The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

State News

December 15, 2013

Timing a question for Pence’s second-year agenda

INDIANAPOLIS — Republican Gov. Mike Pence may find more problems pushing a broad second-year legislative agenda during the General Assembly's upcoming "short session" than he had during his first meeting with the Legislature earlier this year.

The governor detailed a plan earlier this month to expand the number and power of charter schools, eliminate the personal property tax, establish preschool vouchers and spend $400 million on new road projects and other items he says will improve Indiana's economy.

But he and his team are likely to run into time and space constraints.

The General Assembly formally holds two-year long sessions, like Congress, but breaks it into two general working sessions: a "long session" of roughly four months, when the budget is written, and a "short session" typically reserved for policy items outside the budgeting process.

And while it might not be a part of any formal agenda, Republican legislative leaders have decided they will take up a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, civil unions and employer benefits for same-sex couples.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, has already warned Pence that the cost of his education agenda may force the Senate to delay action until 2015. And the House's budget leader, Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, has cautioned that he will not re-open the budget -- a move that would be necessary to find money for Pence's new programs, but would also open the way for other interests to press lawmakers for funding.

Pence dismissed concerns that his 2014 plan may be too broad in an hour-long meeting with reporters last week.

"I'm getting the sense it does seem more robust to some. If you'll permit me, it doesn't seem more robust to me," he said. "Our Roadmap for Indiana for included some 50 policy proposals that advance on our six goals. Our goals haven't changed and our policy prescriptions haven't changed."

Much of the changed perception may be because Pence is providing more details about his second-year plan than he did for his inaugural agenda. Items like the establishment of teacher vouchers, preschool vouchers and others have been clearly marked as the governor's and have included important information, like cost and eligibility. But he is also holding his cards tight on other important items, such as his plan to eliminate the state's personal property tax.

House Education Chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, will play a critical role in shepherding the governor's education measures through the House. He said he's confident the governor's supporters in the Legislature can get his priorities approved.

"I think we can do a lot. It's not like it's too overwhelming for us to handle," Behning said. He noted that some measures, like preschool vouchers, had already been vetted by lawmakers and won bipartisan approval in the House.

Behning gave Pence's team good marks for working with lawmakers in the run-up to the session. Specifically, he praised Claire Fiddian-Green, the governor's education adviser and leader of his new education agency.

The governor lacked the ability to lay that critical groundwork during his first session, taking office one week after lawmakers had already returned to work and struggling to find his footing in a new Capitol. By the end of four months, he walked away with some modest successes and a few losses. But his team spent the summer and fall prepping and retooling in advance of 2014.

Good prep work and legislative relations can make or break a governor's plans.

Emails obtained by The Associated Press earlier this year detailing the creation of former Gov. Mitch Daniels' ambitious 2011 education agenda, showing how a small group of powerbrokers set the policy and slowly expanded their circle through most of 2010. Indeed, Daniels and his team went beyond simply crafting the policy, into electing the supporters needed to approve the measures as part of an incredibly coordinated campaign.

Pence doesn't have to worry about electing slates of candidates because they're already in place, but he still will have to massage lawmakers and legislative leaders to declare victory on his major items.

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