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It’s crunch time for state budget, Engergize Indiana, legislators say

Yesterday was “crunch time” for bills to be heard either in the Indiana General Assembly’s House of Representatives or Senate, depending on where they originated, to see if they would advance to the next round.
State Rep. Paul Robertson, D-Depauw, likened it to the last three or four minutes of a ball game.
“That’s when people like Rachel Dixon and Kim McMillin take over,” he said, referring to leading scorers for the South Central Lady Rebels and North Harrison Lady Cats, who were playing in semistate games that afternoon.
Girls high school basketball was on the mind of many attending Saturday morning’s annual Legislative Update as they listened to – and later questioned – Robertson and State Sen. Richard Young, D-Milltown. (The Lady Rebels and Lady Cats hit the courts later in the day. Both teams were defeated. See stories in Sports.)
The elected officials, both of whom have served several terms, centered their comments on the state budget and Gov. Frank O’Bannon’s Energize Indiana plan, while members of the Harrison County Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Coalition made their presence known by asking several questions about the redistribution of the tobacco master settlement trust fund.
About 75 people met in the Superior Courtroom of the Harrison County Justice Center for the 29th Third House meeting, co-sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Harrison County and the Harrison County Farm Bureau.
Robertson, who spoke first, said he’s frequently asked three questions:
One is about who is running for governor. “The jury’s still out,” he said.
The second concerns the new state license plate. “I had nothing to do with it,” Robertson replied.
The third is about taxes and the budget.
“There won’t be any tax increases” at this time, Robertson said, adding that the Senate most likely will recommend changes to the budget proposed by the House of Representatives.
Robertson said that while the final budget could end up being better for some people, the House’s version is “fiscally responsible” but a “very lean budget.”
“It increases funding to local schools” but would not benefit schools experiencing significant enrollment increases.
Cuts to Medicaid and state prisons helped provide a balanced budget, as did correcting the way the Homestead Tax Credit is implemented.
The House also balanced the budget by using some of the state’s funds from the Master Settlement Trust Fund made with the tobacco companies.
“We did not delay reassessment even though it would have saved a considerable amount of money,” Robertson said.
About Energize Indiana, Young said the plan is designed to bring high-tech jobs to Indiana, allow businesses to hire more people, and help keep young people here in the state after college rather than relocating to other states.
“It would be in everyone’s best interest” for the plan to pass, he said.
Robertson said he was optimistic the Energize Indiana plan would pass – until he read a newspaper article Saturday morning that indicated a majority of the legislators may not be in favor of it.
Now he’s not quite so optimistic. “I changed my mind a little bit” after that, he said, adding that the plan “does look to the future.”
Dr. Phil Partenheimer, superintendent of the Lanesville Community School Corp., said his school system will experience a “very tight” transportation budget, partly because the schools’ ADA (average daily attendance) is on a different cycle than the state’s budget.
“Every school district is going to be different,” Robertson replied. “I think the cap will have to be raised” on the transportation rate allowed by state law.
Diane Miller, who once worked at Harrison County Hospital in Corydon, questioned the “optional” services that may be reduced in SB 1001.
Robertson said those would be services that have been provided in the past that were not required to be provided, such as over-the-counter medications.
Jennifer Riley, coordinator of the Harrison County Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Coalition, stressed the importance of the tobacco settlement money for programming here.
Young responded that he thinks the coalition has “been doing a great job. We want you to be able to keep doing that.”
The senator did not indicate whether he thought money allocated from the settlement to help balance the budget would be returned to the ITPC program.
During his opening comments, Robertson said he thinks the tobacco money should be used for educating children and adults who are trying to quit smoking, but during the question-and-answer time, he stressed that in order for Energize Indiana to work, “we have to use the tobacco settlement money.”
“I know you’ve done a great job … people are smoking less, kids are smoking less … ” Robertson said.
To survive what may eventually be remembered “as the great recession,” Robertson said, “Everyone is going to have to tighten their belts.”