Jim Shella’s Political Blog

Casino owners battle over efforts to help the gambling industry

February 19th, 2015 at 4:10 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Live dealers at central Indiana racinos are one step closer to reality, however, opposition is growing.

If live dealers come to Anderson and Shelbyville it could hurt the business at two southern Indiana casinos in Rising Sun and French Lick.

It’s why efforts to help out the gambling industry in this state have also sparked a battle between casino owners.

Employees of the Rising Star Casino in Rising Sun showed up at the Statehouse in force dressed in blue in an effort to stop the bill aimed at making Indiana casinos more competitive with casinos in other states.

“We just don’t want live table games in the racinos,” said casino employee Joe Barbieri. “It’s gonna hurt our business and other riverboat businesses in Indiana.”

But it had no effect on the House Ways and Means committee.

It passed the bill that also lets riverboats move on land and gives them incentives to do so.

“And so what we offer,” said Rep. Tom Dermody, “is a ten percent tax credit up to $40 million on any type of construction at their facility.”

For the people in Rising Sun it’s no consolation. “We don’t have the money go on land, anyway,” said CEO Dan Lee.

They believe presence of video dealers in Anderson and Shelbyville is the only reason they attract customers from Indianapolis.

“Well, that’s the only competitive edge we have,” said Lee. “So the question is whether we can stay in business.”

It’s a position also held by the owners of the French Lick casino.

“With all the competition looking to come in from Kentucky and other places,” said Steve Ferguson of the Cook Group, which owns the French Lick casino, “it just makes it a very, very difficult situation.”

Jobs are on the line but it’s not just a question of how many but also where those jobs will be located.

The reality is that the majority of Indiana casino owners will benefit from the current bill which also includes new tax breaks.

They kept a low profile today but lawmakers are listening to them.

The bill now goes to the full House.

GOP budget headed to the House floor

February 18th, 2015 at 4:56 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Indiana schools will receive more money under a new state budget proposal that was approved by a House committee Wednesday.

More than half of the state’s money goes to public schools so that’s always where the budget debate is focused.

But while House Republicans found more money for education, it’s not enough to please everyone.

The Ways and Means committee approved the House GOP Budget on a party line vote.
Democrats voted against it because they believe the distribution formula means that some schools, including those in IPS, are not getting a fair share of state money.

“Even though you may be putting more money in,” said Rep. Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis,) “the bottom line is we have school corporations that are losing dollars.”

It’s is a significant boost in spending from the governor’s plan, however. Mike Pence proposed increases of 2 and 1 percent in the 2-year budget.

The House GOP made it 2-point-3 percent increases in each year.

“If you’re losing students you lose the funding that follows that child,” said Ways and Means committee chairman Tim Brown, who defends the approach.

“I think it’s much more than inflation,” said Brown of the overall increases. “I don’t know if they’re doing backflips, but we tried to do substantial increases in the foundation.”

Tuesday the governor gave his stamp of approval.

“We’re in the ballpark between the budget that we submitted and the budget the House submitted,” said Mike Pence, “and we’re gonna work diligently with, frankly, an eye toward urging caution.”

And even some of the Democrats on the Ways and Means committee suggested that they may vote for the budget when it gets to the House floor next week.

“So, we’re making progress here and I hope we’ll make more progress,” said Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis. “This bill’s definitely better than what the governor sent us.”

The House Republican plan spends about $140 million more on schools than the governor’s plan. It’s money that comes out of the state surplus.

It’s also part of a budget debate that won’t be finished until the end of April.

Senate passes bill to remove power from Ritz

February 17th, 2015 at 5:33 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The state Senate passed the bill Tuesday that takes power away from Glenda Ritz following an emotional debate.

The governor wants Glenda Ritz removed as chairman of the State Board of Education because, he says, there is dysfunction on the board and dysfunction was the word of the day in the state Senate.

GOP Governor Mike Pence sat down with reporters even before the state Senate began debating the bill that takes power away from Glenda Ritz, the Democratic state School Superintendent.

He defended the plan.

“Hoosiers are gonna see that it is the kind of reform,” said Pence, “that will contribute to improving the way that Republicans and Democrats on the State Board of Education are able to do their job.”

But Democratic leaders in the state Senate see it as a partisan attack on one of their own.

“This dysfunction, it’s manufactured,” said Minority Leader Tim Lanane. “It’s a manufactured dysfunction that’s being thrown out there to convince someone that we have to act.  We can’t wait.”

Republicans held firm.

“It is not working correctly,” said Sen. Brandt Hershman (R-Buck Creek.) “Manufactured dysfunction?  There is nothing manufactured about the problems we’ve read about in the newspaper.”

But when the vote was tallied 7 Republicans joined the Democrats to vote against the bill, which passed 33-to-17.

One Democrat predicted that nothing will be solved.

“And then your gonna take away the one thing that she got automatically which is chairmanship,” said Sen. Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis,) “and then you want her to be cooperative.  That’s gonna cause more dysfunction.”

And, worth noting, the vote took place on the day after a teacher rally in support of Glenda Ritz.

Both the House and Senate have now passed separate versions of the bill that takes power away from Glenda Ritz.

The bills will swap houses and the process starts over in the second half of the General Assembly, but there appear to be no roadblocks in the way.

Teachers, parents rally for Ritz

February 16th, 2015 at 5:22 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Thousands of people rallied in support of  state School Superintendent Glenda Ritz at the Statehouse Monday.

They’re opposed to Republican efforts to remove Ritz, a Democrat, as chairman of the State Board of Education.

The bill to take away some of the power held by Ritz was eligible for a vote in the state Senate Monday.

The vote was put off until another day as teachers and parents filled Statehouse hallways.

It was called a rally to support public education but most of the emphasis was on support for Glenda Ritz.

“I am sick and tired of being marginalized and disenfranchised,” said Ritz supporter Phyllis Bush. “When they disrespect Superintendent Ritz, they disrespect all of us.”

It’s not just Democrats who object.

“There’s a disconnect right now between the constituency and our elected officials,” said Martinsville teacher Randy Worthington, “and that bothers me a lot as a Republican and as a teacher.”

“I don’t understand how I’m supposed to use my voice and vote,” said Cedar Lake student Phoebe Scherer, “when ultimately the government is going to take that voice away from me by taking away an elected position.”

Democrats in the General Assembly encouraged the effort and Ritz made a brief appearance late in the rally.

“Let your voices be heard.  You own this place,” said Sen. Tim Lanane (D-Minority Leader. “You know that don’t you?”

And while they were invited, no Republicans made an appearance.

Meantime, those Republicans are showing their support for education in other ways.

The House GOP version of the state budget was late Monday.

It increases school funding beyond what the governor proposed, calling for hikes of 2.3 percent in each year of the 2-year budget.

Mike Pence called for hikes of 2 percent and 1 percent.


February 13th, 2015 at 2:30 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

All of the regulars are on the Indiana Week in Review panel this week.  Spirited discussion guaranteed on the following topics:

  • Gov. Pence demands a shorter ISTEP exam
  • The bill to reduce Glenda Ritz’s power advances
  • Ethics reform wins committee approval
  • Sunday alcohol sales
  • Gambling changes proposed
  • Brawl at a basketball game gets two schools suspended.

ISTEP to be shortened

February 13th, 2015 at 11:49 am by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The ISTEP test will be shortened.

The exam that is given to public school students in Indiana was expected to take 12 hours before state school Superintendent Glenda Ritz acted Friday morning.

It’s the result of demands made by the governor earlier this week.

Ritz announced that the test time will be reduced by a little over 3 hours.

It will still be a much longer test than the one given to Indiana students last year.

Ritz made that decision after hearing from 2 outside experts hired by the governor.

They suggested, among other things, that the social studies portion of the test be eliminated this year for 5th and 7th graders.

“Following our guidelines and recommendations we think that testing time can be significantly reduced,” said testing consultant Ed Roeber.

“We are prepared to move forward with the 3 hours and five minutes (reduction)”, said Ritz, “and the suggestion to the General Assembly to suspend social studies, yes.”

That change will require approval by the General Assembly because otherwise the test will not meet state requirements.

Superintendent Ritz also sought to suspend the state’s accountability system this year. It gives letter grades to schools based on test results.

Board members voted to have that item removed from the agenda.

Committee approves live dealers at racinos

February 12th, 2015 at 10:31 am by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

State lawmakers took action Thursday that’s aimed at producing more gambling proceeds at Indiana casinos and, therefore, more gambling tax revenues for the state.

Casino owners say that changes are needed to compete with new casinos in neighboring states.

That’s why a committee in the Indiana House voted 10-to-2 in favor of a bill that would permit riverboat casinos to build new facilities on land.

“We believe the opportunity to offer a land based casino in Evansville would benefit our company, the city of Evansville, the state of Indiana and most importantly, our customers,” said Tony Rodio of Tropicana Entertainment.

The bill would also permit live dealers at table games in the two central Indiana racinos in Anderson and Shelbyville.

“Offering live table games at our facilities in a limited format would allow us to offer a more competitive product,” said Jim Brown of Centaur Gaming, “and attract customers from surrounding states while encouraging Hoosiers to spend their gaming dollars in Indiana.”

The bill must now go to the House Ways and Means committee.

It faces an uncertain future, in part, because the governor is opposed to any expansion of gambling.

House Committee votes to approve Sunday alcohol sales

February 11th, 2015 at 5:19 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

A committee in the Indiana House of Representatives passed a bill that would lead to Sunday alcohol sales.

It’s significant because it’s the first time there has been a vote in favor of Sunday alcohol sales in the General Assembly.

But the people who fought for years to reach this point are suddenly opposed to the bill.

That’s because it requires retailers who are not package liquor stores to sell hard liquor at a separate counter and to segregate alchohol from the other products in their stores.

“The amendment is anti-consumer,” said Grant Monahan of the Indiana Retail Council. “The amendment is not constructive but seeks to make it more difficult and expensive for drug, convenience and grocery stores to sell alcoholic beverages.”

“The cost of retrofitting retail stores alone will run by conservative estimates to $50 to $60 million,” said Cam Carter of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, “and it will affect all non-liquor store retailers, large or small, big box, or mom and pop.”

Nevertheless, the committee voted 10-to-2 to send the bill to the full House.

Liquor store owners who previously opposed Sunday sales testified in favor of the amended bill.

The author of the bill, Republican Tom Dermody of LaPorte, promised to consider changes as it moves through the legislative process.

It’s a long way from becoming law.

Pence, Ritz agree to a shorter ISTEP exam

February 11th, 2015 at 5:11 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The governor announced Wednesday that he and Glenda Ritz are now cooperating in an effort to shorten the ISTEP exam.

Mike Pence called reporters together to try to put a good face on the crisis that erupted Monday when it was disclosed that ISTEP testing times would double for some students.

He wanted to report that he has hired a second national expert, Bill Auty of Oregon, to help make recommendations on how to shorten the test.

Pence said the state Board of Education will receive preliminary recommendations on Friday.

The GOP governor also reported that he talked with Democratic state school superintendent Glenda Ritz and said she agreed to shorten the test.

However, he rejected a Ritz suggestion that accountability standards be set aside for a year.

“We grade our kids every day.  We can grade our schools every year,” he said. “Accountability is important to the progress that Indiana has made and will continue to make in education.  Our parents deserve to know how their kids are doing in school.  Our parents also deserve to know how their schools are doing.”

Glenda Ritz also met in private with legislative leaders this afternoon. Her staff released a document that suggested federal approval is required to meet most recommendations for shortening the test.

The governor said he spoke with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and asked for flexibility on ISTEP and also he said he’s open to new legislation if it’s required to alter testing requirements.

Ethics reform gets committee approval

February 10th, 2015 at 5:52 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

State lawmakers are looking for ways to improve their image following recent scandals in state government. It’s why an ethics reform bill advanced in the General Assembly Tuesday.

Ethics reform is the top priority for House Speaker Brian Bosma and he made a rare appearance in front of a House committee to argue for it.

A 2014 scandal involving former lawmaker Eric Turner prompted a call for lawmakers to make more of their personal financial information public and that’s what the Speaker’s ethics reform bill calls for.

“The goal here is to strengthen the disclosure to the public,” said Bosma, “and to strengthen the transparency.”

It also addresses problems raised in scandals involving former lawmaker Troy Woodruff and former state school Superintendent Tony Bennett.

The spokesman for watchdog organization Common Cause gave a stamp of approval.

“It goes a long way toward safeguarding trust,” said Julia Vaughn, “because, as the Speaker said, I think that has to be your goal.”

But one lawmaker says no legislation will go far enough. Republican David Wolkins of Winona Lake also said that required ethics training the bill is unnecessary.

“If you haven’t got ethics in the first 20 years of your life,” he said, “you’re not going to get it in one hour afterward.”

But for the Speaker it’s about appearances..

“It’s not a culture of corruption as some might say,” he told the committee, “because men and women here I know personally are men and women of integrity, but it is a culture perhaps of inattention to potential appearances of conflict.”

The committee passed the bill in a unanimous vote.

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath is a co-author of the bill which now goes to the full House and almost certain passage.

There is no guarantee, however, that it can prevent the next scandal.