STATEHOUSE - Crafting a frugal state budget, finding solutions to fill the hole in Indiana's jobless fund and helping the Indianapolis Capital Improvement Board make up its $47.5 million deficit are tasks Rep. Randy Borror (R-Fort Wayne) is charged to complete by April 29, the final day of the 2009 legislative session.
Rep. Borror has been named an adviser for the conference committees that are hammering out final compromised solutions to these problems. It would be an uphill battle in any economic climate, but in the middle of this recession and with less than a week remaining, the committee has its work cut out for him.
Beginning with the state budget, Rep. Borror and the members of the conference committee for HB 1001 will work to find some middle ground between the Democrat-created House version, a one-year budget that dips into state reserve funds, and the Republican-created Senate version, a two-year budget that leaves reserves untouched but uses federal stimulus money to replace general fund spending.
As is often the case, there are problems with both versions.
"I've been involved in conversations about this budget in the Ways and Means Committee throughout this session, and I can tell you we're making some very difficult decisions this year," Rep. Borror said. "You can line up the numbers any way you want, but, at the end of the day, we're still facing huge revenue shortfalls."
To deal with those shortfalls, Rep. Borror said the only solution is to cut spending in some areas and hold down spending increases for others - never a popular message but one he insists must be followed this year.
And what about including federal stimulus dollars in the budget?
"We need to be careful with the way we use that money. We can't use it for anything that will leave us high and dry next year when we're not on the receiving end of the federal government's spending," Rep. Borror said.
Fixing Indiana's insolvent unemployment insurance trust fund - a fund already relying upon loans from the federal government to pay out weekly benefits - will be just as difficult as crafting a budget a majority of legislators can vote for. Adding salt to the wound are rising unemployment numbers: 10 percent statewide and 10.8 in Allen County.
Rep. Borror attempts to add perspective to Indiana's jobless fund situation by explaining that many states face similar crises with their unemployment insurance funds, including Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan.
"This is a nationwide problem that has been exacerbated by the recession," Rep. Borror said. "Unfortunately, we ignored the problem for far too long, and now we're left scrambling to find a solution that incorporates some degree of balance and deals with the inherent weaknesses in our system."
By "balance," of course, Rep. Borror means the conference committee for House Bill 1379 should consider both employers and employees when crafting a solution.
The Senate-created version of the fix adjusts taxes on businesses and weekly benefits to the unemployed to make the fund solvent, while a recently released Democrat proposal places the entire burden on Indiana businesses - raising taxes almost threefold. Rep. Borror and his Republican colleagues on the committee worry this will only lead to more Hoosier unemployment.
"One thing I think everyone can agree on is that we need to tighten up our definitions of 'eligibility' to ensure those deserving of benefits receive those benefits," Rep. Borror said. "Beyond that, it's difficult to tell what we'll end up with. In all honesty, our best solution may be one with which no one will be thrilled.
"If labor folks are too happy, that means the bill's probably too tough on business. And if the business community is too happy, that probably means it's too tough on employees."
The final and, some would say, the most controversial conference committee for Rep. Borror will be for House Bill 1604, a bill that was originally intended to create a capital improvement board for Fort Wayne. Now, the bill also contains the plan to help save Indianapolis' capital improvement board, which is almost $50 million in the red.
"Obviously, I wasn't happy with this language making its way into this bill, and my gut reaction was to say, 'Let them fail,'" Rep. Borror said. "But that's not realistic. We need our state's capital to remain an attraction for national conventions. We need to keep professional sports teams. We must keep people coming to Indiana.
"Yet, we need to find a way to help Indianapolis that won't punish or take advantage of the rest of the state. Why should people in Fort Wayne, for example, pay for Indianapolis' poor planning? It's unacceptable, and I think we're all focused on making sure that doesn't happen."
Rep. Borror won't get much of a break before April 29, but he says he's determined to come to some quality solutions in these conference committees: "We want to get the job done right this time. Frankly, no legislator is interested in being called back into a special session."