Indiana lawmakers face big job and big questions


Members of the Indiana House and Senate gathered Tuesday for the traditional Organization Day at the Indiana Statehouse.

Newly elected members were sworn into office alongside reelected members.

Majority and minority leadership have been established, along with rules for each chamber. Now, they have less than two months to prepare for what will surely be a whirlwind, budget-writing session.

"Some new challenges we haven't seen before," said Rep. Senate Pro Tem David Long.  "But we will meet them."

The 118th General Assembly will be facing many big questions when they convene in the first week of January. For one thing, it's not clear how much money they'll have to work with.

Republicans have cited some recent tax revenues trending downward and are waiting for an updated forecast in December.  Before those numbers are available, they're urging restraint on state spending.

"While we're in great fiscal shape at the moment, the fiscal future, from my vantage point is uncertain," said Rep. House Speaker Brian Bosma.

Indiana enjoys a $2 billion structural budget surplus. However, this will be the first time lawmakers will have tackled the question of implementing Indiana's roll in the Federal Affordable Healthcare Law.   Republicans had hoped they wouldn't have to deal with it if Mitt Romney had won the presidential election.  But now, it's here to stay.

"We have a lot of unknowns as far as the affordable care act coming down the road, because it is coming," Long said.

Democrats have said they will focus their efforts on jobs and education. They're expected to fight for funding increases to public schools, claiming that $300 million were unfairly cut from schools in 2010.

"To have a $2 billion surplus, and know that we're underfunding public school education, there's no excuse for that," said Democrat Senator Greg Taylor.

Newly elected House Minority Leader Scott Pelath echoed the thought.

"The kids are the future of our state, and if they're not getting a good education, we're not going to have tax revenues in the future," Pelath said.

Democrats argue that the election of Democrat Glenda Ritz to be the new Superintendent of Public Instruction is a clear sign that voters agree with their position.

But Ritz and Democrats are now facing Republican super majorities in both the House and Senate.
There could also be division between Republican budget writers and Governor-Elect Mike Pence.
Pence is calling for a 10 percent cut to statewide income taxes.

It's not clear if Republicans will be able to deliver that when it's all said and done.

The 118th General Assembly will reconvene during the first week of January.

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