The Republican governor has laid out an ambitious agenda for the General Assembly’s four-month session that begins Wednesday.
Daniels will have Republican majorities in both the House and Senate to help him reach legislative goals, but lawmakers are still likely to face challenges as they wade through the following issues.
Indiana lawmakers are required to write a new two-year budget for the state this year.
Daniels is calling for a balanced budget with no general tax increase and no further cuts to K-12 education — an achievement that will require further spending cuts in other areas, as the state faces an estimated $1 billion structural deficit for the next two years.
Economic stimulus money from the federal government was available to plug holes in the current budget, but lawmakers will no longer have that option. The state also has used reserves, which grew to $1.3 billion a year and a half ago, to soften the blow of the downturn. Those reserves are expected to total just $188 million by the beginning of the next fiscal year in July.
Daniels has pledged to be aggressive on the education front this year, and it will likely be a battleground issue for the two parties.
The governor has said he would like to see lawmakers pass bills to expand the presence of charter schools, factor student performance into teacher evaluations, focus collective bargaining for teachers only on salary and wage-related benefits and allow school districts to reward the best-performing teachers instead of just rewarding seniority. Another idea the governor has suggested is to offer college tuition to students who graduate early from high school.
Democrats have called Daniels’ proposals an attempt to privatize schools and open the door to for-profit operators to run schools.
As with the budget, lawmakers are required this year to draw new maps for congressional and state legislative districts using fresh census data.
This once-per-decade task could shake things up in north-central Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District, where U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Granger, has already indicated he might look at running for a statewide office in 2012 if the new district boundaries favor a Republican candidate.
Daniels has stated that he will not tolerate political gerrymandering in the redistricting process.
4. Local government
This is an area where Daniels is likely to see a mix of opposition and support on both sides of the aisle.
The governor has said Indiana residents are paying too much for overlapping layers of government, and he has suggested that townships be eliminated. This could be difficult to achieve, as some lawmakers have already expressed reluctance to remove the level of government that is closest to residents.
Daniels also has spoken of the need to address nepotism in local government and conflicts of interest among municipal employees who also serve as elected officials.
5. What remains
Lawmakers are likely again to take up the issue of unemployment insurance. Indiana’s unemployment trust fund is in debt $1.8 billion to the federal government, and legislators have to decide whether to raise premiums or lower benefits, or do both, to repay what the state has borrowed.
Daniels also has called for reforming Indiana’s sentencing guidelines and criminal code to lower prison costs and recidivism. The state’s prison population increased 40 percent during the past decade, according to the Pew Research Center.
With Republican majorities in both houses, lawmakers might try to pass further restrictions on abortions, move toward a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, address illegal immigration and take up right-to-work legislation, which would bar workers from being required to pay union dues.
Staff writer Kevin Allen: