Chesterton Tribune

 
 

New house minority leader Pelath to focus on strengthening middle class

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Last year, Indiana House Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, became a new voice for some residents of the Duneland area in the statehouse.

Now, for the 118th General Assembly, he will be the loudest voice for the House Democratic caucus, ascending to the rank of minority leader.

But Pelath is not letting the spotlight go to his head. It means longer days and more gusto to articulate the message of the 31 Democrats in the 100-member House.

“The role of a minority leader is a very important one,” Pelath told the Chesterton Tribune. “It’s our job to help the governing majority for the good of the state. It’s our essential role to critique the work of the majority so their policies improve. Mainly it’s our job to articulate and provide alternatives. I take that work very seriously.”

Although the Dems will frequently debate the bills proposed by their GOP counterparts, Pelath said reaching across the aisle is just as important. “I always say to those in my party if the Republicans have a good idea that’s going to benefit Indiana, than we need to help with it. When there is a glowing need for bipartisanship, we will be able to execute it.”

Pelath moved into the spot of house minority leader after the position was held for many years by Pat Bauer, D-South Bend. He will work closely with Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, on finding common ground on the issues.

Instead of serving on committees, Pelath said it is his responsibility as minority leader to make committee appointments for his Democratic members. Much of his time will be spent amending pieces of legislation and coordinating activities among committee members.

A focus on middle class jobs

When the Assembly officially kicks into action on Jan. 7, Pelath said he is ready to state his main points – creating job opportunities for those wanting to join the middle class and revamp the school funding formula to restore programs that have been cut in recent years.

According to Pelath, the Democrat approach to growing jobs will be to introduce laws that would service the needs of middle class workers rather than just “to do nice things for the guys in the board rooms.”

“We need to do a better job with growing the middle class because they are the real economic engine of Indiana,” said Pelath.

He will advocate for bills that would provide access to training to achieve the skills needed for jobs that are readily available. Other bills fitting into this agenda are investment in infrastructure and transportation.

Pelath has mentioned the money from the Major Moves initiative will run out this year in the state’s budget and lawmakers will now have to look for creative ways to keep goods and services moving in the state’s burgeoning regions like Northwest Indiana.

He hopes the Assembly will also support the gaming industry in the region, which he said creates thousands of jobs and revenue.

Education

Having a substantial surplus in the budget means a lot of needs have gone unfilled, Pelath said. The item he and his party members feel most strongly about in need of restoration is the more than $300 million in cuts made to education since 2010.

Pelath said the Dems will look to make changes to legislation implemented by former Indiana Superintendent of Education Tony Bennett. The party’s goal is to “slow down” the changes made by Bennett.

“I think people have had enough of experimentation. They have had enough of depleted school budgets and staff being laid off,” Pelath said. “We would like to see that many of those cuts to public schools are restored and schools be given the chance to succeed and not be made the scapegoat of any problem.”

Bennett was defeated in November’s General Election by Democrat Glenda Ritz who Pelath said will be “a sober voice for education.”

Public schools in Indiana now have their general funds paid for by a formula through a state sales tax based on a calculation of average daily membership.

Pelath contends the funding formula system “needs to be revamped” to be more fair and equitable. He said the formula is particularly unfair to schools in Northwest Indiana while more funding is flowing to the wealthier schools in Indianapolis.

Other likely matters to be discussed again this year are adult education and free full day kindergarten.

Pelath said given the events of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, there will likely be a push for funding mental health programs in schools which has had its budget slashed in recent years.

“I think it would be very foolish not to make mental health a priority,” he said.

Right-to-Work repeal unlikely

Last year’s Assembly saw what was likely the most contentious piece of legislation to be introduced in the history of the statehouse – HB 1001 Right-to-Work– overwhelming opposed by the Democrats.

Pelath said he does not expect a repeal of Right-to-Work will be attempted this year given the smaller number of Democratic representatives but he believes it could happen one day if the Democrats are ever in the majority.

“It will be a goal for many years to come,” he said.

Gubernatorial change

Looking to what direction the state will move on its many issues will be an open-ended question until mid January when Governor-elect Mike Pence, a five-term U.S. Congressman, will give his State of the State Address, Pelath said. “That is when we are going to know what his priorities are.”

 

 

Posted 12/26/2012