RICH JAMES: Indiana legislative session was waste of money

2014-03-16T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Indiana legislative session was waste of moneyBy Rich James nwitimes.com
March 16, 2014 12:00 am  • 

It could have been worse. Much worse.

But in the end, it wasn’t good.

You might say it pretty much was a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Indiana could have lived without the 2014 short session of the General Assembly that ended last week.

It was about 1970 that the state started holding short sessions for the purpose of putting Band-Aids on the biennial budget passed the previous year.

While legislators this year didn’t fuss with the budget, they didn’t do a couple of things they intended to do. That’s good. For instance …

With the clock ticking toward a midnight adjournment Thursday, the Senate deadlocked on a bill to require drug testing for some welfare recipients.

While some said the bill was an effort to help people get off drugs, it was little more than an effort to punish some of the state's less fortunate.

When the Statehouse doors opened the first week of January, Republican Gov. Mike Pence’s priority was the elimination of the personal property tax on business.

Legislators, responding to an outcry from local officials who collectively faced the loss of $1 billion annually, had better sense and killed the bill. They did, however, say counties can act on their own to lower or eliminate the tax.

But legislators did OK a bill to lower the business income tax from 6.5 percent to 4.9 over the next six years.

A plan to pay bonuses to public school teachers who would jump to charter schools died, perhaps because legislators feared reprisals from the voters. Former schools Superintendent Tony Bennett will attest to that.

For reasons beyond the imagination, legislators OK’d a bill to allow weapons on school property if they are out of sight. Do you think that would sell at Sandy Hook?

Some $200 million was approved for highway funding. It should have been the full $400 million set aside last year. The other $200 million is up to the State Budget Committee made up of a few legislators, not all 150 of them.

Some good things were done.

Pence’s proposal for a preschool pilot program for 1,000 low-income children was approved after some tried to dump the issue into a study committee.

It’s for kids in five to-be-determined counties. It will be a crime if Lake County isn’t one of them.

Legislators sent $4 million that will be saved from closing a tax loophole in Lake County to the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority for South Shore expansion.

The money should have gone to the county’s municipalities where the money was generated. The state can afford $4 million out of its $2 billion surplus for transit growth.

I guess that would be a nice thought if the state was truly interested in partnering with Lake County.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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