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4/16/2017 7:14:00 PM
Indiana legislative session set to end Friday

Dan Carden, Times of Northwest Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS — Hoosier lawmakers are planning to end the four-month annual meeting of the Indiana General Assembly on Friday — eight days ahead of the April 29 mandatory adjournment deadline.

It's not that there isn't legislative work still to be done, but next week, representatives and senators would have nowhere to sleep in Indianapolis as an international firefighters convention is set to take over all the hotel rooms in the state's capital city.

That means the usual end-of-session pressure and deal-making at the Statehouse will be taken to the next level, as lawmakers try to hash out compromise versions of proposals that already have passed the Republican-controlled House and Senate with varying provisions.

Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he's expecting "a very, very busy final week that will require a lot of patience, diligence and long hours — and that's the way it should be.

"The pressure to get things done is one of the things that makes Indiana's Legislature unique, and I think it makes us work better," Long said.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, is advising his members not to let perfect be the enemy of the good, as they strive to blend conflicting provisions in their legislative proposals.

"I've encouraged members of conference committees to get their work done, and get it done as quickly as possible, because once we get an agreement on roads, the budget and liquor, we're getting out of here," Bosma said.

Of course, talking about an agreement on those issues always is easier than actually coming to an agreement.

The House and Senate appear closest to compromise on House Bill 1001, the two-year state spending plan that will take effect July 1.

Both chambers approved budgets totaling around $31 billion that spend less than the state is expected to take in, and maintain a reserve of about $1.8 billion.

There are differences in prioritizing a roughly $300 million increase in education spending, no agreement yet on how much money to spend for pre-kindergarten and separate lists of state projects that need to be merged, such as the House-approved $35 million Bioscience Innovation Building at Purdue University Northwest that was deleted by the Senate.

"I feel very comfortable where we are," Bosma said. "We're dealing with similarly centered, conservative, responsible leaders who want to keep an 'AAA' bond rating and don't want to engage in the gimmicks of the past."

Road funding is a different story

The outcome of a philosophical debate between the House and Senate over whether all road-related tax revenue should be spent only for roads will determine whether Indiana has about $700 million a year in new money to improve its infrastructure, or $1 billion.

Long said the Senate remains unconvinced that all gasoline sales tax collections should be dedicated to roads, especially since there isn't a plan — other than a $1 per pack cigarette tax hike that's also unacceptable to the Senate — for replacing the $300 million that would be shifted from the state's main spending account.

He said finding a road funding solution "continues to be a work in progress. ... We're not there, yet."

Bosma said he's willing to accept in House Bill 1002 a gasoline sales tax shift over a longer term, so long as the House can "at least get a commitment to complete the process."

Both chambers do agree that Hoosiers should pay higher fuel taxes, vehicle registration fees and possibly tolls in the future to ensure the "Crossroads of America" no longer is riddled with potholes from border to border.

Other pending issues include what to do about a pair of "restaurants" inside central Indiana gas stations that legally are selling cold beer for carryout, even on Sundays, in an apparent workaround of the state's restrictive alcohol laws.

Lawmakers also still are figuring out how to replace the ISTEP standardized test, deciding whether a state-appointed emergency manager should take over the Gary Community School Corp., considering a revision to the distribution of gaming taxes, and finalizing plans for transit development districts near South Shore Line stations.

"There's a lot of moving parts right now," Bosma said.

Related Stories:
• EDITORIAL: New Indiana highway taxes, fees still undecided

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