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COLUMN: Democrats took on radical agenda

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PATRICK BAUER, Guest Columnist

Now that the dust has settled from the tumultuous 2011 session of the Indiana General Assembly, we can begin to assess the damage inflicted upon thousands of Hoosiers by one-party rule.

From teachers and students to Hoosier workers, women, the elderly and the disabled, the spectrum of people hurt by the radical agenda forced upon Indiana by the extremist wing of the legislature is vast and diverse. There are a few bills we can point to as successes, but the policies enacted this session were deliberately aimed at helping the rich and big corporations while leaving working families and small businesses behind.

One good thing that came from this session is that Hoosiers can clearly see the difference between the two directions ahead of Indiana from which we have to choose.

Tax Relief: Missed the Boat

Our one-party legislature missed the boat on tax relief. They provided millions in tax subsidies for big corporations – bailing them out with our money – rather than providing some relief at the pump by cutting gas taxes. Our caucus called for a suspension of gas taxes – sales and excise – for the summer months between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Instead, the extremist wing of the Republican party that controlled the legislature shot down our tax-relief plan, opting instead to collect these windfall taxes.  

Job Creation

We set out this session with a solid job-creation plan, more help for small businesses and more jobs for Hoosiers. Unfortunately, our plan for a small- business loan program and a requirement that state-funded construction projects hire Hoosier workers were blocked by Republicans.

Instead, Republicans gave out more corporate welfare to companies with no requirements that they actually create jobs for Hoosiers. Republicans made it easier for companies to skirt the rules and pay less to Hoosier workers.

Education

Public education should be the great equalizer, providing a world-class education to all Hoosier children, regardless of the circumstances they were born into. But, this session we saw that principle eroded. Teachers were demonized and stripped of their ability to fight for smaller class sizes and safer schools. Students will go to schools cut for the second straight budget cycle, this time by more than $400 million.

Despite the war waged on public schools, the extremists running the legislature found ways to fund experimental education programs like charter schools and create the largest private-school voucher program in the nation that will shift millions of tax dollars away from public and to private schools instead. They’ve also taken credit for funding full-day kindergarten, but that measure requires buy-in from school corporations already struggling to make ends meet from the cuts they suffered at the hands of the GOP majority.

Working Families

House Democrats stood in opposition to the Republican assault on workers’ rights. Their agenda aimed at stripping collective-bargaining rights to earn better wages, benefits and safety standards was mitigated by House Democrats. We don’t believe workers should be put on a march to the minimum wage.

House Democrats stood up for Hoosier workers and our public schools. Unfortunately, one-party rule won the day. Republicans did win the last election, but they didn’t campaign on this extreme agenda: stripping public education; taking away collective bargaining rights for Hoosier workers; using public money to fund private schools or giving a 25-percent tax cut to corporations while cutting unemployment benefits to our fellow Hoosiers who find themselves out of work. Hoosiers will feel the impact of this session for years and decades to come.

Bauer is leader of the Indiana House Democratic caucus.