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Pelath: Forget banning same sex marriage; economy takes priority

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Going into his second year as Indiana House Minority Leader, Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said his focus this year will be on improving the state’s economy, which will help the state more than having lengthy debates on divisive issues such as same-sex marriage.

“The marriage debate will consume too much of public discussion. Let’s keep our priorities in check by setting that issue aside and focus on our real problems. We need to focus this year on getting our economy on top where it needs to be,” Pelath told the Chesterton Tribune.

Much attention is being paid to House Joint Resolution 6, and reportedly millions of dollars paid by lobbying groups, that proposes to insert the current ban on gay marriage into the Indiana State Constitution. With talk of Indiana becoming a battleground state on the national issue, Pelath said he worries the matter will divert crucial time away from addressing serious economic issues in the state.

Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate Pro Tem President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, have also said the gay marriage amendment is not their top priority and indicated they instead will look toward eliminating business personal property taxes, boosting road funding, closing the “job skills gap” and expanding preschool education.

Gearing up for the upcoming Assembly, Pelath said the state’s largest employers have told him the focus of the legislative debates should be on Indiana’s jobs and incomes.

A long time champion of the middle class, Pelath said two issues he would like to see progress are a viable transportation system and expansion of training programs for workers to acquire skills for jobs available “right now.”

Democrat agenda

While alleging that the Republican majority and Governor Mike Pence have kept their agendas “murky,” Pelath said the Democrats’ agenda is clear Ð to fight for prosperity of consumers and workers and bring stability to public education.

Getting the state’s economy back on its feet would go hand-in-hand with other issues in the statehouse such as building infrastructure and providing more resources to public schools, he said.

In pushing his agenda, Pelath said he’ll keep in mind the hard truths about the state’s financial health. Indiana is ahead of the nation’s unemployment rate by one point, he said, but it still is one of the worst states for per capita income, No. 41 out of 50. The household median income is $4,500 behind the national average, he said.

Indiana continues to do well in attracting new jobs, but Pelath remains skeptical of Pence’s provision to do away with business personal property taxes which could lead to tax increases for homeowners and small businesses. He thinks there are better ways to fix the economy than by “giving another break for the guys in the board rooms.”

“There is no assurance yet that the (tax elimination) will lead to a single job. Business taxes are not Indiana’s problem. We already have very competitive business taxes. We need to broaden our focus on how to better help middle class families,” Pelath said.

“Shifting the tax burden to home owners and starving the funding of local services even more is not going to be the solution.”

Pelath said he also believes making health care affordable is an “essential” step to improving quality of life in the state and protecting workers.

Supporting public education

and Glenda Ritz

On the topic of education, Pelath said he will continue his fight to make public schools “whole” again and slow down the changes implemented a short time ago by former Indiana Superintendent of Public Education Tony Bennett.

Pelath said he is glad to see a bipartisan effort to reform the “A to F model debacle” that Bennett spearheaded to evaluate school growth and performance. Bennett’s successor Glenda Ritz, who Pelath called “a sober voice for education,” has called on lawmakers to make the model more fair and equitable.

“There is a solution to our education system and that solution is Glenda Ritz. Let her do the job that the people of Indiana hired her to do,” Pelath said.

Pelath said he believes Ritz will continue to face challenges from the State Board of Education and Pence’s newly created Center for Education and Career Innovation, which have attempted to limit her powers. Ritz is the only Democrat who holds a statewide elected office, he said.

Pelath said state funding for public schools has been “gutted” as Indiana taxes go to three types of school systems Ð regular public schools, charter schools, and private schools through vouchers. He said parents of children in regular public schools should be allowed the same tax breaks on textbooks and supplies as parents of children in private schools and charters.

Session begins today

The 119th General Assembly of Indiana begins at 1:30 p.m. today, Jan. 7, and is scheduled to adjourn in 10 weeks, on March 15.

Pelath said most of his time will be spent acting as Minority Leader. He will also serve on the House Natural Resource Committee.

 

 

Posted 1/7/2014.