NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Legislative session supports governor’s agenda and good things for Allen County
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb is riding high following this year’s session of the Indiana General Assembly, and news-sentinel.com, along with Greater Fort Wayne Inc., celebrates the Legislature’s successes along with him.
Holcomb signed Indiana’s $34.6 billion two-year general fund bill at the Statehouse Monday, days after the session ended ahead of schedule, and he praised a balanced budget that has reserves beyond the recommended 11 percent. Republicans say the budget surplus of 11.5 percent (more than $2 billion) is needed in case of an economic downturn.
After signing the budget, the governor checked off more than 30 successes in his Next Level agenda, which focused on jobs, economic growth, health, infrastructure and government service.
Greater Fort Wayne Inc., the chamber of commerce and economic development organization for Fort Wayne and Allen County, also considered the session a success for the implementation of policies it advocated that promote business and economic growth, talent attraction and recruitment, and community strength.
“We have checked off our end-of list, and we’re not looking back,” Holcomb told the media after Monday’s budget signing. “Our state strategy for growth continues to help define how we structure ourselves regardless of the issue that we’re taking on. Whether it be workforce development programs or major infrastructure projects, we are nimble.”
Holcomb had signed more than 100 bills into law through Monday, including the budget bill. A couple other bills needed additional study, he said, but he has no plans to veto any that may still be coming to his desk.
Among the highlights of the biennium budget is that it provides an additional $539 million in base funding for K-12 schools (an annual increase of 2.5 percent); the addition of $224 million for vouchers, charters, teacher grants and school safety, and an increase in funds for the Department of Child Services – $256 million in the first year and $246 million in the second.
The General Assembly also moved the $1 billion of toll road lease proceeds into the budget and designated up to $90 million of that money for trails and up to $100 million for rural broadband.
Among other bills we and GFW Inc. would join the governor in considering as successes was a bias-crime law for Indiana that allows judges in handing down criminal sentences to consider bias based on a victim’s real or perceived traits. While we thought such a bill wasn’t necessary since judges could already consider bias in making judgments for crimes, we were pleased that the proposed bill was revised to eliminate a list of characteristics such as gender identity, gender and age that was the base of our argument against such legislation in the first place.
GFW Inc. especially praised the redevelopment tax credit bill as something that could be particularly impactful to our community and the region. “We were successful in removing the building and square footage requirement, allowing for the redevelopment of brownfields, distressed vacant properties, and projects of all sizes,” GFW Inc. wrote in a document highlighting the Legislature’s work.
The group also liked measures that afford a local option to increase the Allen County innkeeper’s tax by 1 percent with the additional funding to go to Visit Fort Wayne; one that contains language for a 35-year TIF for the Electric Works project; one that establishes the ability for the Electric Works project to obtain a 3-way permit; another that helped remove language that would have repealed the municipal riverfront development project district (Downtown Dining District); and one that reduces the seating minimum to 800 in defining an “entertainment complex” that will allow the Clyde Theater to be eligible for a civic center alcohol permit.
The work of the GOP super majority in this year’s session has been positive. It largely supported Gov. Holcomb’s agenda going into the session and likely won’t hurt his rating among Indiana voters, which as of last week’s Morning Consult national polling prior to the completion of the legislative session was at