STATEHOUSE (Jan. 8, 2009) - As lawmakers convene to discuss Indiana's future, it's clear this will be one of the toughest budget sessions in generations. Perhaps, as state economist Nigel Gault told the Budget Committee last week, the worst is yet to come. I firmly believe, however, that with great challenges come great opportunities. If we react wisely, the General Assembly may well have the opportunity to position Indiana to recover further and faster. That challenge - placing Indiana in the best possible position during tough times - must be met head-on by policy-makers.
On Jan. 7, House Republicans offered a fiscally responsible, disciplined and far-reaching legislative agenda, laying the foundation for a solid recovery. (Details are online: www.in.gov/legislative/house_republicans.) Our focus - taxpayer protection, job creation and education reform. Now more than ever, these critical areas need our full attention.
First and foremost, the 2009 budget must live within our reduced means, avoid the deficits and payment delays of the past and contain no tax increases for Hoosier families and businesses. Now is precisely the wrong time to ask more from taxpayers; our job must be to cut spending to meet projected revenues. House Republicans are familiar with honestly balanced budgets, passing the first one in a decade when we held the majority in 2005. Our state's future depends on discipline - spending less and spending wisely where we can.
The legislature must also make good on our "Cut Now, Cap Forever" pledge to property taxpayers in 2008. Our landmark property tax relief cut taxes last session, and we took the first step to cap them forever by passing Senate Joint Resolution 1, the proposed constitutional amendment limiting property taxes to 1 percent of a home's assessed value.
Speaker B. Patrick Bauer has already indicated he isn't interested in passing SJR 1 this year. In contrast, Republicans pledged if we were in the majority, SJR 1 would be our first order of business, assuring a referendum vote in 2010. History tells us temporary tax fixes fail, and the only way to permanently protect homeowners is to pass SJR 1. Mr. Speaker, as I asked on the House floor, free the property tax caps, and let taxpayers decide this critical issue.
House Republicans also believe discipline is necessary to protect our fragile business environment. While we must aggressively seek high-paying jobs, we must do no harm to our employers and their chances for future growth. That means no new general business taxes or burdensome regulations.
Indiana is now a national leader in job attraction, and there is no reason for that to change. We must continue to attract employers, and the legislature can create a framework ensuring that as our economy recovers, Indiana can be the leader in attracting new jobs.
Education is also a key economic development tool, and even in these tough times, it must remain our top priority. Our proposals concentrate resources in the classroom rather than administration, grant bonuses to teachers who pass voluntary competency testing and preserve gains made by charter schools and family options.
With Indiana ranking 44th in the nation in adults with bachelor's degrees, we also need to build the framework for Hoosier Hope Scholarships to help every Indiana high school graduate with a "B" average or better move on to higher education opportunities. We may need to wait until 2011 to fund this critical program, but we can adopt the framework now.
Indiana faces tough challenges, but those challenges present great opportunities to move our state forward. If we can remain disciplined and focused, we can set a new stage for Indiana's future.