Are Indiana lawmakers getting closer to ending their month-long stalemate? The answer to that question depends on whom you ask.
Both sides agree there have been talks, but won't use the word "negotiations." Democrats say the end is nowhere near. Republicans say they've offered up a bunch of options, but without an agreement they're trying to move ahead, as much as they can, without the Democrats. Either way, the April 29th end-of-session deadline is looming closer, and nothing can get finalized until the two sides get together.
Thirty-nine of the 40 Indiana State Democratic Representatives left the capitol and moved to Illinois in February in order to prevent a vote on labor and budget bills. Democrats say their counterparts are trying to end collective bargaining in Indiana, which could cost jobs. They also want to prevent the addition of school vouchers, which they say would take funding away from public schools.
The missing Democrats have gone for 31 days without a salary while living in a budget hotel just over the border in Urbana, Illinois. They're racking up fines of $350 a day imposed by the Republicans for everyday the House is in session, but Democratic Representative Win Moses insists they're not coming home anytime soon. "There appears to be ongoing conversation" between leaders of the House Democrats and Republicans but they're "not as constructive as they were in the past" he says.
Republican State Representative Bill Davis says they've "taken collective bargaining off the table" yet there are still bills pending which would put an end to forced labor agreements between government entities and unions. "Money is tight right now, the downturn in the economy means there's less money to spend... we want to be able to get the lowest and most responsible bids for government projects" he says.
If the two sides can't reach an agreement and take a vote by the end of the session April 29th, a special session would have to be called "at great expense to the taxpayers" Davis says. The entire budget must be passed by June 30th or the state of Indiana will basically have to shut down.
Many comparisons are being made between the budget battle in Wisconsin and the one in Indiana, though the issue in Wisconsin was focused on collective bargaining for state employees. Wisconsin Republicans were able to pass part of their bill by separating it into fiscal and non fiscal parts. The Indiana constitution doesn't allow lawmakers to do that.
Similar battles are being waged in Ohio, Michigan and New Jersey, which Moses says is because of timing. "The governors seem to have pretty much the same agenda because it was an overwhelmingly Republican year, they picked up a lot of legislative seats...so if they were ever going to take harsh actions I think they view this as the time to do it."