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Observers generally agree that the true starting point for a legislative session comes when the governor delivers his annual State of the State speech. The address, delivered before a joint session of the Indiana House and Senate, enables our state’s chief executive to review what has happened over the past year and gives him a chance to detail what he would like to see accomplished in the months to come.
This year’s speech from Gov. Mitch Daniels was notable more for what wasn’t said about the state of Indiana’s economy. Over the course of 30 minutes, the governor failed to advocate any kind of plan to bring new jobs to our state, and he said nothing about what the state should do to protect the jobs that are leaving Indiana by the truckload.
The facts are clear. In the last year, our state has lost more than 80,000 jobs, with even more losses expected in the months to come. It is evident the national recession has reached Indiana.
This recession certainly prevents us from doing everything we would like to get people back to work, but it is disappointing that the governor failed to take a few moments to mention the impact of this recession on so many Hoosier families and offer a few solutions.
I know officials are very interested in learning how the economic stimulus package being developed by the Obama administration will help our state, but it seems to me that we cannot afford to wait for Washington to act.
One vehicle for help is the new state budget that we must pass this session. In his budget recommendations, the governor proposed reducing and even eliminating funding for a series of programs that are designed to create good-paying jobs in a 21st century global economy. These include the Life Sciences Initiative and the High Growth Business Incentive Fund. I believe that we need to preserve these programs and expand them if possible.
Note that I am not talking about raising taxes, which is the worst thing we can do in troubled economic times.
The state budget has reserves that the governor says total around $1.3 billion. These surpluses are supposed to be used for a rainy day. Those who feel we should not touch the reserves need to understand that with unemployment at over 7 percent, it is raining now. Hoarding the surplus should not be an option at a point in time when we are talking about providing no extra funding for our public schools and cutting funding for our universities.
I also believe the state must pursue the kinds of public projects that put thousands to work, such as buildings, roads, bridges and infrastructure. Another good step would be to make sure that these jobs go to Hoosiers, rather than workers from other states.
Any discussion of jobs cannot be complete without talking about assistance for those who already are out of work. Last week, the House Labor and Employment Committee began hearings on ways to replenish unemployment-insurance trust funds that are broke, and improve the delivery of benefits and services to those who need the help now.
There was no mention of the state’s unemployment crisis in the governor’s speech. Instead, he talked about the desire to see action on proposals to reduce the numbers of local elected officials, and he asked that lawmakers pass legislation that would place property-tax caps in the Indiana Constitution.
The issue of local government reform will be debated many times before this session is over, but I want to take a minute to talk about the constitutional amendment on property-tax caps.
As you might remember, the legislature passed this amendment in the 2008 session. We must pass it again either this year or in 2010 before it can go before the people of Indiana in a referendum vote.
Since the caps are not scheduled to go into effect until this year, we have yet to gauge the full impact on property taxes and local government services. Many of us believe it would be prudent to take another year and gain more data before passing the amendment in 2010. It doesn’t matter whether we pass it in 2009 or 2010 — the people of Indiana still cannot vote on this issue until November 2010 regardless. Let us take more time and make our judgment based on facts.
Jump-starting Indiana’s economy and getting Hoosiers back to work should be our priorities this session, and I will continue to keep you posted on our efforts to achieve those goals.
If you need to reach me during session, you can call the toll-free Statehouse telephone number (800) 382-9842 or write to me in care of the Indiana House of Representatives, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46204, or submit your comments on my Web site at www.in.gov/ H73. While visiting my Web site, you can also sign up to receive regular e-mail updates from the legislature.
Oxley represents portions of Perry County in the Indiana House of Representatives.