As preparations begin for the 2013 session of the Indiana General Assembly, there already has been talk from Republican lawmakers about a commitment toward jobs and education as the priorities for the next Legislature.
Jobs and education have historically been the priorities for Indiana House Democrats. It bodes well for the next session if both sides are able to agree on what needs to be done at the Statehouse in order to benefit the people of Indiana.
These are still tough, uncertain times. We’re working harder, but our lives don’t seem to be getting better. At times, it seems like we’re not even sure that we can afford a tank of gas or even a bag of groceries.
But I believe that when times are the hardest is when we have to stop playing politics and start working together.
That’s when we’ll make sure that our kids get the education they deserve, and that all families can afford quality health care, and that all Hoosiers can get jobs and keep them.
So what can we do in 2013 to meet these goals? Here are a few ideas to consider.
Early childhood education is not a new concept. There are 40 other states across this country that already have identified it as a priority and provided funding for it. House Democrats have proposed such funding in the last three budget cycles, only to be turned down by our colleagues across the aisle. Perhaps the next session will have a different outcome.
Of course, education in Indiana cannot be discussed without understanding the financial toll that has been extracted these past few years by our outgoing governor. Public schools have had to endure massive cuts in state support, and even more funding channeled away into vouchers and other programs that still benefit the very few.
You cannot talk about providing Hoosier children with the tools they need to succeed in life without realizing that public schools must play a critical role in that effort. Public schools do not get the opportunity to pick and choose who they want to educate, but they are being forced to perform this critical task with less funding.
Now is a good time to reaffirm the important role that public schools play in helping our children. Let’s stop using them as a whipping boy.
Job creation remains an ongoing concern for House Democrats. Too many Hoosiers are still out of work. It is important to remember that too many Hoosiers have given up hope of ever finding a job. That is unacceptable to me, and I believe that government can help get them back to work.
We can do everything in our power to make sure Hoosiers get first crack at those jobs that are funded through taxpayer dollars.
We can make the effort to help small businesses retain their position as the backbone of Indiana’s economy by offering them incentives to hire Hoosier veterans and the unemployed.
We can provide low interest loans for small businesses.
We can seriously consider a Work-Share program that other states have used to preserve jobs and prevent increases in unemployment during economic downturns. It reduces the training and rehiring costs for employers, while workers affected by reduced hours can have their lost wages made up through a portion of their weekly unemployment compensation payments.
We can use the remaining proceeds from the Major Moves program to make investments in roads, bridges and other infrastructure. These are the types of projects that pay good wages and help our communities improve their economic development prospects.
Again, none of these ideas are new. House Democrats have proposed any or all of them in recent legislative sessions. I believe they will prove more effective than a job creation program based on the regrettable “right to work” proposal that has not been proven to create jobs or pay good wages.
One can fairly gather that the state has gained some of the financial flexibility to implement several of these worthy ideas by simply looking at the glowing reports we receive from the Daniels Administration that indicate a surplus of more than $2 billion. While I applaud the desire to return some of those proceeds back to the taxpayers of Indiana, it is important to weigh those interests along with the need to help our schools and state services regain solid footing.
And I have to mention that any discussion of fiscal integrity must be tempered by the knowledge that we are still weighing the fallout from the recent revelations that the current administration mismanaged more than $500 million in state revenues through accounting mistakes. We must be absolutely sure that our state’s financial books are in order.
I must mention one more area of concern. Even though the state’s Department of Child Services (DCS) has a new director, the change in leadership does not solve the concerns that so many of us have about the agency’s ability to protect children who have been abused and neglected.
We believe there is a need to re-establish strong local involvement in helping improve the lives of at-risk children, rather than focusing on centralized hotlines that do not do a good job of recognizing problems and actively working to solve them.
As we work on these problems, we also realize that no one person or party has a monopoly on the solutions. Working together does not mean trying to pass a Republican plan, or a Democratic agenda. It means finding the best answers from all sides, no matter the party affiliation.
That means we need to work together. That is when we will make things better for everyone. That is the commitment we make as Indiana House Democrats.