AFP touts Pence tax cut proposal in TV spot

A conservative group is launching television and radio advertisements aimed at pressuring reticent Indiana Republican legislative leaders into writing Gov. Mike Pence’s proposed income tax cut into the state’s next two-year budget.

The Indiana chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a tea party-fueled organization funded by the Koch brothers, will launch a “six-figure” advertising buy in Indiana and accompany it with emails, phone calls and door-to-door efforts.

Its goal is the same as Pence’s: To lower Indiana’s individual income tax rate from 3.4 percent to 3.06 percent, a move that would save taxpayers – and lower state revenue – by about $520 million annually.

The group’s new campaign will send a message to Republicans who dominate both chambers of the Indiana General Assembly after winning supermajorities in November’s election, said Tim Phillips, Americans for Prosperity’s national president.

“This is meant to encourage them – to show them that there are folks that have their back,” Phillips said.

“A lot of Indiana families, and I think the nation really, is watching to see what they’re going to do with this power. Are they going to kind of float along with the comfortable status quo, or is it going to be a genuinely bold attempt to get this economy moving again?”

Legislative leaders have balked at the tax cut because they prefer to boost education and transportation funding. The House did not include it in the budget the chamber passed, and key senators have said they are hesitant, as well.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Kenley, the Noblesville Republican who is his chamber’s top budget-writer, said Indiana is already in the process of stepping down the state’s corporate income tax and phasing out its inheritance tax.

Pence’s proposed income tax cut “sort of cuts across our present plan, and I think the trick is going to be, how do we meld these plans together and still fund the things that we think are priorities?” Kenley said.

“Obviously we want to fund schools, we want to fund roads, we want to fund higher education, and even a conservative Republican would say these are the kind of investments in the future that you have to make. So we have to reach that right balance.”

Both Kenley and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Thursday that a key moment will come on April 17, when an updated forecast of how many tax dollars Indiana will take in over the next two years is released.

That forecast will trigger an intense period as the legislature speeds toward the April 29 end of its 2013 session. Lawmakers say the rosier Indiana’s revenue picture looks, the more likely Pence is to get the top item on his first-year legislative agenda.

The Americans for Prosperity ad is a one-minute spot styled after one that former Gov. Mitch Daniels once ran.

It starts with powerful music and green-and-white headlines that tout the state’s economy and its surplus. Then, it abruptly switches to foreboding music and red-and-white headlines that point to House Republicans’ decision to exclude Pence’s tax cut from their budget.

Bosma said Thursday that lawmakers have cut 10 different taxes over the last decade, and are sending $360 million back to Hoosier income tax filers as credits during this year’s tax-filing season.

The House Republican budget sped up the pace at which Indiana would phase out its inheritance tax. Under current law, that tax would be gone by 2022. The House’s budget would eliminate it by 2018.

“There’s going to be a tax cut by the time we’re out of here, I’m confident about that,” Bosma said. “The question is which tax, how much, and when. My pledge is, we’re going to do the right tax in the right way in the right time.”

Pence’s budget proposal included a 1 percent bump in education funding during its first year, and more to divvy up through performance-based measure in his spending plan’s second year.

House Republicans, meanwhile, boosted education funding by 2 percent in their budget’s first year and another 1 percent in its second year. Bosma said they aimed to raise K-12 education funding to its 2009 levels, prior to a cut Daniels ordered as the state grappled with the economic downturn.

After setting aside 12.5 percent of what the state spends in a year in reserves, Pence’s budget also would have sent half the remaining surplus – if revenues meet projections, that’d be about $347 million after closing out the current budget period and next one in two years – for transportation.

House Republicans, though, said municipal officials are desperate for more guaranteed transportation dollars. Their budget included $250 million per year in extra transportation funding, and that money would not be subject to economic upticks or downturns.

“You can’t be the ‘Crossroads of America,’” Bosma said, “if you have a crumbling infrastructure.”

Bosma, Pelath seek jobs for veterans

Top Indiana House members say they want the new statewide jobs council they’re working to launch to place a special emphasis on chipping into military veterans’ high unemployment rate.

More than 20 percent of the veterans who entered military service after Sept. 11, 2001 are out of work, said House Speaker Brian Bosma, the Indianapolis Republican who is working on the issue with House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City.

Pelath called that unemployment rate “a deep point of national sadness,” and said addressing it is a “sacred responsibility.” He mentioned two veterans who are his neighbors.

“Their lives have not been that easy. All they want is to live their lives with dignity and honor, and after they’ve served us with dignity and honor, they deserve the chance to do that. We need to do better for them,” Pelath said.

The two are co-sponsoring a bill that would launch the Indiana Careers Council – a panel led by the governor and including business and education leaders as well as the state’s economic development team.

Bosma said the measure – House Bill 1002 – is an attempt to increase collaboration across agencies and universities that already have their own workforce training and job recruitment efforts.

Right now, those existing programs “aren’t necessarily linked, they aren’t coordinated, data isn’t necessarily shared,” Bosma said.

“It’s our hope – the authors’ hope – with Career Council that we have the key players at the table, that data is shared, that overall vision is set and inventory is taken,” he said, “so that we know where all these programs are.”

Indiana National Guard Brig. Gen. Brian R. Copes said its members are already participating in a series of programs aimed at preparing veterans to return to the workforce – and that businesses that hire those veterans won’t be sorry.

“If you’re going to hire someone anyway, we ask you to consider hiring a veteran,” he said. “You’re going to get a good, solid employee – somebody that’s not afraid of hard work; somebody that has the old-fashioned work ethic.”

UPDATE: House Bill 1002, to create the Indiana Careers Council, cleared the House on a unanimous 97-0 vote Tuesday. It now heads to the Senate.

Gay marriage battle will be fought in 2014

Despite pressure from Republicans’ social conservative flank to act now, lawmakers will wait until next year to vote on whether to write a same-sex marriage prohibition into Indiana’s constitution.

Republican leaders said Thursday that they will not vote on the proposed amendment this year and will wait until next year instead because they want to see how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the issue this summer. Then they’ll know if Indiana’s proposed amendment – which also bans civil unions or anything like them – can go forward as it’s currently drafted.

It was a decision supported by an “overwhelming” majority of the party’s members, said state Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne. He announced the one-year delay alongside House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.

“It seems prudent for us to wait, given that the possibility exists the Supreme Court could find ours, as well as many other statutes throughout the country and constitutional amendments, unconstitutional,” Long said.

Technically, it doesn’t matter. Whether lawmakers approved the amendment this year or next, it would go on the 2014 ballot for final approval.

But the decision carries political consequences.

“We have 320 days to convince legislators to be on our side,” said Rick Sutton, the executive director of Indiana Equality Action.

Despite the delay, Long and Bosma said they support the amendment and believe it will ultimately be approved. As long as the Supreme Court’s ruling is favorable, the measure “has the wind at its back next year,” Bosma said.

He said it “is still supported by a majority of Hoosiers, significantly. That’s my statistical analysis of it, and it’s proven to be correct in the past.”

However, two recent publicly-released polls show a rapid shift.

A recent Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll found that 45 percent of likely Hoosier voters would support such a constitutional amendment, while 43 percent would oppose it.

A Ball State University survey, meanwhile, found that just 38 percent of Hoosiers – the entire population, rather than likely voters – support a constitutional ban of same-sex marriages and civil unions.

The portion of the amendment that bans not just same-sex marriage but any legal recognition of gay couples’ relationships has caused some Republican lawmakers and businesses the most consternation.

Even Bosma said that portion is the most controversial, though he said it doesn’t change his mind about the amendment overall.

“I may not agree with every word in it,” Bosma said, “and if I were sitting down to draft it on a fresh piece of paper I might draft it a little differently, but, you know, we are where we are with it.”

Both Long and Bosma acknowledged that some Republicans who supported the amendment in 2011, as well as some newly-elected members, would oppose it now.

“Like the general public, some legislators that supported it in 2011 are having second thoughts about it and re-examining the issue,” Bosma said, adding that a “handful” of veteran Republicans might switch their votes and “some of the new folks” might oppose it, too.

“When you look at younger peoples’ views of this versus people of middle age and older, there are different perspectives on it,” Long said. “That’s something that we all realize.”

Gay rights advocates called the delay a win – even if a minor one – because they say the more time they can buy, the better their odds become.

“A delay is by no means a win, but we believe we are headed in a better direction,” Sutton said.

He said Indiana Equality Action has worked for seven months on a public relations campaign to try to defeat the amendment in the General Assembly or, if necessary, at the ballot box in 2014.

It’s also being opposed by Columbus-based engine maker Cummins, Inc., Indianapolis drug-maker Eli Lilly and Company and other businesses who say a same-sex marriage ban would harm their efforts to attract top out-of-state talent to Indiana.

The Republican-dominated General Assembly took the first step toward writing a same-sex marriage ban into Indiana’s constitution in 2011, when the proposed amendment easily passed the House and the Senate.

If lawmakers once again approve the exact same measure either this year or next year, then the amendment would go on the November 2014 ballot and voters would get the final say through a statewide referendum.

Legislative leaders could announce gay marriage decision Thursday

Top state lawmakers are expected to announce today whether they will vote this year or wait until 2014 on a measure that would amend a same-sex marriage ban into Indiana’s constitution.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, scheduled a joint news conference for 1 p.m. Thursday.

They both previously told reporters that they will announce how they’ll handle the issue – with a vote either this year or next on whether to put the proposed amendment on Indiana’s 2014 ballot – sometime this week.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on two other states’ marriage laws expected to be delivered this summer has given lawmakers pause. Most members of the House and Senate judiciary committees, which would cast the first votes on the measure, told the Courier & Press they prefer to wait until they know whether that ruling could affect Indiana’s proposed amendment.

Last week both Bosma and Long nodded toward waiting, as well. “Personally, I think it’s inadvisable to move forward with the United States Supreme Court having the issue before it,” Bosma said.

The amendment lawmakers are considering would ban same-sex marriage as well as civil unions or any similar legal recognition of gay couples’ relationships.

It passed both the House and the Senate in 2011. The second step in the process of amending Indiana’s constitution requires the exact same proposed amendment to pass again in either 2013 or 2014. If it does, voters would get the final say through a 2014 referendum.

Vote on marriage amendment likely in 2014 rather than 2013

The two top Republicans in the General Assembly — House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long — both said Thursday that they plan to announce next week whether they’ll take up the constitutional same-sex marriage ban during this year’s session or wait until 2014.

The best bet right now is that they’ll wait until 2014.

I’ve got two stories — one from last week and one from Monday — that lay out exactly why. The short version: Most members of the House and Senate judiciary committees want to delay action until they hear what the U.S. Supreme Court has to say.

Nine of the 13 House Judiciary Committee members say wait until 2014 or later, and the other four say they don’t have a preference. Only four of those 13 members say they’re definitely supporting the proposed amendment, while six of them — including five who have voted for it in previous years — didn’t stake out firm positions. That means it’s not entirely clear that the measure has the votes to pass the House.

Meanwhile, most members of the Senate Judiciary Committee also say they prefer 2014. The proposed amendment is currently waiting in the Senate’s rules committee, but Long would likely direct it to the Judiciary Committee when he decides to consider it. The chairman of that committee, Bedford Republican Brent Steele, was among those who told me he’d rather wait until 2014.

Outside groups, including Eric Miller’s Advance America and Micah Clark’s American Family Association of Indiana, say they prefer lawmakers go ahead and cast their votes on the marriage amendment in 2013.

But Bosma and Long are reacting to what appears to be a broad majority of their members who say they should push the debate off until 2014.

More Republicans want to delay marriage vote by one year

A growing number of lawmakers say they’d prefer to delay Indiana’s battle over a constitutional same-sex marriage ban for a year in order to wait for a key U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The top Senate leader said Republicans will meet soon to discuss a legal analysis of what the court’s ruling on other states’ marriage laws could mean for Indiana’s proposed amendment. He said they’ll determine how to handle the issue then.

“We’ll take it to caucus and discuss it next week,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne.

Several members of the Senate Judiciary Committee – the panel that started the clock on Indiana’s three-step constitutional amendment process by approving the ban in 2011 – told the Courier & Press they’d prefer to vote during the General Assembly’s 2014 session.

“Just as a pragmatic and probably an economical approach to the whole thing – it’d be better to wait and not waste time and money in case the Supreme Court goes a different direction,” said the committee’s chairman, Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford.

However, members of the Republican-dominated General Assembly are being pushed by advocates of one-man, one-woman marriage laws to move forward during their 2013 session.

Eric Miller, the head of Advance America whose network of more than 3,700 churches has made him a powerful conservative leader, said it “would be good” for lawmakers to cast their final votes on the issue this year.

“I think it would again pass overwhelmingly,” Miller said. “It would send a signal to the U.S. Supreme Court that Indiana believes marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Steele, who said he “probably” supports the proposed amendment, said the Supreme Court’s ruling could affect portions of the measure. It includes a second sentence that also bars civil unions or any other legal recognition of gay couples’ relationships.

Lawmakers “don’t have the ability to undo” any of the language included in the measure if they’ve already voted to put to voters through a statewide referendum, he said.

“I think next year would be more appropriate because we really need to see what the Supreme Court decision’s going to do,” Steele said.

The House and Senate both took the first step toward amending a same-sex marriage ban into Indiana’s constitution in 2011. If both chambers approve the exact same measure in either 2013 or 2014, voters would have the final say through a November 2014 referendum.

A one-year delay would give opponents of the ban, who won fights in favor of same-sex marriage in four states during the 2012 elections, another year to try to sway lawmakers – and to prepare for what would likely be an expensive and high-profile campaign.

Republican leaders, including Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, have advocated the amendment in previous years but say this year that it’s fallen on their priority list.

Several other senators who serve on the 10-member Judiciary Committee said they, too, want to wait for the Supreme Court to rule.

Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, said she believes “marriage should be between a man and a woman,” but that she hasn’t decided whether she supports the amendment. She said she’d prefer to cast her vote in 2014.

“I’m opposed to hanging ornaments on the constitution like a Christmas tree, but if that’s what we have to do to protect marriage, then I guess we’ll have to do it. But right now, I’d like to see what the Supreme Court has to say,” she said.

Two others – Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, and Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel – said they support the proposed amendment, but that waiting until 2014 could make sense if lawmakers want to dodge potential consequences of the looming Supreme Court ruling.

“There probably is a little wisdom in waiting to see what the Supreme Court decides to do or not to do before we lock the voters into a referendum. But I don’t have a strong feeling one way or another,” Delph said.

Three other Republicans – Sen. Joe Zakas of Granger, Sen. Randy Head of Logansport and Sen. Doug Eckerty of Yorktown – said they have no opinion.

Six of the 13 members of the House Judiciary Committee, which also approved the amendment in 2011, told the Courier & Press last week that they are unsure how they’d vote this year. Four said they support the amendment and three said they oppose it.

Nine of the 13 said they prefer to wait until 2014 – at least – to deal with it, while none said they feel it’s important to tackle the issue in 2013.

Miller, the Advance America leader, said his call for a 2013 vote doesn’t mean he wants lawmakers to push their work on other key issues to the side.

“I don’t have a problem with it waiting,” he said, “until after the budget and after some education and economic development matters pass the House and Senate.”

Long: Review the Rockport deal

A top Indiana lawmaker said the state’s 30-year deal to buy and then resell the proposed Rockport coal-to-gas plant’s product at a fixed rate needs a fresh review – either in the General Assembly or before utility regulators.

“Just the fact that the world has changed since this idea came into being requires us to take another look at it and see if it’s viable,” said state Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne.

Long said he’d like the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to review the contract once again – something Vectren Corp. has sued to force, since the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled last year that the contract needed some tweaks.

He said he is not willing to say “yet” that Indiana should try to kill the deal. But with natural gas prices hovering around $3 per million British thermal units as a result of a shale gas boom, Long said lawmakers “all have questions about it.”

“Energy prices have dropped substantially, and what looked like it had real potential when the price of gas was so much higher – now you have to bring into question whether it makes sense,” Long said.

“The idea of using coal in a cleaner way is a great idea, but whether or not this project per se is the way we go about it, given the costs associated with it, we have to ask those questions.”

Long’s comments come as the chairmen of the Indiana House and Senate utility committees consider holding a rare joint hearing on two bills that would revamp consumer protection mechanisms included in the contract.

Mark Lubbers, a former Gov. Mitch Daniels aide who is helming the Rockport project for its developer, Leucadia National Corp., said those bills would kill the plant that Leucadia has already pumped $20 million into if they become law.

“The jobs we would have created will all be killed. But we get the message and we don’t want to be someplace where we are not wanted,” he said.

“I’m not saying we are pulling the plug. I’m just saying that every argument that Vectren is now making, they already made in a 10-month proceeding at the IURC. There is nothing new.”

Asked whether the Senate would hold a hearing to consider a bill to change the Rockport project or require another Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission review, Long said, “I suspect we will. But again, what shape it will be in and the bill itself, we’re still working on that.”

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he agreed with Long that the deal should be reviewed.

“I would concur that the world has changed since that project first hit the books here in Indiana,” he said.

When lawmakers initially approved the deal, they said they expected Indiana Gasification, LLC – the legal entity developing the Rockport plant – broker deals to sell its synthetic natural gas to utility companies operating in the state.

After those deals fell through, the state-run Indiana Finance Authority, under Daniels, negotiated a 30-year contract to buy and then resell the plant’s product at a rate that they say will average about $6.60 per unit over the life of the contract, but opponents such as Vectren dispute.

Bosma said he has “some philosophical concerns” related to the state’s role in advancing the Rockport plant, and that he is not sure lawmakers would have approved the project at all if they knew how it’d turn out.

“There were some revisions to the original program that didn’t receive a lot of attention that collectively, now, when you look back at the program, you wonder if it would have passed that way in the first place,” Bosma said. “I think it is fair to have a fresh look at the program.”

He said Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, the chair of the House’s utility committee, will be the chamber’s point man on the issue. Koch said Thursday that he hasn’t yet decided whether to hold a hearing – of its own or in a joint meeting with the Senate’s utility panel – on bills related to the Rockport plants.

Natural gas prices have fluctuated wildly in recent years, but Lubbers said they were $3.96 per unit in March 2009, when lawmakers first approved the law authorizing the Rockport project – not much higher than prices are today.

Lubbers said the IURC’s approval of the 30-year contract covered shale gas and its implications on the natural gas market extensively.

“We have trusted that the state was good for their word. This isn’t a game; we would be investing $750 million of our money and borrowing another $1.9 billion we will be obligated to repay,” Lubbers said.

“We regarded Indiana as a stable, committed partner. Being so easily frightened into second guessing is not the kind of thing you want to see when you are investing nearly $3 billion.”

Bosma: Pence tax cut ‘may be difficult’

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said his chamber’s budget proposal is likely to spend more on K-12 education, higher education and transportation than the two-year, $29 billion spending plan offered by Gov. Mike Pence does.

As a result, Bosma said, Pence’s proposed individual income tax cut — a reduction in the state’s rate from 3.4 percent to 3.06 percent — might not happen.

“It may be difficult to invest in all the critical needs we have before us and accept the governor’s tax cut proposal,” Bosma said Thursday.

He said the House’s budget will include $7 million a year for a two-year pilot pre-school program that would fund vouchers for about 1,000 low-income children. He said that budget will move closer to the Commission for Higher Education’s recommendations on higher education, and will treat K-12 education as the state’s top priority.

And, Bosma said, the House budget will include more transportation funding.

“That is where the tax cut difficulty comes,” he said. “If you’re going to make these investments, we have funds available to do it on an ongoing basis, and you have to weigh that against not only the sustainability but the effectiveness of a small income tax cut – a small income tax cut per person that has a big impact, of course, on the state budget.”

Pence starts with executive orders and legislative meetings

Two hours after Room 206B officially became his Statehouse office, Gov. Mike Pence began wielding his new authority.

He fulfilled several campaign pledges through a set of executive orders he signed early Monday afternoon. Then, he invited leading state lawmakers into his office to talk as he prepares to lobby them to carry out his other goals.

“There are going to be a lot of areas that we agree on and priorities – workforce development, a positive education experience for every Hoosier family,” said Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.

“These were the things we talked about this afternoon, and things that we’re already working on putting together as co-leaders of the state.”

That work is starting quickly. Pence’s staff is set to unveil its proposal for a new two-year spending plan – one expected to account for an individual income tax cut that has received a cool reception from some legislative leaders – at a State Budget Committee meeting Tuesday.

Meanwhile, state Senate Education Committee Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, has already filed a bill that would create regional workforce councils to design vocational and technical education curricula, which Pence had proposed during the campaign.

And Bosma said he’ll be the lead author on another workforce development measure that he will introduce Tuesday.

“It was a foundation for communication here today,” said state Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne.

“He’s trying to foster a relationship there and reaching out. I think it’s a very good gesture. I think it’s an important gesture to make as he starts his tenure as governor. So I thought it was a very positive meeting.”

Pence will pursue his legislative priorities while Republicans enjoy supermajorities in the House and Senate that effectively render Democrats powerless to stop any bills they oppose. The governor will deliver his first State of the State address to both chambers of the General Assembly on Jan. 22.

Both Republican leaders predicted that workforce issues would rank high on Pence’s agenda and dominate their time this year.

“It’s going to be the premiere issue of this entire session. If we can get this one right, we can launch Indiana to the top, no doubt,” Bosma said.

Long said lawmakers broadly agree on the goal, but have yet to work out the details.

“There’s a lot of players in this issue, that’s part of the problem as well – and trying to decide where you want to focus the primary effort,” he said.

“It is a multifaceted and complicated discussion. … It’s becoming the No. 1 issue next to the budget, and it will be a really interesting discussion the next four months. We’re all, I think, very committed to it and almost focusing like a laser attention on it right now.”

The executive orders Pence signed include one that requires health and child services agencies to produce “family impact statements” laying out whether new rules would encourage or discourage marriage.

Another puts a temporary freeze on state agencies’ new regulations, although it includes broad exceptions for anything that would create jobs, cut spending, ditch current rules or be necessary in cases of emergency.

Others created a new Office of Energy Development, set a state goal of handing 3 percent of Indiana’s contracts to veteran-owned businesses, put new budget metrics in place and launched a new legal and ethics conference.

After the meeting with lawmakers, Pence’s new job-creation team, including Secretary of Commerce Victory Smith and Indiana Economic Development Corp. executive director Eric Doden visited the governor’s office for the first time.

On Tuesday Pence is holding his first cabinet meeting.

Long ‘still deciding’ how to handle gay marriage ban

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said Tuesday that he is “still deciding” whether to take up the proposed constitutional same-sex marriage ban during this year’s session.

He said he is waiting for a legal opinion on how the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, expected in the coming months, could affect Indiana. He said after he receives that legal opinion, he’ll talk with House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.

“We will wait for that legal opinion, and the speaker and I will huddle again and talk about it, and we’ll talk about it and we’ll talk about it with our caucuses,” Long said.

The House and Senate both approved a measure that would amend a ban of same-sex marriage, civil unions or any similar legal status into Indiana’s constitution in 2011. If they each vote in favor of the exact same measure again in either 2013 or 2014, voters would get the final say in a November 2014 referendum.