INDIANAPOLIS | Republican House and Senate leaders, along with Gov. Mike Pence, claimed victory for their legislative agendas Friday, while Democrats despaired that the 2014 Indiana General Assembly didn't do more to improve the lives of everyday Hoosiers.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, both touted the potential for huge reductions in the state's business taxes as the top accomplishment of the 10-week legislative session that adjourned for the year Thursday night.
Senate Enrolled Act 1 reduces the state's corporate income tax rate from 6.5 percent next year to 4.9 percent by 2021, gives counties options for eliminating the business personal property tax and permits localities to abate business taxes for up to 20 years instead of 10.
"Other states are struggling to catch up with Indiana, many of them are trying to emulate our leadership role, and I think through Senate Bill 1 we just put our business environment in overdrive, and that's going to create more jobs for Hoosiers," said state Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, sponsor of the proposal.
Bosma and Long also said tough negotiations between the House and Senate, which included the governor, helped produce two of the session's other top accomplishments — House Enrolled Act 1004, creating a preschool voucher program for at least 1,000 low-income children in five to-be-determined counties; and House Enrolled Act 1002, spending up to $400 million in previously set aside funds for state road projects now.
"This is going to be a tremendous means, not only of maintaining the Crossroads of America, but also creating between 40,000 and 50,000 jobs for Hoosiers," Bosma said. "Some say we need something for the middle class, boy these are great jobs, and they're going to be right here in Indiana."
Pence thanked lawmakers for approving 20 of the 24 agenda items he requested action on during his January State of the State address.
While most Pence priorities headed to the governor's desk are dramatically smaller in scope or cost than his original plans, he's still expected to sign them into law.
"I believe we've made measurable progress on jobs and schools and infrastructure," Pence said. "The results you see here are the result of the kind of principled compromise and collaboration that, frankly, you don't see a lot of these days in public life."
During separate meetings with reporters Friday, Pence, Bosma and Long each avoided commenting in-depth on the marriage amendment, the issue that dominated most of the legislative session.
All three strongly backed the 2011 version of House Joint Resolution 3, which would have asked voters this November whether they wanted the state's existing ban on gay marriage and a new prohibition on civil unions added to the Indiana Constitution.
The House deleted the civil unions provision and the Senate failed to restore it, thereby restarting the minimum three-year amendment process that requires a proposed amendment be approved by two separately elected Legislatures to send the question to voters for ratification or rejection.
House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said the weeks wasted on the marriage amendment prevented lawmakers from fully addressing more pressing issues.
Even the preschool program, which Pelath supports, could have been better if lawmakers spent more time on it, he said.
"That is planting a sapling when the state of Indiana needs an entirely new landscape," Pelath said. "While it's a positive thing, it's not something that we can say is going to transform Indiana's children yet."
At the same time, Pelath said the business tax cuts are symptomatic of a Republican agenda that's run out of new ideas.
"Those who already have are getting more help, and that seems to be what my friends across the aisle always want to double-down on," Pelath said. "Let's help those who already have the ability to help themselves and hope that they do nice things for the rest of us."
Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said Hoosiers need good-paying jobs, affordable health care and better educational opportunities — three issues that didn't get the attention they deserved this year from the Republican legislative supermajorities.
"I'm not exactly sure how much good we did," Lanane said. "We could have done more."