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•A look at winners and losers in this year’s General Assembly session
General Assembly

State leaders tout tax cuts, preschool as major gains

– Gov. Mike Pence – along with Republican legislative leaders – proclaimed a successful short legislative session Friday punctuated by a new prekindergarten program and business tax cuts.

The governor called it a “session of genuine progress for the people of Indiana” and said a “short session doesn’t have to be short on accomplishment.”

He came out a winner after salvaging the preschool pilot program from what looked like sure defeat just a few weeks ago.

For the first time ever, Indiana is spending state dollars on an early-education program for disadvantaged children.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, gave credit to Senate Republicans for coming up with a funding solution on prekindergarten – using existing budgeted dollars from the Family and Social Services Administration.

But he also acknowledged that his caucus supports a “cautious, steady look” at the program, including tracking educational outcomes for the children.

And House Speaker Brian Bosma said it would be at least a few years before any talk of an expansion.

All three men also lauded a package of business tax cuts passed by the General Assembly, including further reducing the state corporate income tax and giving local units of government options for reducing the business personal property tax.

Pence called the latter options “a responsible step toward lifting the burden of this tax on our economies and business.”

And Long said lawmakers “continue to create a better business environment.”

The problem is local units didn’t ask for the options and fear it will ultimately lead to an erosion of the $1 billion in revenue the tax brings in to fund schools, local government, libraries and more.

A study commission will continue to look at the issue this year, so changes could still be made to the business personal property tax plan because its effective date is July 2015.

Pence identified 24 agenda items – of which he achieved 20.

The items that did not pass were:

  • A stipend program paying teachers to move to struggling schools.
  • A teaching innovation fund.
  • Indexing family tax exemption.
  • Transferring sewage system regulatory authority to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

Democratic leaders also helped push the preschool program. And they claimed another victory of sorts – the mitigation of House Joint Resolution 3, the proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage.

The controversial second sentence also banning civil unions was removed during the legislative session – putting off the debate for another year and pushing a possible public vote until 2016.

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said “defeating the proposal enshrining discrimination in the constitution was the most historic thing we did this session.”

He also predicted that the language will never make it into the Indiana Constitution because the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately strike state marriage bans down or the citizens will reject the language.

nkelly@jg.net

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