March 18, 2014

THEIR VIEW: Session produces good, bad and ugly


---- — The 2014 session of the Indiana General Assembly was gaveled to a close late Thursday after a flurry of activity produced a dizzying variety of legislative action. Within hours, the session results were being both praised and cursed, largely depending on political and ideological views of government’s place in the world.

Republicans strained their joints patting themselves on the back. Democrats posed a collective frown and mounted a chorus of grumbling.

For the rest of us, we can be glad it’s over. It could have been better. But it could have been worse. Despite some of the over-the-top analysis from politicians, Indiana will neither soar to the heavens in prosperity as a result of the session, nor sink to the depths of hell.

As is often the case in politics, the results are a proverbial mixed bag. Here is our view of the good, the bad and the ugly as final actions now go to Gov. Mike Pence’s desk for what will likely be his signature of approval.

The Good

• Up to $400 million for major highway construction projects could be released by year’s end, with about $200 million of that guaranteed. Pence had asked the legislature to release $400 million. The House agreed, but the Senate balked, citing financial concerns. A compromise between chambers was reached in the final days of the session.

The Department of Transportation gets half the money immediately, but the remaining $200 million will be released only after lawmakers see an update on state finances in December.

Transportation infrastructure has never been more important for this state than it is now, as massive amounts of funds have been cut from such improvements. Let’s hope this action starts a movement toward reversing that trend.

• A meager pre-K pilot initiative in which five Indiana counties will share $15 million to launch preschool programs for low-income children has been approved. We applaud Pence for his persistence on the issue despite resistance from his own party. It’s a small but positive step toward an improved education strategy for the youngest Hoosiers.

• An unwise and unjust constitutional same-sex marriage ban won’t be on the ballot this year. A change was made to the language, which delays when the amendment can be put to voters.

The Bad

• An aggressive push to eliminate the business personal property tax met with some success, despite objections from local government officials. That’s unfortunate because the state already has a good tax climate for business. More tax cuts were simply unnecessary.

But the outcome could have been worse. This year’s action produces a gradual cut in the state’s corporate and banking taxes, and gives counties options for cutting business personal property taxes for economic development purposes. It also creates a commission to study the impact such cuts could have on local government finances.

• One of the final bills approved before the session ends allows parents to keep guns in their cars in school parking lots, as long as cars are locked and guns are hidden from view. The end result means more weapons will be legally allowed near schools, and nothing about that is good.

The Ugly

• Social conservatives in the Republican Party kept up their onslaught against gays and people on the economic fringes of society. Fortunately, their efforts failed to get a same-sex marriage ban amendment on the ballot, and attempts to require some welfare recipients to take drug tests did not advance. Thankfully, moderate forces intervened.

Still, it remains troublesome that advocates for these measures can repeatedly force lawmakers, and citizens, to defend the state from such mischief.

— (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star