State Sen. Jean Leising
RUSHVILLE — On Nov. 20, the 118th General Assembly will gather at the Statehouse for “Organization Day,” ceremonially marking the start of the next legislative session. As a part-time legislature, our real work will begin on Jan. 7 and last through April 29. During this time, we’ll conduct legislative hearings, review proposals, debate initiatives and vote on new laws.
A main focus during the upcoming session will be approving Indiana’s next two-year budget, which helps fund vital state services like K-12 education, public safety and health care. My colleagues and I have worked hard to maintain balanced budgets that pay for these essential services despite a difficult economy. In fact, we’ve had four consecutive balanced budgets while also managing to set aside reserve funds that will help protect Indiana from possible future economic downturns. It will be important to again support an honestly balanced budget that spends within our means and maintains these reserves.
At the same time, it’s just as important to support our struggling Hoosier families. Yes, Indiana has reserves in place and the economy seems to be on the mend. However, we still need to encourage low-tax, pro-job policies that will put people in our communities back to work. That’s why I will continue to say “no” to any new state taxes. A low-tax environment promotes employer expansion and new economic opportunity.
Additionally, I will work to help equip our students with the skills needed to successfully compete in the workforce. Many feel there should be a stronger emphasis in our schools on vocational and technical education as an alternative to attending college. Lawmakers will consider increasing funds to support these programs and expand opportunities for students. Additionally, we’ll discuss how to better provide our teachers with the financial resources and support they need to build on Indiana’s record-best ISTEP+ scores and graduation rates.
Still, many of those who graduate high school and want to go the college route are finding that it’s simply unaffordable. Legislators will consider initiatives to help our higher education hopefuls save money and graduate from college on time. Some want to use an incentive program that gives more state funding to public universities and colleges that meet performance goals like improving on-time graduation rates and degree completion. Expect college performance funding to come up in budget discussions.
We will also discuss how to respond to federal health-care reform at the state level. The Supreme Court’s ruling on “The Affordable Care Act” gave states more flexibility to make changes to their health-care systems, but that flexibility brings about some tough choices. The Washington approach would cost Indiana more than $2 billion by 2020 and drive up our health-insurance premiums. This session, I will work with other legislators to use homegrown, financially responsible ideas like the Healthy Indiana Plan to meet the law’s requirements without surrendering our health-care decisions to Washington bureaucrats. There’s no denying this reform poses a huge challenge, but it’s still possible for common sense to offset some of the law’s harm.
Maintaining a balanced budget, keeping taxes low, improving education and responding to federal health-care reform are just a few of the many topics that will be explored during the 2013 session.
Soon, a legislative update with a survey will be delivered to households in our district. Your input is very important, and I encourage you to complete this survey so that I can better gauge your thoughts on initiatives that will be discussed, debated and voted on in the upcoming year.