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An overview of what's ahead

By Jim Banks

Passing a balanced budget and avoiding tax hikes on hardworking Hoosiers should be the top priorities for lawmakers during the 2011 legislative session, which began a little over two weeks ago at the Statehouse.
With the national recession reducing state revenues to 2005 levels, legislators should set and live within tight spending limits, just as Hoosier families, farmers and employers do every day. My goals are to prioritize education and essential services like public safety, while protecting Indiana taxpayers from recovery-killing tax hikes.
Talk among constituents clearly indicates lawmakers should also focus on fostering job creation by private employers, improving schools by putting students first and protecting voters by promoting fair redistricting. Here's a snapshot for some of this year's key issues:

Balancing The Budget, Avoiding Tax Hikes:  Legislators will be working to achieve what they hope will be a fourth consecutive balanced budget. Members of the Indiana General Assembly will be starting the budget-writing process with an approximate $500-$700 million gap to fill. This underscores the importance of having protected the $1.3 billion in rainy-day budget reserves during the last budget-writing session in 2009. We are still using those reserves.

Fostering Job Growth, Cutting Red Tape: Indiana's tax structure is the most employer-friendly in the Great Lakes region and among the top 10 nationally. State lawmakers this session must work to preserve and build on this foundation by keeping taxes low, encouraging access to capital and strengthening job-creation rewards for expanding employers. While government doesn't create jobs, government frugality and limited intervention can encourage investment and entrepreneurship. State leaders must remain committed to helping Indiana recover from the national recession faster and better than the competition.

Improving Schools, Putting Students First:  Hoosiers have historically supported providing the most funding possible for education, but are today demanding the most education possible for that funding. Concerned lawmakers, parents and educators will recommit this legislative session to further improving our schools by putting students first. Such efforts include ensuring teacher quality, holding schools accountable and providing more options for families - especially those trapped in chronically failing schools.   

Protecting Voters, Promoting Fair Redistricting: Indiana's Constitution specifically charges the Indiana General Assembly with drawing new legislative and congressional districts after each national census, so representation is apportioned fairly. Republican senators last year attempted to put into law objective guidelines that would have, whenever practical, preserved traditional neighborhoods and local communities of interest, protected minority voting rights, created simply shaped, compact districts and respected county and precinct lines. We stand publicly committed to following these guiding principles during this year's important redistricting process.
I invite constituents to give feedback on these and other issues by completing this year's legislative survey, now available at www.in.gov/Senator.Banks.
Constitutuents may also keep in touch during the session - which runs through Friday, April 29 -  by e-mail at Senator.Banks@iga.in.gov, by toll-free call at 800-382-9467 or by mail at Senator Jim Banks, Indiana State Senate, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46204.

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