A not-so-special session for taxpayers


South Bend Tribune

Indiana lawmakers, under fire for not completing their work on time, are facing additional heat for the $30,000-per-day price tag on the special session called by the governor to finish the job.

In response, some lawmakers have lined up to announce their plans to give up their pay for the May session, the first of its kind since 2009.

But focusing on the cost of this session, though understandable, overlooks bigger questions on the lack of focus and failure of leadership that led to it.

Those failures were on display during a messy, chaotic final day that left key bills on the table, including proposed legislation that would conform the state tax code to the federal code, enable Ball State to take over Muncie Community Schools and provide money for school safety grants.

Not on the table and not on the agenda for the special session, by the way: the crisis at the Indiana Department of Child Services.

But somehow, despite the chaos of that last day on March 14, the Senate found time to pay tribute to members who were retiring, including Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne.

Long has announced that members of his leadership team would donate the pay back to the state through the Military Family Relief Fund.

By law, legislators are paid $173 a day while the General Assembly is in session.

Rep. Dale Devon, R-Granger, points out that in the past, “no one congratulated us on all the money we were saving” when lawmakers completed their work early. He says he knows a lot of people are donating their pay. He’d rather not say what he plans to do, but says he’s a charitable man and if he was donating he wouldn’t talk about it.

As the Indianapolis Star noted, this special session is rare for two reasons: it’s a non-budget year and one party — Republicans — is in control of everything.

Sen. Joe Zakas, R-Granger, says the Senate passed all its bills, but “they ran out of time over at the House.” He says he’ll probably join his Senate colleagues in donating his per diem for the special session to the military fund.

Rep. Ryan Dvorak, D-South Bend, isn’t impressed with certain legislators competing to see who can “wear the biggest hair shirt.” And he says many who announced plans to donate their per diem live in Indianapolis so don’t have to worry about paying for an overnight stay.

Rep. B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, who says he might donate his pay for the special session, says the bigger question is what led to the need for a special session — in his opinion, Republican supermajorities “not being able to get the job done.”

“If someone wants to donate their per diem that’s fine,” Bauer says, “but it’s not answering the question of why it went wrong. It sort of distracts from what went wrong.”

That’s a good point. For the taxpaying public, the upcoming session will be anything but special. It serves as a reminder of the consequences of failed leadership, regardless of party affiliation. There may be a price to be paid for the failures of the 2018 legislative session. And $30,000 a day won’t cover it.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to [email protected].

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