Battle brewing over Pence’s tax cut proposal

Gov. Mike Pence is at odds with Indiana House Republican leaders who opted not to include the top item on his first-year legislative agenda in their new state budget proposal.

The governor said Friday he is “very disappointed” that the two-year, $30 billion spending plan drops his plan to lower the individual income tax from 3.4 percent to 3.06 percent in favor of extra cash for schools and roads.

“By leaving income tax relief out this early in the process, this House budget proposal does not contain the kind of balanced approach that will create jobs and opportunities for Hoosiers. With so many hurting in this economy, Hoosiers deserve better,” Pence said.

House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, unveiled the GOP’s budget proposal in a briefing with reporters Friday morning.

His plan would boost funding for K-12 public education – an area that accounts for more than half of Indiana’s spending – by 2 percent in its first year and another 1 percent in its second year, lifting the statewide total from $6.5 billion annually now to $6.7 billion.

It would also send more of Indiana’s 18-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax revenue to the Indiana Department of Transportation and into municipal infrastructure budgets, rather than diverting some of that money to pay for state police and license branches.

The biggest debate moving forward, though, will be over Pence’s tax cut – one that would save average single Hoosiers around $100 per year, and would cost the state more than $500 million per year.

The intraparty tension has built in recent months as legislative leaders have resisted the new governor’s top legislative goal.

They’ve said they prefer to address some issues that lingered prior to Pence taking office – including raising education funding up to its levels prior to the 2010 cuts that the economic downturn led former Gov. Mitch Daniels to make, and speeding up the phase-out of Indiana’s inheritance tax.

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said Friday that Democrats will try to force an up-or-down vote on Pence’s income tax cut.

“We have not heard a lot of bold ideas either from the governor’s office or from the two supermajorities. This is the one bold idea that’s been brought forth. I think to ignore it is a mistake,” Pelath said of Pence’s plan.

“He has had an idea. He campaigned on it, he got elected on it, the people of Indiana have spoken – and we need to give that consideration.”

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.

Pelath: Pence needs to flesh out his agenda

Gov. Mike Pence’s political influence will quickly wane if he doesn’t start offering more specific policy proposals, the top Indiana House Democrat said Friday.

“I’m very worried that his honeymoon period is slipping away from him. We need the governor to provide leadership in addressing this immediate jobs problem,” said House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City.

The new Republican governor laid out parts of his legislative agenda during his State of the State address in January.

He asked for a reduction in the state’s individual income tax rate from 3.4 percent to 3.06 percent, the creation of new regional councils that would develop vocational education curricula, and an expansion of Indiana’s two-year-old private school voucher program.

Other portions of his agenda, though, are less clear. State Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, was carrying a tort reform measure for Pence, but gave up on it Thursday after Pence repeatedly declined to directly answer questions about it.

“There’s the sense in this building that he needs to provide more clarity about his expectations and where he wants Indiana to go,” Pelath said. “There’s a point where the broad visions have to be turned into legislative specifics.”

He said he still doesn’t know the specific items that make up the governor’s legislative agenda.

“I can’t point to a group of bills right now where I know this is the governor’s bill and I know the majorities are working to bring it forward,” Pelath said, calling that approach a clear departure from former Gov. Mitch Daniels.

He said the General Assembly ought to be doing more to create jobs – and singled out three bills that have yet to receive committee hearings.

Pence’s spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Turner: House should vote on gay marriage ban this year

INDIANAPOLIS – An influential Republican says the Indiana House should vote this year on a constitutional same-sex marriage ban, but the chamber’s leaders are not yet saying how they’ll handle the issue.

Rep. Eric Turner of Cicero, the Republican who has repeatedly introduced the measure and served as its chief advocate in the House, said he is filing it again during this year’s four-month session and wants to see it get a vote.

“I think we should go ahead and do it this year,” he said.

His move comes as legislative leaders decide whether they should use this year’s session to take the next step in a process they started in 2011 – one that could culminate in a November 2014 statewide referendum.

Since its passage in the Senate is all but assured, how the measure will be handled in the House – where Republicans have a newly-minted supermajority, but also saw similar efforts defeated in four states in 2012 – is the key question.

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said Monday that Democrats want a “two-year moratorium” on social issues. That would re-start the clock on the same-sex marriage ban, delaying a statewide vote until at least 2018.

“People deserve a break from the political exploitation of their fears and emotions as we work to rebuild our economy,” Pelath said.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said social issues are not his focus, but that he is “not declaring a moratorium on anything.” He has not said how his chamber will handle the same-sex marriage issue.

The chairman of the committee where Turner’s measure is likely to be assigned said “there has been no decision made” on whether to tackle it this year or wait until 2014.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s move to take up two states’ same-sex marriage bans and said lawmakers might wait for its ruling.

“The lawyer in me understands that we like to hear what the Supreme Court says and gives their rulings on issues, which we have to abide by. So obviously that’s a pretty significant factor for us,” Steuerwald said.

He said he will decide how to proceed with “input from the entire (House Republican) caucus.”

“It would be a joint decision that I would make with the caucus, taking everybody’s input in mind. It would not simply be my decision,” Steuerwald said.

Amending Indiana’s constitution is a three-step process, and lawmakers took the first step when the House and Senate approved a ban on same-sex marriage, civil unions or any similar legal status in 2011.

The second step requires the House and Senate to wait for an election to take place, and then pass the exact same measure again in one of the next two years. For this step, whether the vote takes place in 2013 or 2014 makes no procedural difference.

The final step would be in voters’ hands, as the measure would be subject to a statewide referendum during the November 2014 general election.

Turner said the Supreme Court’s looming decision – expected to come around June – does little to change Indiana’s debate.

“Really, nothing would change,” Turner said. “I think it’s probably more appropriate just to go ahead and do it and allow the public to weigh in and give both proponents and opponents plenty of time to engage before it’s on the ballot.”

Public opinion on the issue of same-sex marriage has rapidly shifted. More than 30 consecutive states had approved measures limiting marriage rights to one man and one woman, but November’s election saw four – Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington – reject such efforts.

Rep. Ed Clere of New Albany, the only Republican who opposed the same-sex marriage ban when the House voted for the first time on it in 2011, said the court’s decision is one reason lawmakers should wait.

Another, he said, is the opposition of businesses such as Columbus, Ind.-based engine maker Cummins, Inc. that say such a ban would hurt their efforts to recruit top talent.

Clere said some of his colleagues are increasingly wary of moving forward with it.

“That’s been going on for two years, since the first vote, and it’s picked up a lot recently. I’ve been hearing from a lot of folks,” he said. “I think there are other legislators besides me who have additional concerns.”