Politics

Pence Declares Victory In Legislative Session

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March 17, 2014 — TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Mike Pence declared a legislative victory just 12 hours after the House and Senate adjourned for the year on Thursday night, saying he had won support for most of his agenda.

The governor’s staff handed out a list of 20 of his bills the General Assembly passed. But although they were all marked as ‘achieved,’ some of the biggest issues were only partial accomplishments.

The Republican sought pre-kindergarten classes for children of low-income families, but he got a pilot program in five counties.

He wanted to eliminate the property tax on business equipment and lawmakers voted instead to give counties the option to cut the tax.

And he sought $400 million for roads. Legislators gave him half that – but with the possibility of getting the rest later on.

Still, Pence says it was a good year.

“A lot of people thought we wouldn’t get a lot done in this session,” Pence acknowledged.

“But because the men and women who serve Indiana – frankly in both parties – were willing to roll their sleeves up, stay focused on the people of Indiana, stay focused on jobs and kids and families and schools, this has been a remarkably productive session of the General Assembly,” he said.

Pence said his administration will get to work on the kindergarten pilot program immediately.

Lawmakers assigned the Family and Social Services Administration the task of choosing the counties that will participate and coming up with $10 million for several thousand 4-year-olds to participate. Pence said Friday the agency has already found the money.

To qualify, a student’s family could earn no more than 127 percent of the federal poverty limit. That’s about $28,380 for a family of four. And parents would have to pledge to participate as well.

Meanwhile, the state will study the kids through third grade to determine whether the preschool program is effective.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said lawmakers aren’t likely to move to expand the program until at least some of the study results are in.

“It’s going to take some time to get it completely functional, to get it studied,” Bosma said. “A few years to look at the pilot program would not be reasonable.”

The House had originally proposed the five-county pilot in January but members of the Senate said they were concerned about the cost of fully implementing a system. Lawmakers compromised on the plan requiring Pence to come up with the money.

But on Friday, Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley reiterated that pre-K and other spending programs must be weighed against existing priorities as lawmakers write a two-year budget in 2015.

Democrats on Friday praised the preschool pilot program. But Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said the state needs to do more.

“We’re going to have the opportunity now to see the benefits of early childhood ed. When we come back next year, the challenge is going to be: Let’s make a meaningful commitment to expanding this to every child.”

But House Minority Leader Scott Pelath said preschool is one of the few bright spots in a session that otherwise did little to help most Hoosiers. He said majority Republicans focused too much on helping big business.

Pence plans to sign legislation to extend the reduction of the corporate tax rate, which was already scheduled to drop to 6.5 percent in fiscal year 2016. The legislation will phase in an additional reduction, lowering every year through 2022, when the rate reaches 4.9 percent.

“The continuing reduction in corporate taxes in Indiana is shameless. It’s shameless,” Pelath said. “And there isn’t any evidence it will produce a single job.”

And the bill gives local officials the power to cut the property tax on business inventory – or abate it for 20 years for individual projects.

Republicans said Friday that cutting business taxes – and letting local officials in part decide the best way to go about it – will help boost the state’s economy.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said the legislation will create a “better environment for jobs and entrepreneurship and companies to come to our state.”

Pence also praised legislation that provides more money for state highway projects.

The compromise bill allows Pence’s administration to spend $200 million on new highway projects starting on July 1.

Then it puts the bipartisan State Budget Committee – which includes four lawmakers and the governor’s budget director – in charge of deciding when or even whether to transfer another $200 million from the state’s main checking account to the highway fund.

Pence said Friday he is considering vetoes of some of the other bills headed to his desk, but he wouldn’t provide specifics.

 

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