After getting a late start because of the extreme winter weather, lawmakers are now back to work at the Statehouse to tackle several major issues.
House Republicans unveiled their legislative agenda Wednesday, highlighting a handful of issues being prioritized by GOP lawmakers this year.
Among those priority items: an expansion of the state’s voucher program to pay for high quality preschool for low-income students across the state.
“It’s our hope that we can enact legislation this year that will be funded in next year’s budget preparing 1,000 children for early learning opportunities,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis. “Indiana is one of 10 states that does not have some form of a state funded pre-school program.”
Also on the agenda: increasing funding for road projects, and cutting taxes on business machinery, a tax known as the business personal property tax. But GOP lawmakers have a slightly different plan than Gov. Mike Pence, who wants to eventually eliminate the tax altogether. Instead, House lawmakers want to make the phase-out optional on a county-by-county basis, and apply the tax cut only to new investments.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about this,” Bosma said. “We believe this local option and phased approach is the right way.”
House minority leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said he thought the plan presented by GOP lawmakers was more suitable than Pence’s proposal.
“(Bosma) has essentially given up on the Governor`s proposal to eliminate the business personal property tax,” said Pelath. “I think that that is a good move. If you look at what the Speaker has proposed here, it’s basically just tax abatement. It’s basically what local communities can already do.”
“Those counties that want this investment and don’t have it today will probably jump on the bandwagon quickly,” said Bosma. “Those that are already heavily invested in manufacturing and reliant on this source of revenue may wait and see how the chips fall.”
Pence issued a statement Wednesday commending House leaders for their “shared priorities” but did not say anything about their differences on the issue.
This isn’t the first time Pence and members of his own party have differed on major tax legislation. Pence and GOP lawmakers battled last session over Pence’s income tax cut proposal, a 10 percent tax cut which eventually became a five percent tax cut after months of negotiation.
Pence acknowledged when unveiling his plan to cut the business personal property tax that he did not want to ‘unduly burden’ local governments by cutting the tax abruptly. GOP lawmakers and the governor agree something needs to be done to cut the tax in an effort to attract more jobs and businesses to the state. Many neighboring states don’t have the tax or are in the process of phasing it out. Still, some worried the governor’s proposal would mean drastically less money for local governments, or perhaps higher taxes for homeowners if an income tax replacement were to fill the void.
“I think it makes sense to not shift more of the tax burden on to homeowners (and) not have more shortfalls for local government, so they have less police protection, less fire protection, less plowing ability,” said Pelath, who was extremely critical of the local snow removal effort this week.
Pelath was also critical of the GOP agenda and the efforts to ban same-sex marriage during his Wednesday news conference.
“This looks like an agenda that is tailored to get out of the 2014 session as quickly as possible with as little damage being done, because we all know what the elephant in the room is, it’s the prospect of this embarrassing national debate over the marriage amendment,” said Pelath. “It is evident to me there is a desire to not create any more controversy or consternation than is necessary.”
Republican lawmakers did not include the amendment in their 2014 agenda, but Bosma was asked about the resolution, known as HJR6, at Bosma’s press conference on Wednesday.
“It’s not an agenda item,” said Bosma. “It’s no doubt one of the hundreds of issues that we will have to deal with this session but it`s not part of our agenda.”
“Whatever decision is made, I hope he makes it quickly and I hope he sets a clear course because if it’s going to be on the ballot the voters are going to need to know that sooner rather than later,” said Pelath. “And frankly the lawmakers don’t need to be dragged through any suspense.”
The marriage amendment would be on the statewide ballot in November if passed by lawmakers this session.