DANVILLE — With less than a week remaining in the legislative session, the key topic of the final Legislative Breakfast of the year at the Hendricks County 4-H Fairgrounds was clear: the budget.
In addition, Rep. Todd Rokita was on hand to discuss his take on it.
"The fact of the matter is that there are some hard decisions that have to be made," Rokita said. "Not everyone is going to be happy about it, but I think that's why a majority of people in the Fourth District sent me and 87 new people to Congress to change how things have been done."
Rokita said it is a daily battle with a Democratic Senate and president that are "two bodies that still think that we can spend our way to prosperity. There are those among us who believe that we cannot spend money that you don't have, even if you have a printing press to make it up yourself."
Rokita also discussed rising gas prices.
"I know that gas prices continue to be an issue," he said. "We have to continue to press the president, not necessarily for another commission that he proposed last week. Here's why gas prices are high. First of all, other economies around the world are doing much better than us and they are using a lot of oil, coal, and natural gas - think India and China. Second of all, we're not allowed to drill in this country. We're not allowed to take that Indiana coal and use it. We have all kinds of natural gas reserves, all kinds of oil reserves that we are not allowed to tap. We can be using our own resources instead of having to go halfway around the world to buy it, exporting our dollars while we are doing it."
Rokita said that we are currently looking at $14 trillion of debt. He also forecasted a "tidal wave of debt" that the country will be facing if "social entitlement" programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security continue at their current pace.
"During World War II, we had about the same amount of debt as percentage of GDP as we have now - 100 percent," Rokita said. "But World War II, we knew one day would come to an end. We knew that it was a one-time event. The drivers of our debt today is not a one-time event. Even if your congressman and their staff worked for free, even if we got rid of 157 federal agencies, we would still have their debt and it would grow because of social entitlement programs."
He said that China, who owns 30 percent of our debt, can survive on the interest. Rokita said the Government of China can buy three joint strike fighters, three brand new airplanes of ours, and still have $50 million left over every week.
"Just on the interest," Rokita stressed. "It's no wonder why our generals say that the biggest threat to our national security aren't the terrorists, certainly not Libya, not Iraq or Afghanistan. The biggest threat to our security is our largess, because we refuse to live in our means."
Within Indiana, the legislators have no choice but to pass a balanced budget.
"The budget is passed out of the Senate," said Sen. Phil Boots (R-23). "Now, we have to reconcile the differences between the Senate and the House version. That will be done this week. By midnight on Friday night we will have that accomplished."
Boots also discussed several bills that were passed regarding education. Senate Bill 575, which discusses teacher contracts and collective bargaining, was passed and signed by the governor.
"To me, it was the right thing to do, to turn the administration of the schools back over the administrators and let the teachers do the teaching in the classroom," Boots said.
Boots also discussed three other possible education bills. Senate Bill 1, which discusses teacher and principal quality for evaluations has passed the Senate and the House. House Bills 1002 and 1003, which include legislation about charter schools and school scholarships, have passed the House and Senate and have been returned to the House for concurrence.
Another topic that was discussed at the breakfast was the new redistricting maps. Due to this, the breakfast was the last for Boots as a representative in Hendricks County, as his district will shift as of July 1.
Rep. Jeff Thompson (R-28) focused on the education aspect of the budget.
"There are additional money projections for Indiana for the next two years," Thompson said. "With that in the proposed budget, there is a half of a percent increase in the state budget for public education in 2012 and 1 percent in 2013. The interesting thing is the formula in it that has left the House and it was not changed much in the Senate. You see almost half of the schools seeing no increase based on the House version. Then the other half sees about double the increase that you might expect, about a 1 percent in 2012 and a 2 percent in 2013."
Thompson said the formula was a topic that was discussed greatly this week.
He said that school debt is another topic that was discussed. The goal is to allow school corporations to refinance, but keep their levy at what it was before refinancing. They would be allowed to take that extra money and apply it to circuit breaker loses.
Rep. Greg Steuerwald discussed several topics with regards to criminal code.
The first topic he discussed was about a clerk asking for identification to a person purchasing alcohol. He said that the clerk will not be required to ask for identification if they believe the person is above 40 years old. Currently, if the clerk does not ask for identification, regardless of age, they are subject to being arrested.
Steuerwald also discussed a bill that would make it so that children in molestation or abuse cases to not have to appear in pre-trial cases. Currently, judges have to make the decision as to whether a child has to appear to testify at a pre-trial.
He said that there is also a bill dealing with synthetic cannabinoids.
Rep. Robert Behning (R-91) also took the opportunity to discuss education bills.
"House Republicans campaigned on providing high quality options for all Hoosier children," Behning said. "(House Bills) 1002 and 1003 are our way of trying to provide that. We're expanding charter options. The bill left the House and went over to the Senate, where they made some amendments and sent it back over."
Behning also discussed Senate Bill 1, which is a teacher and principal quality bill.
"The goal of (Senate Bill 1) is to make sure that we at least annually evaluate our teachers," he said. "The goal is to make sure that we have an effective teacher in every classroom. We know that an effective teacher can impact a student's life for over four years. If you can have a high quality student educator in front of every student, you can have a significant impact on student learning."
Behning also said that student attendance and immunization were topics that they looked to tackle.