By Maureen Hayden
CNHI Statehouse Bureau
There’s still a month to go before the November election, but Republicans who dominate the Indiana House of Representatives have already unveiled their legislative focus for the next session.
At a press conference in the House chambers Thursday, Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said more job training and more education reform, along with a fiscally responsible budget, would top his caucus’ agenda when the General Assembly convenes in January.
Missing from the formal agenda were social issues, including an expected vote on a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. But Bosma said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if that and other social issues were pushed through by Republicans who are likely to keep their power in the Statehouse — and may gain even more in November.
Bosma offered a grand vision of legislation that he said was aimed at securing the “American dream” for the next generation of Hoosiers. But he said details still need to be hammered out.
Still, he made clear that on the to-do list would be more access to pre-school education for low-income families, a big push for more and better vocational training in high school and beyond, and some serious resistance to the tax-cutting promises made by the men who want to be Indiana’s next governor.
“Some worthy programs have taken it on the chin,” said Bosma, referring to state funding cuts to social services, education, and local public safety services over the last two budget cycles. It’s time, he said, for some “restorations and strategic investments.”
Indiana ended the 2012 fiscal year with a $2 billion surplus, due to continued budget cuts and improved tax collections. Some legislators on both sides of the aisle are eager to spend some of that.
One idea floated by Bosma: expansion of the state’s private-school voucher program to more families, including low-income families who could use the taxpayer-funded voucher to pay for their children’s pre-school education.
Both major-party gubernatorial candidates, Republican Mike Pence and Democrat John Gregg, have vowed to cut taxes if they’re elected in November.
Bosma, though, made it clear that he’s warned both candidates that their promises may be foolhardy. He noted the legislature has already approved a phase-out of the inheritance tax and a lowering of the corporate income tax — both of which will impact state revenues.
“Any tax cut in addition to those has to be sustainable,” Bosma said. “Our team definitely has a long-term vision, not a campaign-oriented vision, for how we budget.”
Bosma is in a position to make that kind of claim. Republicans, who now hold 60 of the 100 House seats, are expected to pick up even more in November thanks in part to the retirements of a dozen House Democrats.
Brian Howey, a veteran political observer and publisher of Howey Politics Indiana, has said it’s a “distinct probability” that House Republicans could gain enough seats to give them a quorum-proof “super majority.” That means they wouldn’t need a single Democrat vote — or even a Democrat body — to pass legislation out of the House.
House Democrat Minority Leader Linda Lawson issued a somewhat wary response after Thursday’s press conference. She welcomed the emphasis on jobs and education, saying they’ve been the “primary concerns for Indiana House Democrats for years.”
And, unlike her combative predecessor whom she helped to topple, former Minority Leader Pat Bauer, she offered a kind of olive branch.
“In these tough, uncertain times, Indiana House Democrats stand ready to start working together to make sure our children get the education they deserve, all families can afford quality health care, and all Hoosiers can get jobs and keep them,” Lawson said. “We understand that by working together, we will make things better for everyone.”
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.