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COLUMN: 2011 legislative session: A freshman’s reflections, part one

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By SUE ELLSPERMANN, District 74 State Representative

The 2011 Legislative Session was action packed. The Republican led agenda was strong: no new taxes and a balanced budget, promote job creation, increase educational opportunities and standing up to Washington D.C. On all accounts, this was accomplished. The following is a summary of the budget we adopted and job-creation bills we passed this session. Next week I will discuss the end of our plan including education and standing up to D.C.

The Budget

We knew entering this session that Indiana was just beginning to emerge from a recession that pushed our unemployment over 10 percent for a time and dropped state revenues by billions. Hoosiers asked us to “right size” government to the pocketbook of our families and we did. In the meantime, Indiana’s economy has bit-by-bit been strengthening and revenues increasing. Our unemployment rate is now 8.5 percent, a half point below the nation’s rate of 9 percent. Increasing revenues added $750 million to the revenue forecast allowing us to pass a budget that ensures adequate reserves, maintains education funding and adds $150 million to K-12 education including the expansion of funding to full-day kindergarten, and ensuring appropriate funding for those who require government assistance such as the elderly, disabled, and children’s services.

The greatest challenge for District 74 is K-12 funding as the new formula ensures taxpayer funds follow the child. In the past “ghost children” and “small school grants” masked the shrinking school corporations of our rural communities. This resulted in school corporations receiving up to 50 percent more per child.

This General Assembly passed a new formula that will eliminate these artificial supports over the next seven years. As a result, though K-12 funding increased per child, most of our rural schools will see a small overall budget decreases. This requires particular diligence of our school administrators to efficiently staff their schools during this decline.

More importantly, this highlights the elephant in the room: our communities are shrinking and we are losing our young adult population, which means our children. We must pursue economic and community development strategies which attract these young people back to Indiana.

Job Creation

With that in mind I did write and get passed a signature piece of legislation which deals with attracting talented young people back to Indiana and is promising for job creation. House Bill 1251, the Young Entrepreneur bill, will provide the first mechanism for communities to “make an offer” and to invite graduating entrepreneurs from our universities to start those businesses in our rural communities. This program will launch spring 2012 through Indiana Economic Development Corp. and Office of Community and Rural Affairs.

For further job creation, Indiana passed progressive legislation that will, over the next four years, reduce Indiana’s corporate tax from 8.5 percent, one of the highest in the country, to 6.5 percent, about the median of the country. We also passed legislation providing counties with more flexibility in how they abate and use local-option income taxes. And, we passed legislation that incents the redevelopment of old industrial sites with tax credits.

Indiana is winning on the job-creation front. However, we must also win on attracting the right kinds of jobs: high tech, high intellect and secure jobs which will build a strong economy for the future and livable incomes for all Hoosiers. There remains much more work to be done on this front.

Please call on me over the coming weeks with your ideas and concerns. Invite me to your meetings to hear your concerns. I am just beginning to mull potential legislation for the next term. Your input is critical to direct my efforts.

Ellspermann (R-Ferdinand) represents portions of Perry County in the Indiana House of Representatives.