News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 10, 2013

Indiana seeing brighter fiscal picture say Crackerbarrel participants

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Private school vouchers, the state’s workforce skills gap and a bill dealing with controlled drug clinics were among the many topics broached during Saturday’s legislative Crackerbarrel.

About 50 people attended the nearly 21⁄2 hour Crackerbarrel, conducted at the Vigo County Public Library.

Legislators attending were State Rep. Alan Morrison, R-Terre Haute; Rep. Bob Heaton, R-Terre Haute; State Sen. Tim Skinner, D-Terre Haute; Rep. Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes, and Rep. Clyde Kersey, D-Terre Haute.

The state has a new governor, Republican Mike Pence, and “there is a different climate altogether,” Skinner said.

Under the Daniels’ administration, by this point in the legislative session, “We would have been rolling in the mud poking one another’s eyes out. That’s not happening right now,” Skinner said.

The state’s fiscal picture is much brighter, with growth in revenue and $2 billion in reserves, as it crafts a two-year budget.

Both Skinner and Kersey had concerns about Pence’s proposal for a 10 percent cut in personal income taxes, which would mean about a $500 million drop in revenues for the state.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think it would be a mistake,” Skinner said. There are many areas that have been cut in recent years, or are underfunded, that need attention, he said.

Kersey said he agrees with Pence on the need to make jobs and putting people back to work the state’s top priority.

But he also has concerns about Pence’s proposal to cut personal income taxes 10 percent.

 A few years ago, about $600 million was cut from public schools and about $180 million from higher ed, Kersey said. “That needs to be paid back before we talk about a tax cut,” he said.

During opening comments, Battles said he opposes private school vouchers as well as proposed legislation that would significantly expand them.

Under House Bill 1003, the maximum K-8 voucher would increase to $5,500 next year and $6,500 in 2014-15. Also, more students would be eligible.

Proposed legislation also would triple the private school and home-schooler tax deduction from $1,000 of eligible costs to $3,000 — covering expenses for educational materials.

Heaton described a bill he sponsored, HB 1179, which requires that financial statements submitted by a person wishing to work in securities must be audited by an independent certified public accountant. The bill passed out of the house 99 to 0 and now goes to the Senate.

Morrison spoke in favor of House Bill 1002, which creates an Indiana Career Council. It would coordinate the state’s educational and career training systems with the existing and future needs of the state’s job market.

Morrison said he’s been struck by the “extreme poverty” in the local community, and yet at the same time, he’ll hear from a local economic development official that on any given day, hundreds of higher-skill jobs are available in the Wabash Valley.

“We do have a skills  gap,” Morrison said. “We need to be able to match what we’re teaching students with the jobs available in the region where they live.”

He believes the Vigo County School Corp. is doing “an amazing job” with its career-technology programs. What’s being done here needs to expand throughout the region and the state, Morrison said.

Dr. Randy Stevens, a local physician, raised concerns about Senate Bill 246, which establishes requirements for controlled drug clinics. The bill has a hearing next week.

The intent is to regulate potential prescription drug abuse at pain clinics and get rid of so-called “pill mills.”

Stevens acknowledged that the number of people dying from prescribed narcotic medicines has skyrocketed across the country in recent years. “Something desperately needs to be done,” he said.

But the bill is flawed, he said, and he  encouraged legislators to “let the [state] medical licensing board come up with the rules and regulations,” with physician input.

The bill asks physicians “to follow some pretty, pretty strict rules,” Stevens said.

He gave the example of a 92-year-old patient who might need to take a prescribed narcotic medication for health reasons. The bill would require that man to sign a contract stating he wouldn’t sell the medication.

A clinic also would have to do a drug screen on the 92-year-old man.

Skinner, a co-sponsor of the bill, said he did so at the request of the bill’s author. He said he welcomed Stevens’ feedback, as well as feedback from others in the medical profession.

Two members of the public, both Vigo County residents, raised concerns about significant increases in the assessed value of their property.

James Goy, who lives in Dobbs Glenn, said the land value of his property increased from    $18,200 for 2011 to $101,200 in 2012, a 456 percent increase.  

Over two years, the total assessed property value (land and house) went from $147,100 to $213,800, up 45 percent.

Lando Cosby, who lives in Honey Creek Township, also raised concerns about increased assessments.

Kersey empathized. He said the assessed value of his home decreased, while the land value went from $25,000 to $85,000. “There’s no rhyme or reason to it. I don’t know what is going on,” he said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.