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News & Press: Hoosier Surveyor

COVID-19 fallout at the Statehouse

Wednesday, May 13, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Mike O'Brien, 1816, Inc.
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The General Assembly adjourned Sine Die in the early morning of March 12, just days before the state was put on lockdown as the coronavirus arrived in Indiana. It was a short session and the legislature was required by law to adjourn by March 14. Had this been a long budget session, like the forthcoming 2021 session, some contingency plan would have been needed.


The state closes its books on June 30 for this fiscal year. The expectation is that the budget situation will be dire. A loss of economic activity and tax revenue combined with a delay in 2019 and Q1 estimated tax remittance is creating a cash flow crisis for the state. Millions in stimulus dollars are coming to Indiana as the result of federal action but still unclear is what strings are attached to those federal dollars and what holes in the budget can be filled with it. What is clear is that policymakers are operating on the assumption the state's rainy day fund is all but gone. While Indiana was fiscally healthy and certainly better positioned than other states, no budget can withstand such a substantial drop in revenue.


The Legislative Council met Wednesday, May 13 to assign subjects for study to various interim study committees. That process begins during the regular legislative session when lawmakers request certain topics be studied and developed over the summer. Shortly after session adjourns, the Legislative Council - a committee comprised of legislators from both chambers and both political parties - meets to decide which of those study requests will be pursued. From there, committees convene and begin to develop proposals for next session, which will begin full-time in January.


Given the state of affairs, it is unknown at this point what topics will be studied, or even how committees will meet. Can legislative committees meet in person? Will rolling shutdowns of state government be duplicated in the halls of the Statehouse? How do organizations like ISPLS influence and advocate policy decisions when committees meet virtually and lobbyists can't roam the halls of the Statehouse? Those of us who spend our days shaking hands and meeting in elevators are going to be forced to adapt and react to this new scenario.


Gov. Eric Holcomb has laid out a plan in five phases to reopen the state and the economy between now and the July 4 weekend. The best case scenario permits large gatherings, reopened retail establishments, and employers to reopen offices over the next six weeks. An aggressive testing and contact tracing protocol accompanies this gradual easing of restrictions so health officials can track how the virus is spreading through communities.


Mike O'Brien is Executive Vice President of 1816 inc and ISPLS' lobbyist at the Statehouse.


This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 issue of the Hoosier Surveyor.

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