CHICAGO — Indiana lawmakers returned to work Wednesday for a short session that begins with controversial labor legislation but will also likely include bills advancing a $1.3 billion bond-funded mass transit plan and raising more revenue for cash-strapped local governments.
In Ohio, the General Assembly will reconvene next week with pension reform as a top priority, and Michigan’s new session will begin Jan. 11.
Indiana’s session is only 10 weeks because lawmakers do not need to craft a state budget after adopting a two-year spending plan last year.
The first day was marked by protests similar to those seen last year in Wisconsin and Ohio to kick off debate of the so-called Right to Work bill, which would bar “union shop” labor contracts requiring employees to pay union dues. If the bill is approved, Indiana would be the first state in the Midwest manufacturing belt to adopt right-to-work policies. Gov. Mitch Daniels said passage of the bill is one of his top priorities for the session.
The Republican governor also supports a referendum to call for a $1.3 billion mass transit proposal for central Indiana, but is not weighing in on the plan itself. The measure would raise the income tax rates in Marion and Hamilton counties to help pay for an expanded system of buses and light rail. Financing would include $482 million of bonds, $295 million of federal grants, and other sources. said he backs the idea of a referendum,
One measure that could be introduced as soon as this week would allow local governments to petition voters for the right to raise property taxes beyond their constitutional limit.
Property tax reform that capped bills at 1% of assessed value for homeowners, 2% for rental properties and 3% for commercial properties became part of the state constitution in 2010. The law allows school districts to raise additional revenue if voters approve a referendum.
Lieut. Gov. Becky Skillman, who is heading Daniels’ local government reform process, said all municipalities should have the same option. Skillman has also said that local governments should be able to tap their reserve funds to finance transportation infrastructure improvements.
In Ohio, legislators return to work next Tuesday. The state last year completed a new two-year budget that will take it through fiscal 2013. Because this is an even-numbered year, the General Assembly will craft a capital budget. Gov. John Kasich has warned that he will propose a greatly reduced capital budget, with little to no local funding, for the next two years to keep long-term debt at a minimum.
A pair of bills introduced last year to reform the state’s pensions is expected to be picked up again early this year.
The Michigan legislative session will be influenced by Gov. Rick Snyder’s priorities, some of which will be unveiled in his state of the state address set for Jan. 18. Among his proposals is a measure to end the personal property tax, which critics say could cripple some local governments.
Snyder is also expected to take action to advance a $2.8 billion bridge between Detroit and Canada, one of the most controversial proposals that has dominated legislative debate for years, and repeatedly failed to gain sufficient support. After watching his proposal fail again last year, Snyder could introduce a new plan as soon as this month. He is reportedly considering bypassing the legislative route.