Legislators address education funding, other topics


JASPER — Questions about education funding, same-day voter registration and assisted suicide were some of the topics brought up by those who attended a legislative breakfast Saturday morning.

State Rep. Shane Lindauer, R-Jasper and State Sens. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, and Erin Houchin, R-Salem, fielded the questions, as well as talked about the happenings during the Indiana General Assembly’s session, which started earlier this month. State Rep. Stephen Bartels, R-Eckerty could not attend because of a work conflict.

Saturday’s meeting, held at Vincennes University Jasper Campus’ CTIM building, was hosted by the university and the Jasper Chamber of Commerce.

Instead of having people ask questions directly, Jasper Chamber Director Nancy Eckerle had everyone write their questions down and she read them aloud.

One question came from recent federal activity. “Can the State of Indiana have a government shutdown?” Eckerle read.

It’s possible, Messmer explained. “If we don’t approve a budget, all agencies would have to stop operating on July 1,” he said. “That has not happened yet.”

He added that when there were issues with budget negotiations in 2008, his first year as a legislator, a special session was held and the problems were worked out.

The federal government just ended a 35-day shutdown, the longest in the United States’ history, by enacting a bill that will fund the government until Feb. 8. In the meantime, negotiations between President Donald Trump and legislators, Democratic legislators in particular, will continue for a more lengthy funding bill. The source of contention is the president’s request for $5.7 million to build a wall along the country’s southern border, which Democratic legislators are not favoring.

Negotiations on the state level involve the state’s two-year budget, which is being crafted this year. It will go into effect July 1.

Someone asked about education funding, in particular money to give teachers pay increases.

Houchin said that the Legislature has given more money to school corporations and will continue to do so as much as possible. “We fund schools,” she said. “Local school corporations decide how to spend that funding in consultation with the collective bargaining agent.”

She said that school corporations have been giving administrators big pay increases while giving teachers stipends or small pay increases, which is the problem.

Houchin explained that the state has fixed costs that it must cover, such as education funding. “Those kinds of costs are always accounted for first,” she said.

Budget forecasts, which are projections of how much revenue the state will get in future months, are also taken into account. That is checked several times during the year.

“What is determined to be those line item amounts is determined by the fixed costs the State of Indiana will have to fund and what those budget forecasts look like in terms of how much income will be coming in,” Houchin explained. Enough reserves are also set aside to run the state government for 42 days in case of a catastrophic event, she said.

All the expenditures, including the requests for more funding, are line items, Messmer said. “If the revenue forecast is up, then all those extras you want to fund, you slide in as many as you can,” Messmer said. “If the revenue forecast is down, they all go away, and then you try to defend the ratios on the things you have to fund.”

Another question was about a bill proposing that people be allowed to register to vote on the same day they vote. Local legislators did not agree with that idea.

“I doubt if that will get a hearing, Messmer said. “If you are looking to get more voter participation, do early voting. In Dubois County more people voted early than did on Election Day.”

Some asked about the assisted suicide bills that have also been proposed, one in the House and one in the Senate. Lindauer, who is vice chair on the House’s public health committee, said that he would not support the bill and doesn’t believe it will get a hearing. A bill must be heard by and pass a committee before it is considered by the full chamber body. If it does not get that, the bill is dead. And for a bill to become law, it must be passed by both the House and Senate and signed by the governor.

Other concerns raised at Saturday’s meeting were about improvements in local air quality, invasive plants, handicap accessibility at the federally-owned Jasper Post Office, legislation that would limit municipalities’ annexation abilities and proposed bills that would limit funding options for solid waste districts.

The session ended with a question about power. “Does federal law trump state law?” someone wrote.

The answer was simple. “Yes,” Messmer responded.

The chamber and VUJC will host the next public meeting with legislators at 9 a.m. Saturday, March 2, at VUJC’s CTIM building, 961 College Ave., Jasper.

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