever they wanted including spending extra on additional pay increases.
Let me say right here and now that I do not have a big problem with incremental raises, but I don't think that giving additional raises is the best way to spend those dwindling tax dollars when we are cutting school funding due to shrinking tax revenues. I think the administrators, school boards and teachers in my district do a good job of protecting your tax dollars, but as we consider HB1367 there are schools in the state just waiting for the freedom to raise pay.
In the end this will be resolved and I think a good compromise will be reached.
The other issue is an effort to delay or repeal a very bad unemployment bill that passed last year. Last year the General Assembly passed the largest business tax increase in the history of Indiana. (Not one Republican in the House voted for this disaster.)
Today we are at a point where we have the opportunity to delay or repeal the tax. The upside is that a delay will not cause additional businesses to lay off more workers to cover the tax; the downside is that the unemployment fund continues to grow deeper in debt. Some support a delay. I support a repeal. It was a bad bill last year and if we delay it two years it will still be a bad bill in 2012. We need to start over and all parties need to compromise - business and labor alike.
The problem with this year's bill is that SB23 was simply a delay. While a delay was better than nothing, we knew that this was too big of an issue to allow something this simple to pass without amendments. The bill was loaded up with almost every item on big labors' wish list. Employee misclassification, increases in benefits for those receiving the maximum, removing the requirement to look for a job and a couple of other issues.
So what it came down to was this - if you want a delay, then you're gonna pay for it. This is why this issue is going to be the toughest one and the last one we deal with. SB23 was getting close to a resolution and then . we took the wrong exit.
The sign was in sight, we were coming to the end of a 13 hour day, we were all in the chamber ready, we knew that it would be the wee hours of the morning, we had our hotel reservations in hand and we knew this could finally be the end of a long session and we could return to our homes, businesses and families.
The turn signal was on when all of the sudden Speaker Bauer announces that we had to go home and come back next week on the 10th.
I think we might be getting lost but, what do I know? I'm just the guy in the back seat with my feet on the hump.
Keeping things in Lehman's Terms,
Rep. Matt Lehman