As many of you know, the Governor has called for a Special Session of the State Legislature, to begin on Tuesday, May 14th. Indiana's constitution, under Article 4, Section 9, allows the Governor, and only he, to call a Special Session if, in the Governor's opinion, the public welfare shall require it. By law (IC 2-2.1-1-4) the length of the Special Session may not exceed 40 days. That means that this Session cannot last longer than June 22nd. However, the Governor can simply keep calling us back in for 40 day Sessions until he either gives up or gets what he wants.
What is the cost to the taxpayers? According to my information, about $20,000 per day. That means a 40 day Session could cost as much as $800,000. Does this make sense? Well, it depends on which side of the fence you are sitting on. I personally believe it makes no sense to have 150 legislators come to Indianapolis without first having some sort of an unofficial agreement between the House, Senate, and Governor's office. By its very nature, an agreement of this magnitude takes time, patience, and much negotiating. The House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee are the official entities that will handle the work on the legislation, assuming a bill is actually debated. That means that most of the Legislators are left out of the discussion until a bill hits the floor (ie. it is voted out of committee). Why have upwards of 125 legislators sitting around at taxpayer's expense, wasting everyone's time and money? At least, if a Special Session must proceed, we should keep only those two committees in Indianapolis, and send everyone else home until a deal is struck. That would save a lot of time and money, something that is in short supply these days in our State.
On the other hand, the Governor desperately wants a tax increase. He believes that only by bringing everyone down to Indianapolis and letting the pressure build to a boiling point can he successfully accomplish his goals. There is some logic to his reasoning: we are citizen legislators, meaning that it is expensive to stay in Indianapolis; it is extremely hard to be away from our regular jobs; and our families suffer while we are gone. Forcing everyone to stew together for a long period of time in a place no one wants to be has broken the will of resistant Legislatures in the past, and it might work again.
The problem for the Governor is that he is meeting strong resistance from his own Democratic party in the House of Representatives. It isn't that they are opposed to raising taxes; they just don't want to do it until after the November elections. Otherwise, they fear that a vote to increase taxes will be used against them by their Republican opponents. As the Democratic majority in the House is a fragile 53-47, such a vote could very well spell doom for several Democrat House members, meaning the Republicans could take control of the House. For that reason, the Governor has his hands full just convincing members of his own party to support his tax increase proposals.
Under our Constitution, any tax proposal must be introduced in the House of Representatives and successfully pass a vote of that body before the Senate may consider such a proposal. At this point in time, it appears that there is a stalemate in the House. Rep. Pat Bauer, head of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, has publicly stated that he will require 20 votes from House Republicans or nothing will come out of the House. That is unlikely to occur, since the House Republicans are strongly opposed to giving the Governor a tax increase. They feel, somewhat justifiably, that Governor O'Bannon has been a poor manager of our State's coffers, grossly overspending the budget and refusing to rein in those free spending ways after the State was clearly in financial trouble. They don't feel that there has been a commitment from the Governor to reform the mismanagement that has occurred, and, to be honest, they also feel that it is to their political advantage to resist a tax increase at this time.
So how do we get anything accomplished in this environment given the existing stalemate in the House? In my opinion, you don't! If the Governor truly wants to get something accomplished, I think he should convene a meeting of the House, Senate, and Administration fiscal leaders and begin to work through each issue currently being debated. Those issues are: (1) the Budget deficit, and its causes, including runaway expenses in Medicaid and Corrections; (2) the court ordered property tax reassessment; and (3) tax restructuring. Only when we can find some consensus on these issues will there be an agreement, and we simply aren't going to arrive at a consensus at this time given the enormous political stakes in the House of Representatives.
These high level meetings could continue through the Summer and Fall. Common ground could be reached, and a vote taken by the full Legislature after the November elections, when the political pressure has been eliminated (at least for the time being).
Sure, I could be wrong, but such an approach seems far more realistic to me, no matter which side of the argument you find yourself on. In this situation, I don't believe the Governor will achieve his goals of an immediate tax increase; as such, why waste the taxpayer's money trying to force the impossible?
Well, there is one other reason he might have. Simply stated, if nothing is accomplished, he can blame the Legislature for failing to address the State's fiscal woes, and thereby deflect the criticism from himself and his office. I'm sorry if that sounds cynical and partisan, but there are more than a few seasoned veterans of state politics who have told me they firmly believe that this is precisely the Governor's goal.
Stay tuned; May 14th is fast approaching.