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Ind. lawmakers start session with bipartisan talk

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The Indiana General Assembly began its 2010 session Tuesday with the usual pledges to seek bipartisan cooperation, but election-year politics and redistricting are likely to complicate matters.

“I think it’s going to be political to the max when you have the chief executive already declaring that he wants one party to be extinct,” said House Speaker Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend.

Gov. Mitch Daniels has been helping Republicans raise campaign cash and recruit candidates for the November election. Republicans have a commanding advantage in the Senate, but Democrats control the House 52-48, and Daniels has said he wants Republicans to regain the majority there so the GOP will control both chambers during his final two years in office in 2011 and 2012.

Republicans also were skeptical of how long the bipartisanship would last.

“While we had some pretty nice and flowery speeches today in areas of agreement, it will get down to fundamental differences,” said House Minority Leader Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis. “We will have differences that will break down on party lines.”

Bosma did not say what those differences might be, but Democrats seem to be preparing to oppose a Republican bill that would delay an increase on taxes employers pay into the state’s unemployment insurance fund.

The tax increase is set to take effect this year, but won’t be payable until April. The session is to end by March 14, and before then, Republicans want to pass legislation delaying the tax increase for one year. They say the increase will cause businesses to layoff employees during already tough economic times.

Some Democrats say the tax increase is needed to start replenishing the unemployment insurance fund, which has borrowed $1.5 billion from the federal government to remain solvent.

Although this is not a budget-writing session, lawmakers often spend more money during short sessions like this one. But revenue projections have been falling far short of projections, and top lawmakers reiterated Tuesday that they won’t consider any bills this session that spend money.

Daniels already has ordered hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts, but without more — or unless revenues pick up dramatically — the state could end the budget cycle in June 2011 short on cash.

Daniels and leaders of both chambers have ruled out any new tax increases to boost revenues.

There seemed little sentiment Tuesday that lawmakers would be able to end the session before the March 14 deadline, which they have sometimes done.

“We have a lot of issues that we need to try to resolve, and when you don’t have money to deal with issues, sometimes it makes it harder for people,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville. “I think we’re going to be here for the full duration unless people get so frustrated they just decide we need to leave.”

Rep. Peggy Welch, D-Bloomington, said she hoped the session would go smoothly but wasn’t necessarily counting on it.

“We have to remember that unfortunately a lot of what we are going to be doing are going to be colored by the elections of 2010, so we have to remind ourselves to think about policy and not politics while we are here,” she said.

© 2010 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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