First off, if you aren’t regular readers, I wanted to point out that Abdul at Indiana Barrister did a fine job blogging about the last day at the General Assembly. They apparently passed the unemployment insurance funding bill, punted on the C.I.B. fix, and did not pass a budget. The budget failed in the House on a 27 – 71 vote.
As I digest the reports out of the Fort Wayne, Louisville, and Indianapolis papers, I think the failure boils down as follows — the House Democrats and Senate Republicans had reached an agreement they could live with. The Governor changed course near the last minute and insisted on a budget that spent $100 million less, leaving a surplus of $1.4 billion instead of $1.3 billion. This led to the Senate making the cuts in a way that caused significant House Democratic defection. Neither the Governor nor the Senate Republicans could persuade a single House Republican to make up the gap. And so the bill failed, and we will have a special session.
Niki Kelly of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette is always good choice for in depth reporting on legislative issues. Her report on the budget failure is entitled “Split vote kills hope for budget.” The failure to pass a budget will lead to the first special session since 2002. Years of the General Assembly managing to pass a bipartisan budget has lead to a sense of complacency on my part, I guess. I did not think they would fail to get it passed this year.
A last-ditch effort to pass the state budget failed in spectacular fashion late Wednesday when the House defeated a proposed spending plan by a 71-27 vote â€“ a move that will lead to the first special session since 2002.
The Senate passed the measure 37-13, but the issue was moot.
. . .
The key argument was over how to cut $100 million more out of a likely $30 billion spending plan propped up by nearly $2 billion in federal stimulus money.
Senate Republicans wanted the cuts to come from K-12 school funding so that the state reserves at the end of the biennium were left with at least $1.4 billion.
House Democrats wanted to preserve the education funding and give Daniels a $1.3 billion surplus.
But there was fear that Daniels would veto either of the plans.
Lesley Stedman Weidenbener’s report for the Louisville Courier Press is entitled “Special Session Looms over budget impasse.” Her report paints a picture of the House Democrats and Senate Republicans at a stalemate, each waiting for the other to blink — while the House Republicans essentially threw spitballs at them both. (I’m paraphrasing here – the House Republicans irritate me. The Senate Republicans and the House Democrats seem to make good faith efforts to govern responsibly. The Senate Democrats are mostly silent. But the House Republicans seem nothing more than noisy.)
House Speaker Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, was struggling to find enough Democratic votes to pass the plan created by the Senate, which would spend $100 million less on public schools than the proposal written by Democrats.
So Bauer was looking to House Republicans for help. As Democrats headed into an evening caucus meeting, Bauer said he might allow a vote on the Senate plan because Republican members could provide the support needed to get it passed.
. . .
[The House & Senate seemed to have a compromise last week, but as] the state’s revenues have continued to slow, Republicans have grown increasingly concerned their plan spent too much. So under pressure from Daniels and in the middle of final negotiations, Kenley insisted on slicing $100 million more from the budget, all of it from funding for public schools.
. . .
That set up a showdown with Democrats, for whom education funding is sacrosanct.
The dispute came despite a number of earlier compromises.
House Democrats had already given up on their plans to spend $200 million in state reserves to try to create jobs and fund just a one-year budget rather than the traditional two.
The Governor couldn’t broker a compromise and the House Republicans would not come along without cuts above and beyond the Senate version.
Mary Beth Schneider and Bill Ruthhart report for the Indianapolis Star. According to that report, Speaker Bauer blamed the failure, at least in part, on the Governor’s indecision and wavering.
“The governor told us this morning that he would sign the (Senate) Republicans’ budget, and then he changed his mind when he thought it would pass,” he said, adding:
“Many of my members felt if the Republicans wouldn’t vote for a Republican bill, then why should they? We wanted a bipartisan vote. They’re the party of no.”
Right now, my sympathies go out to the folks at the Legislative Services Agency. If history is any guide, these employees have been burning the midnight oil, likely for weeks if not months. They don’t typically receive additional pay for these extra hours, but they accrue comp time — comp time which is usually redeemable in the form of some pretty extended vacation time; which works out for the agency when the General Assembly is out of session and things slow way down. But now much of that vacation time will have to be delayed or canceled due to the uncertainty over special sessions. I’m sure the unemployed and the folks who live and die based on what is in the budget aren’t exactly going to cry them a river. But, still, it’s a hassle for them, and if no one else on the outside is remembering them, I am.