Jeff Espich

A doctor will write Indiana’s next budget

November 13th, 2012 at 4:59 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Indianapolis– (WISH) Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma has chosen a doctor to write the next state budget. Representative Tim Brown of Crawfordsville, an emergency room physician, is the new chairman of the Ways and Means committee.  That’s one of the most powerful positions in the General Assembly.

Brown replaces Jeff Espich, who retired after serving as the top Republican budget writer for 15 years.  He knows his task is a tough one.  “It’s easy to write a budget when there’s no money,” said Rep. Brown.  “It’s harder to write a budget when there’s a little bit of money.  But we’re going to have to set priorities for the future.”

Speaker Bosma consider 6 or 7 candidates bu said that medicaid changes and health care reform helped him settle on Brown who has served as chair of the Health Committee as well as Ways and Means.  “I just felt that Tim Brown was the right person to bring the team together,” said Bosma, “to lead it.”

The Democrats also have a new point man on the Ways and Means Committee.  Democrat Greg Porter of Indianapolis replaces Bill Crawford, who also retired.


Pence seeks to cut state income tax

July 31st, 2012 at 4:42 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Mike Pence, the Republican candidate for governor, wants to cut your state income tax.  Democrat John Gregg has already proposed cutting the corporate income tax and the state sales tax on gasoline.  Pence tried to trump that today with a call to cut the state income tax by 10%.

He chose a luncheon appearance before the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce to unveil what he says is an effort to create new jobs.  “The rate would be reduced by 5% in fiscal year 2014 and 5% in fiscal year 2015,” he said in prepared remarks.  “This tax cut will put $5 million directly back into Indiana’s economy.”

It would mean the tax rate would drop from 3.4% to 3.06% and, Pence says, the benefit to a family of four would be about $228 a year.  That’s money that might otherwise go to school spending, and in a meeting with reporters Pence suggested that his school budget will be a thin one.  “While education has been frozen in recent years,” Pence said, “test scores are going up and graduation rates are going up and if I serve as governor of the state of Indiana we’re gonna stay completely focused on results.”

House Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Espich (R-Uniondale) says schools could expect little in the way of  new state revenues.  “They would be restored to the level they were 2 or 3 years ago,” said Espich.

Pence says it’s a matter of priorities and tax cuts are at the top of his list.  “With this tax cut Indiana will have the lowest tax burden in the Midwest,” he told the chamber audience, “giving us an even better story to tell businesses looking to invest in the heartland of America.”

The campaign of Democrat John Gregg attacked Pence’s credibility rather than the plan.  A spokesman says he has none, because he’s voted for increasing deficits while in Congress.

Why 21 state lawmakers won’t seek re-election

February 17th, 2012 at 5:20 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

More than 20 state lawmakers will not seek re-election this year.  The partisan atmosphere in the Statehouse has become too much for some of them.  Combine that with the redistricting that made re-election tougher for others and you have an exodus.

Representative Jeff Espich of Uniondale will not seek re-election after serving 40 years in the General Assembly.  Espich, a Republican, will give up his post as chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, in part, because the redistricting process threw him into the same district with a fellow Republican, but he also says the job has changed. “The right to work fight, I think, wore on a lot of us,” says Espich.  “It certainly took any joy or pleasure out of being here.”

Retiring Democrat Dave Cheatham of North Vernon has a similar view.  He says the legislature is much more partisan than it was when he first elected in the ’80′s.  “So, it’s hard,” says Cheatham, “for someone who’s a moderate to find middle ground.  Issues become more extreme.”

In all, 19 state Representatives will stay home after Election day, along with 2 state Senators, and others worry that their expertise and experience will be missed.  “I think folks who believe in term limits really don’t understand how important some of that institutional knowledge can be,” says Rep. Jerry Torr (R-Carmel.)

Bob Kuzman, retired lawmaker turned lobbyist, says it could even cost taxpayers money.  “Not saying that the work product will be bad,” he says, “but it will just take more time, I believe, to shape it.”

And there is more at stake every year.  “The cost is higher,” says Espich, “the price is higher, the things we in government do have a bigger impact on people’s lives so our philosophies matter more.”  Even so, Jeff Espich says he’ll miss it.

Two other lawmakers with a tenure of 40 years or more are also stepping down.  Democrats Chet Dobis of Merrillville and Bill Crawford of Indianapolis won’t seek re-election.  12 of the 19 retiring members of the Indiana House are Democrats.

Democrat Leaves Leadership Post during Walkout

January 6th, 2012 at 6:09 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Democrats in the Indiana House of Representatives contintued their walkout today to protest the right to work bill.  It’s now three days old but there are signs of cracks in the Democratic resolve.

Six Democrats appeared on the House floor today, up from four yesterday.  One of those six gave up a leadership post in the process.  Rep. Dale Grubb (D-Covington) has served as caucus chairman, the number three leadership post for the House Democrats, since 1994.  Just yesterday he accompanied Minority Leader Pat Bauer into a private meeting with House Speaker Brian Bosma.  Today Grubb resigned his leadership post.

“Just seemed like a good point in time,” said Grubb who was replaced by Rep. Vanessa Summers (D-Indianapolis.).  When asked if he is at odds with the Minority Leader he said, “I stand firm for many of the same principles on these issues he does.”

While Grubb declined to spell out the reason for his resignation there was speculation that he was fired for coming to the House floor yesterday, something he did again today when he was recognized to speak.  “I stand at this microphone today and I stand on this floor because I’m hoping that the issue can be resolved in a manner that is satisfactory to both caucuses,” he said in a floor speech about right to work, “that gives it an adequate and fair hearing.”

Republican Jeff Espich took the microphone to say, “No one here is more respected than Dale Grubb.”

And other Republicans leaped at the development, suggesting that Grubb was cool head in a caucus run amuck.  House Speaker Brian Bosma even said that he agreed to meet some Democratic demands to slow the advance of the right to work bill.  “Those were with, through, Representative Grubb,” said Bosma, “and you saw where that landed him with his caucus.”

If the Democrats stay out on Monday, some of them risk fines of up to a thousand dollars a day.  Because he answered a roll call Grubb is not one of them.

If just one more Democrat decides to break with the Democratic leadership it would be enough to give the Republicans the quorum of 67 members required to conduct business.

Republicans Reject Outside Audit of Misplaced Tax Money

December 14th, 2011 at 5:33 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

$300 million in state tax money was left in the wrong account for five years.  Now there will be a new audit to determine if more money was misplaced but not an outside audit.

It was topic one at this meeting of the State Budget Committee where a spokesman for the Department of Revenue was asked to apologize.  “Apologies would be in order,” said Roy Gabriel.  The state budget director was defensive.  “It’s a regrettable error,” said Adam Horst.  “Nobody here is happy about it, least of all me, but actions are being taken.”

And to see if more money is lost Democrats made a call for an investigation by an independent agency. “In order to restore the faith, the confidence, the trust and the credibility of our existing systems,” said Sen. John Broden (D-South Bend.)

Majority Republicans voted down the idea twice but, at the suggestion of committee chairman Rep. Jeff Espich, they also requested a new audit by the State Board of Accounts.  “We can’t just talk about it today and go away and everything’s ok,” said Espich (R-Uniondale.)

It’s not what the Democrats wanted.  “The public would look at it as the fox guarding the hen house,” said Rep. Peggy Welch (D-Bloomington.)  But in the end they joined the Republicans in voting for the new audit.

Meantime the $300 million adds to an increasingly bright state budget picture.  The budget committee was told today that the state surplus will likely approach $1.8 billion dollars by June.  That would trigger an automatic tax refund of around $50 for each Indiana taxpayer.

State Budget Almost Complete

April 28th, 2011 at 11:17 am by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Rep. Jeff Espich, the House Republican budget negotiator, just said that a final version of the budget could be made public as early as noon.

Espich indicated that anti-bolting language placed in the budget by the state Senate is being rewritten.  He also indicated that negotiations with the governor continue over an automatic taxpayer refund.  The governor wants one that takes effect when the budget surplus is bigger than 10% of the budget and the state Senate took it out.

Espich Explains

February 17th, 2011 at 11:11 am by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Rep. Jeff Espich (R-Uniondale) just finished a media briefing on the budget proposal he presented to the Ways and Means Committee this morning.

Espich says his mission is to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and, he says, he thinks he has created “a cloth purse.”  It flat lines K-12 spending but with a new school formula gives increase to 200 of the 350 schools, according to Espich.  That means 150 are losers.

The horse industry loses most of it’s subsidy and the money goes to the 21st Century economic development fund.  Espich called the horse subsidy ($58 million last year) “inappropriate.”

No capital money for universities and no raises for lawmakers, judges, or prosecutors are among the other highlights.

The budget preserves money the governor wanted to take away from a Public Deposit Insurance Fund created by the state’s banks.

Daniels Calls for Spending Freeze

January 13th, 2011 at 4:44 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The effects of the recession will be felt by Indiana government and Indiana schools for at least two more years. Yet the governor promised a budget with no school cuts and no tax increases and today we found out how he hopes to accomplish that. The message to the state budget committee from the Daniels administration can be summed up in two words: spending freeze.

“We can get through this and continue our leadership position nationally in the area of fiscal integrity and protecting taxpayers,” said Chris Ruhl, director of the state Office of Management and Budget.

It means that public schools who saw a 3% cut last year will get no increase over the next two years. But that’s still better than the continuing cuts facing colleges and universities. Democrats don’t like it. When asked if schools can get by with a spending freeze, Rep. Bill Crawford (D-Indianapolis) said, “I don’t think so.”

And Republicans are lukewarm. “I, too, would like to see k-12 funded a little better, said Rep. Jeff Espich (R-Uniondale), “but, who knows, if revenues come in a little better in the next 2,3 months maybe changes can be made.” But the message the governor delivered in the State of the State address left few options. “We’re hoping that the economy will increase that there’ll be some revenues coming in so they’ll look at giving some increases for public schools,” says school lobbyist Dennis Costerison, “but this is not a surprise.”

And part of the message is that there is nowhere left to cut. “Most executive branch agency budgets, you compare them to three years ago,” says State Budget Director Adam Horst, “they’re gonna be down 20 to 25%.”

Lawmakers now have until the end of April to make changes in the budget proposal but higher taxes and therefore more spending are out of the question. In fact, Illinois passed higher taxes earlier this week and the governor made fun of it in an interview on a Chicago radio station. Said Daniels, “It’s like living next door to ‘The Simpsons’… you know the dysfunctional family down the block.”