The state Legislature is back in session — the “short session,” as it's described, lasting only 10 weeks, with no worrisome discussion of the budget to preoccupy lawmakers.
The short session is intended to allow them to address emergencies that have come up, to correct oversights dating back to the previous session, or to calmly consider what might need doing next year when the pace and pressure of budget writing will leave them more harried.
This year there is a legitimate emergency for lawmakers: the line item in the biennial budget for public education is going to come up short as it underestimates the number of students actually enrolled in state schools — by about 6,000.
That equates to a better than $9-million hole in the school budget, which is actually just over a .10-percent shortfall in the $7 billion school budget — more of a pinhole really.
But beyond patching that, there isn't really anything for the legislators to do.
In the past, not having anything to do has never stopped legislators — on either side of the aisle — from taking this opportunity to serve their one true common interest: those who donate to their campaigns, those who work for their re-election.
Much special-interest (and self-serving) legislation gets introduced during these short sessions, when the politicians are all together, making interactions with lobbyists that much easier.
We've often wondered if the short session isn't held so lobbyists don't have to travel.
It would be better if, during the short session, the Statehouse were declared a “No New Legislation Zone” and lawmakers, instead, were tasked with the work that gets pushed off into those summer study committees.
Why should we pay lawmakers for additional work during the summer when they could be doing that work now, while they're all together in Indianapolis — and being paid?
In the interest of full disclosure, it's important for us to declare that we in the newspaper industry have our own lobbyist at the statehouse, hoping to persuade lawmakers to vote our way on certain proposed bills — all of them, of course, in the public interest.
We'll just say that he's not nearly as well paid as some of the other lobbyists working the hallways up there in Indianapolis; our pockets are not deep.
One proposal we're watching is Senate Bill 254, which calls for greater transparency in the impact of the incentives (e.g., tax abatements, infrastructure improvements) state and local governments give private companies — indicating whether those incentives actually do create jobs or stimulate the economy, whether the subsequent bangs justifies the upfront bucks.
Another bill, Senate Bill 385, we're keeping an eye on would restore the requirement that local governments publish their proposed budgets and tax information in newspapers prior to the holding of budget hearings. In 2014, that information was moved from the pages of newspapers to a page on the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance website — where last year hardly anyone saw it. Actually, there were 12,000 unique visitors to those pages.
Meanwhile, an estimated 3 million Hoosiers read their local newspapers at least once a week.
We'll let you do the math over which is the more-affective method to reach taxpayers.
We think taxpayers would like to know just what kind of swag their representatives are pulling in while up there at the Statehouse, conducting the people's business, as it were.