INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Mike Pence said Indiana should weather the storm caused by sequestration due to the state’s strong fiscal health (Mikus, Post-Tribune). Pence added he was “reasonably satisfied” with progress in the 2013 state legislative session. The governor, just back from the National Governors Association conference in Washington, D.C., said he spoke with Indiana legislators and President Barack Obama about the effects of the sequester, which will start $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts over the next 10 years, with about $85 billion slated for this year. The cuts are designed to be spread across all aspects of federal government. Pence said the cuts are necessary to help reduce the federal government’s over-spending, but he said a more intelligent approach to cutting could be found. “We are urging the administration and members of both political parties to find smarter and better spending cuts and reductions,” Pence said. “The good news for Hoosiers is we are in a position to mitigate the effects of sequestration in Indiana.”
    
The Pence administration did have a brief hiccup on a sequester-related issue when the Department of Workforce Development announced it would suspend jobless benefits on Wednesday, and then retracted the statement.

PENCE SIGNS FIRST BILL: Gov. Pence signed SEA 319, the first piece of legislation he has signed into law on Wednesday.  The bill prevents an estimated $57 million property tax increase on Hoosier farmers by delaying the use of new soil productivity factors in farmland assessment until the Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) and the Purdue University College of Agriculture complete a study on the process.  The legislation, sponsored by State Senator Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg), passed unanimously in both the Indiana House and Senate. In recent years, the DLGF requested and received new soil productivity factors from the United States Department of Agriculture. The proposed new soil productivity factors used for farmland assessment in Indiana could have caused an estimated 25 percent average increase in property tax payments for Indiana’s farmers, dependent on the county in which they live.  
    
“Indiana is agriculture, and Lt. Governor Ellspermann and I appreciate the General Assembly’s bipartisan effort to quickly pass this critical piece of legislation to help Hoosier farmers,” said Governor Mike Pence. “It was a privilege for us to provide tax relief for family farmers in the very first bill we signed into law.”  

PENCE REJECTS VETO THREAT: Gov. Mike Pence hasn’t ruled out spending his campaign funds on television ads to garner support for a proposed income tax cut the Indiana House refused to include in a two-year state budget plan it approved Tuesday (Carden, NWI Times). “I’m very committed to making sure that Hoosiers know because of the fiscal strength of our state we have the opportunity to fund our priorities, including increasing funding on roads and schools, and cut taxes for every Hoosier in the city and on the farm,” Pence said. The Republican governor told reporters Wednesday he’s “still disappointed” the Republican-controlled House budget spends more than he wants and doesn’t reduce the state income tax rate to 3.06 percent from 3.4 percent. That 10 percent rate reduction was the centerpiece of Pence’s campaign for governor. “We remain committed to making our case for lowering the personal income tax in Indiana to members of the General Assembly and to people across the state of Indiana,” Pence said. Pence did not respond directly when asked if he would veto a budget that does not include an income tax cut. He said instead that he’s confident lawmakers will add the tax cut to the 2014-15 budget once the revised state revenue forecast, issued in April, shows Indiana can afford it.

PENCE MAKES ROAD PUSH FOR TAX CUT: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is taking his pitch for a 10-percent cut in the personal income tax around the state after failing to lock down support for his signature legislative priority inside the Statehouse (Associated Press). Pence has spent more time on the road in his first two months in office than at the Statehouse, delivering a plea to voters and Republican activists at their annual fundraisers: Lobby your representatives and senators for your cut. Meanwhile, his aides, led by former campaign field organizer Chris Crabtree, have started an online campaign to pressure wavering lawmakers. Working with them are Indiana tea partyers, led by the Indiana branch of Americans for Prosperity, which has bought radio ads and is coordinating its own online campaign. “We are determined to continue to reach out to members of the state Legislature and to the people they serve in the four corners of this state with a message that Indiana is in a unique position where we have the ability to fund our priorities and reduce taxes for every Hoosier,” Pence said shortly before taking the stage at the Hamilton County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day dinner earlier this month.

LONG PUSHES CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION: Indiana’s state Senate leader says he hopes to stir up support around the country for a new U.S. constitutional convention aimed at limiting the powers of the federal government.The state Senate voted largely along party lines this week to approve a resolution seeking a state-called constitutional convention. Thirty-three more states would have to call for such a convention, which has never happened before.Republican Senate President Pro Tem David Long says if the resolution is also approved by the Indiana House, he will work with legislative leaders in other states concerned about the federal government’s growing reach. “I’m very hopeful we’ve started something like a brush fire out there,” Long told reporters on Wednesday. “I know there is interest in this in other states. We’ve provided a blueprint. We should be able to get 34 states to do this.” The resolution calls for a convention focused on limiting the power of Congress to tax and regulate interstate commerce. Those issues were argued in challenges to the federal health care overhaul.

SENATE TO HONOR FALLEN POLICE OFFICERS: It was 13 years ago today that Oakland City (Ind.) Police Officer Michael “Mike” Deno, 24, was fatally shot during a traffic stop (Evansville Courier & Press). On Monday, the Indiana state Senate is expected to memorialize Deno with the adoption of a concurrent resolution recommending the Indiana Department of Transporation name the southbound bridge of Interstate 69 across the Patoka River the Officer Michael E. Deno Memorial Bridge. The action will cap a two-year effort by retired Indiana State Police Sgt. Jim Nelson to have sections of area interstates named for Southern Indiana officers who have died in the line of duty. One day while driving on Interstate 74, Nelson saw “Trooper William Rayner Memorial Highway” posted on a sign along the road, he said. “That kind of got the wheels rolling about trying to get something for (fallen police officers) down here,” he said. “There’s three police officers (who died in the line of duty) right here in this area, and there’s not been anything put up for them.” His original plan was to name portions of Interstate 69 for the fallen, but Nelson never heard back from his senator during the 2012 session of the Indiana General Assembly. Nelson then sent his original letter to 85 people including several current and retired police officers, civilian employees of the Indiana State Police and friends, he said. “I was amazed of their response and overwhelming support for the idea,” Nelson said.