Indiana Governor Inherits Big Problems

Indiana's newest governor has his plate full following the death of his predecessor, though lawmakers hope Gov. Joe Kernan (search) won't need time to get up to speed on pressing issues including a growing budget deficit and a property tax overhaul.

"It's not someone who has been sitting on the sidelines," House Speaker Patrick Bauer, a fellow Democrat, said Sunday. "He has been in the game."

In the last two years, Kernan, who became lieutenant governor in 1997, was the late Gov. Frank O'Bannon (search)'s point man on pushing major tax-restructuring and economic-development packages through a divided General Assembly.

Kernan, sworn in as governor six hours after O'Bannon's death Saturday, declared Sunday a statewide day of remembrance in honor of O'Bannon. Kernan remained out of the public eye in preparation for the week ahead.

Plans were pending for public funeral services this weekend in O'Bannon's hometown of Corydon in southern Indiana. At a later unspecified date, his body will be cremated, with the ashes to be interred in Corydon's Cedar Hill Cemetery in a private ceremony.

The governor's official portrait is to be displayed in the Statehouse rotunda on Thursday along with artifacts significant to his life. The public will be allowed to see the display, with visitors encouraged to write in a memorial book. On Friday, an interfaith service is planned on the Statehouse steps.

The state Supreme Court formally transferred power to Kernan on Wednesday, two days after O'Bannon, 73, was found unconscious in his hotel room while attending a trade conference in Chicago.

On Sunday, parishioners at a church where Kernan has attended services prayed for the new governor and reflected on O'Bannon's legacy.

"We deeply respect the marvelous work that Gov. O'Bannon did as the leader of our state," said Rev. Thomas J. Murphy, pastor of the St. John Catholic Church in downtown Indianapolis.

Kernan, 57, must choose someone to take over his job as lieutenant governor and persuade the Democrat-led House and Republican-ruled Senate to ratify his choice by a majority vote.

He has given no public indication of who he might pick, but lawmakers doubt it will be either of two best-known Democrats running for governor - state Sen. Vi Simpson or former state and national Democratic Chairman Joe Andrew (search). He is under no deadline to make his selection.

Kernan also must soon decide whether to extend a 60-day stay of execution O'Bannon ordered in a death-row case, pending DNA results. Kernan, like O'Bannon, says he favors the death penalty "in those cases where it is deserved."

The state still faces an $800 million budget deficit and is falling deeper in the hole. Revenue for the first two months of this fiscal year came in $87.5 million below projections.

And many lawmakers in both parties say more must be done to blunt the court-ordered statewide property-tax reassessment, which has hit thousands of homeowners with higher bills.

Addressing the deficit and property-tax problems will likely require action in the Legislature, and Kernan only has four months to prepare for the session that begins in January.

"I think it will be steady as she goes," Bauer said. "I don't think he's going to reinvent the wheel or step out of bounds. I think he will do the duty that was thrust upon him."