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General Assembly

GOP agenda focuses on taxes, schools

– House Republicans on Wednesday unveiled a legislative agenda that aligns closely with that of Gov. Mike Pence with a few key differences.

“We’ve identified many of the same concerns,” Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said. “The details may differ.”

One thing missing in the caucus’ priority list is the constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil unions.

“It’s no doubt one of the hundreds of issues that we will have to deal with this session, but it’s not part of our agenda,” said Bosma, who said there are a lot of different opinions on the issue.

Instead, he focused on a proposal to cut the business personal property tax assessed on equipment. This tax brings in about $1 billion annually to local schools and governments.

Pence has suggested a full-scale elimination without giving details on how the money would be replaced – if at all. House Republicans are focusing on giving counties the option to permanently exempt new equipment.

It is a similar approach to how the inventory tax was eliminated years ago.

Bosma said the proposal would not allow the exemption if a business moved from county to county.

“That would pit one county against another with no new net job creation,” he said. “I really believe this is the smart way to do it.”

The House GOP caucus has also identified a preschool voucher program for low-income students as a goal. The House would craft the pilot program for 1,000 kids this year and then fund it in the new state budget next year.

Pence would prefer a much larger program but also would wait to fund it until next year.

A third agenda item is to allocate about $400 million set aside last year for new highway projects to be chosen by the Indiana Department of Transportation. Bosma said a number of Indiana’s key highways need additional lanes.

House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath of Michigan City called the Republican agenda meek and listless.

“We all want to do more to help our kids get ahead. The need to improve our sagging infrastructure is obvious. We all agree about our skills gap. There isn’t a person out there who likes burdensome regulations,” he said. “The Republican vision lacks a belief that we can do better.”

He did applaud the Republican caucus for the measured approach to the business personal property tax cut – a proposal that has the potential to shift the tax burden to middle-class Hoosiers.