Chamber Scores Hoosier Legislators on 2013 Voting Records

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce handed out scores today to all 150 state legislators for their voting records on pro-economy, pro-jobs legislation during the 2013 General Assembly. The numbers, released in the organization’s annual Legislative Vote Analysis, also contain a two-year total for each legislator.

The 2013 scores range from 44% to 100%. House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-District 88 of Indianapolis), who votes at his discretion and therefore was scored on fewer bills, was the lone perfect mark. The highest full-time voting record for 2013 was Rep. Ed Clere (R-District 72 of New Albany) at 97%. The top senator was Joe Zakas (R-District 11 of Granger) at 87%. Last year, there were 15 legislators with 100%.

The reason for the slightly lower vote scores overall is the type of public policies on the docket, observes Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

“The issues in 2013 were more complex and less partisan in nature. Two examples involved the Common Core academic standards and the ratepayer protection for the Rockport synthetic natural gas plant. Both were highly complicated – containing various provisions – and had significant supporters and opponents in both parties. This could very well be a sign of things to come.”

All scores and the full report are available at the Indiana Chamber’s web site at www.indianachamber.com/lva.

Brinegar also points out that the Senate scores, on average, were notably lower than in recent years. “That happened because the Senate watered down several crucial bills or simply refused to move other pro-jobs bills altogether.

“What’s more, the gap between the top (87%) and bottom (60%) scores in the Senate was closer this year, as Democrat scores increased overall while Republicans went down,” he notes.

“All in all, however, it was another successful session for Hoosier businesses and their workers. Legislators, for the most part, voted to grow jobs and move our state forward – and the results show it.”

A total of 19 legislators also received a star designation for their significant efforts on issues deemed of critical importance or their overall leadership. Among them: Speaker Bosma and first-term House Minority Leader Scott Pelath (D-District 9 of Michigan City) who together championed the Indiana Career Council legislation.

Says Brinegar of Pelath: “He brought a breath of fresh air to the House and it was noticeable. From our perspective, things were much more focused on policy issues than political issues.”

New this year in the vote descriptions is a 2025 icon next to those bills that directly reflect the goals contained in the Indiana Chamber’s long-term economic development plan, Indiana Vision 2025.

“We do the Legislative Vote Analysis to keep Hoosier employers and citizens informed about what’s going on at the Indiana Statehouse and how their legislators are voting on issues vital to Indiana’s economic future. This report makes it clear which legislators support pro-job growth and pro-business issues, and which legislators do not,” Brinegar explains.

Legislators who score 70% or greater for the most recent two-year voting period are eligible for endorsement by the Indiana Chamber’s political action committee, Indiana Business for Responsive Government.

Bills used in the report were selected based on their significant impact to the state’s economic climate and workforce. Lawmakers are notified of the Indiana Chamber position and reasoning on these bills through various communications during the legislative session – and prior to key votes being taken. Only floor votes for which there is a public record are used in the Legislative Vote Analysis.

Copies of the Legislative Vote Analysis report are sent to all legislators and Indiana Chamber board members, and made available online for all businesspersons, community leaders and citizens.

This marks the 29th year the Indiana Chamber has measured state legislators’ voting performance on bills that reflect the organization’s public policy positions.

Governor Gets Down to Business Quickly

While the Indiana General Assembly began its work on January 7, new Gov. Mike Pence had to wait a week for his January 14 inauguration. He quickly went to work, however, with significant positive actions on his first two days on the job.

A series of executive orders that Pence signed following his official ascension into office included a moratorium on new rules and regulations (with obvious emergency exceptions) that were not proposed before January 14, as well as a cost-benefit analysis of existing administrative rules. Priority will be given to review of those rules with the most negative effect on job creation and economic development.

Candidate Pence promised this action leading up to the election. While federal regulatory challenges are often at the forefront today, this step will help ensure that state government is not unnecessarily limiting job and economic growth.

On day two, the Pence team delivered a two-year, $29 billion spending plan to the State Budget Committee. The first six pages of this extensive document provide an overview of the key elements.

This is a very good starting point for legislators. It is a fiscally sound proposal, with a focus on meeting key state priorities and providing the 10% individual income tax relief (which also encompasses 90% of Hoosier businesses) that Pence proposed in his campaign. As we’ve indicated previously, lawmakers have questioned whether the income tax cut should take precedence over other budget desires. That will be worked out in the legislative process and could be determined by the updated revenue forecast that will be presented in early April.

A few highlights:

  • A 1% increase in each of the next two years for K-12 and higher education. The second year for K-12 would have that 1% be divided among the state’s highest performing schools. Combined, the education funding totals 65% of the budget.
  • While the administration did not include money to specifically expand the Medicaid program as outlined under federal health care reform, it does significantly increase funding for health insurance for the poor – from $1.65 billion this year to $2.1 billion in 2015.
  • The budget calls for a change in projected excess revenues. After 12.5% of annual spending is set aside in reserves, the remainder would be divided between the automatic income tax credits that were enacted during the Daniels administration and a new fund to help maintain roads, bridges and other infrastructure critical to economic growth.
  • Spending is kept in line in this proposal. A structural surplus is maintained and reserves are allocated effectively, with the infrastructure fund a good start to the larger question of financing future transportation needs. The Chamber will be working with the governor’s team and legislators to help ensure that as many pro-job, pro-economy priorities as possible are achieved in a responsible manner.

Legislature Shooting in the Dark on This One

Do you want the factual or the emotional arguments against what has become an unfortunate Indiana General Assembly tradition in recent years — consideration of legislation to allow guns to be brought into the workplace? The Senate actually passed such a bill in 2009 (by a 42-8 vote) and it returns this morning in the Senate Corrections, Criminal and Civil Matters Committee (in the form of SB 25).

Yes, individuals have a right to bear arms. But property owners certainly have the right — and obligation — to provide a safe workplace for their employees. The consequences are bad, often deadly, when guns and the workplace mix. Some of the facts that Chamber issue expert George Raymond will share in testimony:

  • October 2009 study by University of Pennsylvania researchers that shows people in possession of a firearm are almost 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than people who are not in possession of a firearm. It cites a number of reasons why possessors of guns are in more, not less, danger.
  • A previous case study in North Carolina found that the "risk of a worker being killed at work was substantially higher in workplaces where employer policy allowed workers to keep guns … relative to those where all weapons were prohibited."
  • Texas, known for its straight and not-so-straight shooters, became one of the most recent states to "just say no" in 2009, rejecting bills that would have allowed guns in college classrooms and in cars in company parking lots.

If emotion is more your flavor, how about:

  • Last week’s St. Louis manufacturing company shooting that resulted in four deaths and five people being wounded.
  • The 2008 Henderson, Kentucky tragedy in which a disciplined worker retrieved a pistol from his car and proceeded to kill five people before shooting himself.
  • Two Northern Indiana incidents within four months of each other (in Goshen and South Bend in 2001 and 2002, which resulted in seven deaths and others being wounded).

Really, guns in the workplace? The goal should be to help Indiana companies and their employees prosper, not unnecessarily put them in the line of fire.

Budget Blues in the Bluegrass State

The Louisville Courier-Journal examines the monumental task the Kentucky legislature has before it as it attempts to cultivate a workable budget in next year’s session. When the word "bloodbath" pokes its head into an article about your economic situation, you know things aren’t good. Let’s hope our neighbors to the South can find a workable solution.

In recent years — as revenue failed to meet projections — Kentucky has used its Rainy Day fund and the stimulus money to avoid mass layoffs of state workers and deep funding cuts for its highest priorities, including the public schools.

But now the Rainy Day Fund is empty. And federal stimulus dollars are scheduled to run dry in the middle of the next fiscal year.

“It’s most definitely the worst budgetary outlook I’ve ever seen,” said State Budget Director Mary Lassiter, who has worked in the budget office for 27 years. “The outlook is a lot worse than it was two years ago.”

Lassiter’s boss, Gov. Steve Beshear, said the budget picture is “going to get more difficult because we’ve already cut out a lot of things that perhaps aren’t as essential as other things. You get down to bone at some point and cuts hurt.”

Budget process could be ‘bloodbath’

The stimulus funds, while welcome, merely delayed the day of reckoning for Kentucky.

Revenues to the state General Fund are projected to fall more than $1 billion short (about 12 percent) of the roughly $9 billion required in the 2009-10 budget as enacted by the 2008 General Assembly.

Beshear and lawmakers are using $787 million in stimulus dollars to help fill that hole.

But only about $485 million in stimulus funds will be available to Kentucky in 2010-11 — and none at all in 2011-12.

State tax revenues — which have shrunk the last two years — are expected to begin growing again next year, but not nearly fast enough to plug the gap when stimulus funds end.

Civic Education: Teacher Denied Paid Leave to Serve in Legislature

A Virginia school teacher is running to become a state legislator. However, his superintendent has notified him that he would not be receiving paid leave for the two-month session. So now it’s up to the school board to determine if he’ll receive unpaid leave (should he win):

House District 20 Republican candidate Dickie Bell has been told he will not be granted paid leave from his Augusta County teaching position to serve in the General Assembly should he be elected.

Bell said he would accept an unpaid leave and that is what he requested, but was told by letter by Superintendent Gary McQuain last week that a paid leave would not be granted for the two-month session that starts in January 2010.

If he wins the House 20 race against Democrat Erik Curren in November, Bell has asked to speak to the Augusta County School Board at its Nov. 5 meeting. The meeting is two days after the election.

Should the school board not agree to an unpaid leave for 39 school days in 2010, Bell has said he would have to consider “retiring or resigning’’ as a teacher. Bell said he plans to serve as a delegate if elected.

Both political experts and elected officials say Virginia’s part-time citizen legislature has great benefits, because it keeps representatives closer to their constituents.

But the experts say the entry to the legislature is often limited to those who have the resources and flexibility to do it.

So, harkening back to Monday Night Football games of my youth, let’s try a quick game of "You Make the Call!" Is this an appropriate example of a school district attempting to save money, or a blatant lack of judgment in not encouraging a teacher to perform a civic duty (and serve as a positive role model for America’s youth)? Or is unpaid leave appropriate here as he’d be earning a legislator’s stipend? Interested in your thoughts.

Hoosier Issues in Kentucky Special Session

Indiana isn’t the only state reveling in the joys (insert your own joke here) of a special session – our neighbors to the south called back lawmakers for their own budget issue. Unlike Indiana, Kentucky is facing a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall.

While the race to finish a budget continues here, Kentucky legislators sent a revised plan to the governor on Wednesday (see story) . Several decisions being made in the Bluegrass state directly affect Hoosiers:

Legislation that would have allowed video slot machines at Kentucky horse tracks squeezed through the House, but failed in Senate committee this week (had this passed it would have meant fewer Kentuckians crossing state lines and less revenue for Indiana). This has been an ongoing debate in Kentucky, and this surely won’t be the last attempt by proponents.

Several years in the works, Kentucky finally has developed a funding plan for its share of the Ohio River Bridges Project, which would allow for two new bridges connecting the two states. (Read the 2005 BizVoice® story and the 2007 update.) Indiana plans to fund its portion of the project with Major Moves money. 

Now back to the countdown closer to home. We didn’t fare too poorly in Kentucky – we’ll see what happens here though.

House Introduces 14 New Bills… Why?

Late yesterday it was revealed that the General Assembly has 14 new bills to contend with… or do they?

Four of the measures introduced by House members are procedural in nature: the vehicle bills.  The remaining 10 appear to be hot-button issues that couldn’t find their way to passage during the regular session.  Among them:

  • Elimination of townships outside Marion County
  • Smoking ban in public places
  • Constitutional property tax cap amendment
  • Declaration that marriage is between a man and woman

So why bother with them now during the special session, with less than a week before a state budget needs to be finalized?

It’s called going through the motions says Indiana Chamber health care lobbyist Mike Ripley, himself a former state representative.

“The legislators know realistically these bills are not going to move – maybe they have a 1% chance – and that leadership probably can only deal with the budget matters,” he states. “This comes down to legislators wanting to keep the issues that are most important to them out there, and going on record like this is one way to do that.”

Senate Passes Budget; Governor Urges Vote Now

The Indiana Senate definitely plays nicer than the House. Instead of zingers flying fast and furious, there was predominately a civil tone to today’s activity.  I lost track of how many times a variation of the word “respect” was used by both parties. Quite frankly, it made for some very boring talks. 

Still, when it came time for the Senate to vote on its version of the budget bill (SS 1001), the outcome was predictable – much like the House action last week – and had a distinct partisan flair to it. 

The Senate passed SS 1001 33-17; the catch being that one Democrat – Sen. Frank Mrvan of Hammond – voted for it, while Republican Vaneta Becker of Evansville voted no. 

The so-called budget contingency plan (SS 1) – in case an actual budget fails to pass by June 30 – moved from the Senate on a 32-18 vote (Republican Jean Leising of Oldenburg opposed it).

During today’s proceedings, Senate Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne) said his goal was to have the Senate vote on a finalized budget by no later than June 29. Of course, in order to do that, the House must play nice. Think they can?

The latest: Gov. Daniels issued a plea to the House Democrats to avoid a conference committee and to take a vote on the Senate version of SS 1001. The statement from the governor:

“The Senate compromise, while significantly different from either of my two proposals, protects taxpayers within the limits I’ve requested and I would sign it.  I know there are many House Democrats who would prefer a budget that keeps Indiana in the black to one that takes us into bankruptcy, and we invite them to join this compromise now and bring the special session to a successful close. Mr. Speaker, please just free your followers to vote their conscience and let’s go home.”

Video: Cam Carter Discusses Special Session

Cam Carter, the Chamber’s VP of small business and economic development, joined Gerry Dick (and Paul Mannweiler of Bose Public Affairs Group) on the set of Inside Indiana Business this weekend to discuss what didn’t happen — and what needs to happen — in the Indiana legislature. Topics discussed include the budget, the "onerous" unemployment trust fund bill, and more.

Catch the video here.

Statehouse Leaves One Searching for the Right Words

I’ve been doing this writing thing for publication for more than 30 years now (must have started from the crib, right?) and rarely experience trouble expressing myself. The problem here is not the dreaded writer’s block, but what not to say following a long, long day at the Indiana Statehouse on Wednesday.

(Indiana Chamber members can get the full story directly from ICC president Kevin Brinegar on Friday from 9:30-10:30 a.m. ET in our monthly Policy Issue Conference Call. Kevin has just about seen it all in his nearly 30 years around the Statehouse, but Wednesday’s developments had him joining others in shaking his head. Remember, this is for members only. Registration is required).

I’ll try to be brief. First key point: At a time when economic fortunes are low and unemployment is high, legislators pass an unemployment insurance trust fund bill that practically guarantees additional job losses. Figure that one out. Second, a state budget proposal (the lone requirement for the nearly four-month session) fails in the House (71-27) and that is the good news. The "compromise" would have started the steady climb up the "cliff" that everyone said needed to be avoided (in other words, relied too heavily on stimulus funds and set the stage for big tax hikes two years from now or sooner) and took several steps in reverse on education policy.

I’ve come to learn in 11 years at the Chamber that negotiations in the final days of the session produce the ultimate final bills on the major issues. I’m not a big fan of that, but I’ve come to accept it as reality. The products of these conference committees, however, seemed to evolve from one-sided negotiations. House Republicans and Senate Democrats, the minorities, talked of being shut out. Senate Republicans unfortunately seemed to be missing in action based on the conference committee outcomes.

Just a few details. The unemployment "solution" was termed a $685 million tax increase on employers over two years. Econ 101, or maybe freshman common sense, tells you struggling employers faced with monumental tax increases will have to cut costs in other ways — quite likely in personnel. Passionate speeches aside from both caucuses, the bill passed the House 52-47 (party line vote) after 96-3 passage in the Senate.

The budget proposal: Too much spending ($28.1 billion over two years when the state doesn’t have that much money to spend). A message that we’re still not serious about education. No scholarship tax credit. A cap on charter schools at a time when everyone from President Obama on down is calling for more school choice. House Minority Leader Brian Bosma said this move would have jeopardized $275 million in education stimulus funding and disqualified the state from Obama’s $5 billion Race to the Top education grant fund.

I’ll stop there. There will be plenty more to come as those two dreaded words — special session — are now reality.