Rockport Indiana Gasification Contract Approval Reversed

The Courier Press has an article on the Court of Appeals decision reversing the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission’s approval of the Rockport Indiana Gasification deal. This seems like a big deal and yet I haven’t been paying attention to it.

If anyone cares to explain or has thoughts, please do.

From the article:

An appeals court ruling has thrown into question the future of a proposed coal gasification plant’s deal to sell its synthetic natural gas to Indiana and its utility customers for 30 years.

In a 2-1 decision, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission’s approval of a controversial deal requiring Indiana natural gas customers to pay for energy from the plant planned for Rockport.

The court ruled that the Indiana Finance Authority’s contract with the plant’s developer, Indiana Gasification, went beyond what state lawmakers had authorized. Specifically, the court ruled that the contract’s inclusion of industrial transportation customers in the definition of “retail end use customer” violated the authorizing legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2009.

That means a new contract must be approved before Indiana natural gas customers are committed to buying the Rockport plant’s gas.

Some previous blog entries here and here.

Gov. Daniels on Bring Your Guns to Work Bill

In conjunction with signing the bill that requires private property owners to allow certain invitees (employees) to bring guns onto the owners’ property, Gov. Daniels issued a statement that reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Bill of Rights works which, in retrospect, explains quite a bit. (Via Jim Shella):

Considering the clear language of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and the even stronger language of Article 1 Section Thirty-Two of the Indiana Constitution, protecting these rights as provided in HEA 1065 is appropriate. I also am compelled to give great weight to the overwhelming consensus of both Houses of the General Assembly as they passed this bipartisan statute. The law does contain ambiguities that the General Assembly may wish to refine at some future date, to avoid unnecessary litigation, but the understandable concerns raised against the bill do not suffice to justify a trespass on a fundamental right so expressly protected by our founding documents.

This is not a Second Amendment situation. The Bill of Rights limits the power of the Government. It does not limit the power of private individuals. Therefore, passing a law that limits the rights of a private individual to restrict gun possession by another individual on the first person’s land is not a Second Amendment issue. It’s a question of competing property rights – land rights of the land owner versus personal property rights of the gun owner. The General Assembly is expressing a preference for one property right over the other.

The state Constitution has stronger language, but I still don’t think it compels any particular action to prefer one property owner over another:

Section 32. The people shall have a right to bear arms, for the defense of themselves and the State.

With respect to this provision, the Indiana Supreme Court has previously held, “Indiana gun owners are guaranteed the right to bear arms, but this right does not entitle owners to impose on their fellow citizens all the external human and economic costs associated with their ownership.” Estate of Heck ex rel Heck v. Stoffer, 786 N.E.2d 265, 271 (Ind. 2003).

Gov. Daniels misunderstanding of how the law works would be disturbing if I thought it was genuine. But, I’m fairly sure he’s just pandering.

INDebt Delinquent Tax List eliminated in 2009 Special Session

I got to wondering about the Indiana Department of Revenue’s service for posting tax warrants online. At one time, this was the proper link.The page says:

This site is temporarily unavailable. INDebt information will be available beginning Spring 2006.

According to the 2005 fiscal report (pdf), the INDebt program brought in $2 million in two months. For a cash-strapped state, not taking advantage of a system to collect delinquent taxes is inexplicable. Well, not “inexplicable,” but the potential explanations that come to mind aren’t generally that acceptable.

The tax warrant information has been largely unavailable, so far as I’ve been able to tell, since Gov. Daniels’ tax amnesty efforts back in 2005.

But, I guess there was a change in the law that became effective on Jan. 1, 2010 which reduces the amount of public information provided. The old version of IC 6-8.1-3-16(j) stated, in pertinent part:

[T]he department shall compile each month a list of the taxpayers subject to tax warrants that:
(1) were issued at least twenty-four (24) months before the date of the list; and
(2) are for amounts that exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000).
The list compiled under this subsection must identify each taxpayer liable for a warrant by name, address, and amount of tax. The department shall publish the list compiled under this subsection on accessIndiana (as operated under IC 4-13.1-2) and make the list available for public inspection and copying under IC 5-14-3.

The new version, effective January 1, 2010, and amended by P.L.182-2009(ss), SEC.250:

The department shall prepare a list of retail merchants whose registered retail merchant certificate has not been renewed under IC 6-2.5-8-1(g) or whose registered retail merchant certificate has been revoked under IC 6-2.5-8-7. The list compiled under this subsection must identify each retail merchant by name (including any name under which the retail merchant is doing business), address, and county.

Here is that list, which is, in my opinion, much less helpful. The Indiana Law Blog has had a number of posts on “suprises” contained in the 2009 budget bill.

Sunday Alcohol Sales

Looks like there is a big push underfoot to get the General Assembly to allow liquor sales on Sunday. They dodged it last year by claiming they had too many other things on their plate. Eventually, on hopes, legislators will have to lift the ban on Sunday liquor sales or explain their rationale.

Keith Roysdon, writing for the Muncie Star Press, has an article entitled “Blue over Beer.” Liquor stores claim that they will be put at a disadvantage to chain grocery stores if Sunday sales are allowed. In my mind, this matters only if liquor store owners can make a case as to why they ought to be some sort of privileged class. Sympathy isn’t exactly the first feeling that comes to mind when I think of liquor stores. There are certainly exceptions, but for the most part in my experience, they are grim, slightly seedy places. Unlike the romantic vision we have of the family farmer — who we are routinely called upon to subsidize — there is no mythological mom & pop liquor store that brings visions of a better time.

I should add that there are a handful of liquor stores that would be a loss. These aren’t shabby stores that rely primarily on selling 30 packs of Stroh’s and staffed by minimum wage employees who obviously hate their lives. Rather, they seem to be staffed by owner operators who really know and have a passion for their product. They stock good beers and wines and can tell you all about them. Locally, in Lafayette, the Village Bottle Shoppes have some of these good qualities.

The current Sunday prohibition on alcohol sales is an anachronism. It was enacted, according to the Roysdon article, as a sop to anti-liquor activists in the wake of the repeal of Prohibition. With booze being available on Sundays in restaurants and bars, it no longer makes any sense –if it ever did– as a moral stand against the evils of demon alcohol.

The article has an interesting argument/counter-argument by the liquor store owners versus the big grocery stores. The liquor stores claim that excise police can more easily stop sale of alcohol to minors at liquor stores because it’s obvious that anyone coming out of a liquor store has purchased alcohol. The grocery store owners cite a study saying that liquor stores are twice as likely to sell to minors. And, obviously, none of this has much to do with Sunday sales — my recollection as an underage drinker was that I mostly was looking to do some binge drinking on Fridays and Saturdays.

Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t fear a world in which most of the mass produced booze is routed through box stores but where there are fewer, better liquor stores, with knowledgeable owners and employees, that act as specialty shops for craft beers and wines.

Legislative Study Committees

The Chicago Tribune has a couple of AP stories on Indiana legislative study committees.

One committee will study whether Indiana should allow liquor sales on Sunday. (Answer: “Yes” — there, I just saved the taxpayers a bunch of money in legislative per diem payments.)

State Sen. Ron Alting says the Interim Study Committee on Alcoholic Beverages will meet Wednesday at the Statehouse to discuss both the Sunday ban on alcohol sales and the state’s ban on Election Day alcohol sales.

Another will center around the question of whether school starts too early. (Answer: “Yes” — I think the first day should be during the last week of August, roughly. My son has already been in school for 3.5 weeks.)

Sen. Dennis Kruse, a Republican from Auburn who heads the Senate Education Committee, wants people to take an online survey and offer comments on a new Web site: www.IndianaEducationForum.com.

The Health Finance Commission is studying H1N1. (My take away: “wash your hands.”) But, there’s more! You should also cover your mouth when you sneeze, stay away from sick people, and stay away from others if you’re sick.

Another one has apparently been studying the potential effects of a Chicago casino on the northwest Indiana gaming industry.

Would two Vegas-sized casinos some 20 miles apart mean curtains for the four smaller boats in the region?

“Until there’s something a little more concrete, I don’t know that anyone can make any particularly intelligent decision about how it could affect the casinos in Indiana,” Yelton said.

Indiana lawmakers aren’t waiting, though. A legislative study committee has been meeting to consider possible changes to Indiana gambling laws in the face of potential new competition from Ohio and Kentucky, as well as Illinois.

Lawmakers have good reasons to want to protect gambling in Indiana.

Gambling taxes are the third-largest component of Indiana’s annual state revenue, behind only sales and income taxes. Between 65 percent and 70 percent of gambling tax money comes from out-of-state players.

Casinos also are the state’s fifth-largest employer. Added together, they put more than 16,000 Hoosiers to work.

Oversight Committee Reviews Health Indiana Plan

Niki Kelly, reporting for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, has an article on a hearing by the Select Joint Commission on Medicaid Oversight about the Healthy Indiana Plan. Seems there is some money in the bank — about $200 million; there is a long waiting list; and part of the wait has to do with a federal regulation concerning the number of childless adults who can be on the program.

The plan covers people who do not live with dependent children and parents who earn up to $44,000 annually for a family of four. To qualify, a person must be uninsured for six months and not have access to insurance through an employer.

Expecting Legislators to Know the Law

Niki Kelly has an article about some disgruntlement among legislators about how the Department of Local Government Finance is applying the homestead rules. The amusing part is that the DLGF is apparently applying the homestead rules exactly as they always have — and that has some legislators upset.

Tax rates are set differently for homesteads. The DLGF has apparently defined a homestead as being one house, one garage (attached or detached) and up to an acre of land. These are subject to the most favorable taxing rates and capped at 1% of the property’s value by recent legislative action. But, where there are more structures (pools, gazebos, barns, additional garages) or more land that fall outside the definition of “homestead,” the DLGF continues its practice of taxing them under other regimes — agricultural or business (which have higher caps of 2% & 3% respectively under the recent legislative action.)

Technically, one parcel of land could have three property tax caps applied.

For example, a homeowner with a house and a pool on five acres could have the house and one acre capped at 1 percent; the remaining land capped at 2 percent if it is farmed; and the pool capped at 3 percent.

And this, apparently, has been the way the law has been applied for years.

Jeff Espich’s reaction amuses me.

But Rep. Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, said he is tiring of the Department of Local Government Finance taking hard-line stances rather than considering legislative intent.

He said the financial effect might not be much per homeowner – a few hundred dollars at the most.

The department “acted casually and without regard to our intent,” Espich said. “It’s terrible.”

He said he hopes to work with the administration to find a non-legislative solution because it’s impossible to write the law to account for every contingency.

In other words, “ignore the law we wrote, and do what we meant. We’re far too busy to get bogged down in details.” When I was working for the legislature, I came across any number of legislators — and by way of disclosure, none of them was Rep. Espich in particular — who just couldn’t or wouldn’t slow down enough to have the details explained to them. And, not so incidentally, this highlights why it would have been a bad idea to incorporate this legislation into the Constitution. With unintended consequences still being discovered, it’s not a good idea to enshrine the language permanently into the Constitution.

Doghouse

I don’t know if I could summarize it in a way that does it justice, so I’ll just link to Doghouse Riley’s latest epic post on the subject of the Governor, budgeting, and education. The whole thing is definitely worth a read, but I have to confess to the same reaction when I heard that the Senate Budget Committee was going to have some show trials on the subject of university tuition increases. The General Assembly choked off spending to preserve the Governor’s surplus and, go figure, there were consequences down the line:

So, now the boards of the various state colleges and universities meet to plan their own budgets, and–Keep ahold a’ them reins, Pardner–uniformly raise tuitions across the board. This angers the Governor, and the Senate (i.e. Republican) half of the Legislature, whose Budget committee is apparently now permanently in session, as it hauled in the Presidents of all those Fancy Learnin’ Academies yesterday and demanded Answers! Preliminary word has it that the main answer, Because you fucks fucking fucked our fucking budget and the money’s gotta come from somewhere was not explained to them in exactly that way.

Lobbying Disclosures

The Indianapolis Star has compiled data on lobbying money spent on legislators. From that data, I made a list of those legislators who received more than (the arbitrary amount of) $1,500 in reported gifts. The list also includes the primary form of the gifts and the major lobbyists. Please note that the gifts and lobbyists aren’t exhaustive, so in many cases there were other forms of gifts and other lobbyists that make up the total dollar amount.

Sen. Brandt Hershman $1,795.98
Sporting event tickets, Indiana Energy & AT&T

Sen. David Long $1,597.70
Charity golf tournament & dinners, Indiana Banker’s Association

Sen. Vi Simpson $2,847.35
Meals & transportation; Indiana Motor Truck Assoc.

Sen. Greg Taylor $1,550.57
Meals with Baker & Daniels

Rep. Terri Austin $2,433.98
Meals, airfare, hotel; Indiana Motor Truck Assoc.

Rep. B. Patrick Bauer $5,223.05
DNC and Obama inauguration; Indiana Motor Truck Assoc.

Rep. Robert Cherry $2,615.22
Ryder Cup; Duke Energy

Rep. Jeff Espich $2,362.74
Meals, airfare, hotel; Indiana Motor Truck Assoc.

Rep. L. Jack Lutz $2,823.97
Dinners and sports tickets; AT&T, IPALCO

Rep. David Niezgodski $3,109.22
Indy 500; AT&T

Rep. Greg Porter $2,527.91
Symphony tickets, DNC; AT&T, Roche Diagnostics

Rep. Dan Stevenson $1,787.93
Sporting events; Indiana Energy

Rep. Eric Turner $1,570.80
Sporting event tickets; Indiana Energy Association

Rep. Trent Van Haaften $4,335.33
Inaugural Ball & DNC; AT&T

Rep. Peggy Welch $1,533.14
Sporting event tickets; Indiana Energy Association

Rep. David Wolkins $3,231.75
Ryder Cup, Duke Energy

The major contributors by quite a bit were the following entities:
Indiana Motor Truck Association – $11,660
Duke Energy – $12,168
Indiana Energy Association – $13,579
AT&T – $15,600.

It looks like the House ($61,489) got a lot more love than the Senate ($27,118) and a several of the Democrats put up big numbers associated with events having to do with the Presidential election and inauguration.

Budget Passes

The legislators passed a budget with hours to spare. The real winner here? The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Niki Kelly, writing for that paper, accurately reported that a failure to pass a budget would have been the first such failure since 1887. Meanwhile, the Journal Gazette’s Fort Wayne rival, the News Sentinel boldly, but wrongly, proclaimed that “No other General Assembly in Indiana history has failed to pass a new budget, even when a special session was required. Legislators are under tremendous pressure to not become the first ones to fail.”

The budget is a Republican budget, but that’s probably o.k. since they control 2 of the 3 branches responsible for adopting a budget. The Democrats got some compromise, but not as much as many wanted. They worked to increase educational spending and were successful in getting it increased from the levels proposed by Gov. Daniels and the Senate. But, there are still apparently 100 school districts that will see a decrease.

The bill passed the House with 14 Democratic votes and all 48 Republican votes. In the Senate, it passed 34 – 16. Senator Kenley had a good line that aptly summed up the process: “I ask you to vote ‘yes’ even though you hate this budget. It’s better than no budget.”