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Candidates face pull-over at legislature checkpoint

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Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis
Andrew Laker | The Republic
Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis Andrew Laker | The Republic

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, took a fair bit of time a few days ago to deliver a short message to the three men who want to be the state’s next governor.

That message?

Whoa, boys.

The two leading candidates for governor — Republican Mike Pence and Democrat John Gregg — have made aggressive tax-cut strategies centerpieces of their campaigns.

Pence would like to trim the state income tax by 10 percent. Gregg wants to do away with the sales tax on gasoline.

Either plan would trim maybe $500 million from the state’s revenues. That’s what prompted Bosma to respond.

While the speaker said that state lawmakers wouldn’t take either candidate’s tax-cut plan off the table, he also said that legislators would have to be convinced that either plan was sustainable over the long haul.

“Legislators have a long — we hope, should — have a long-term view. And our team has a long-term vision, not a campaign-oriented vision for how we budget,” Bosma said.

That’s Bosma’s polite way of saying some important and forceful things about the relationship between the executive branch and legislative branch in the Hoosier state.

The first is a kind of reminder. Campaigns come and go. Governors live with term limits. Lawmakers do not.

That means that legislators can — and often do — outwait and outlast governors.

That leads to Bosma’s second oh-so-polite message to the guys who want to sit in the big chair.

Because the legislature remains, the lawmakers often are the ones who have to clean up the mess when one of the governor’s dreams pops like a paint-filled balloon. Legislators then have to get out the mops and scrub brushes while the governor is either on his way to retirement or his hand is on the next rung on the political ladder.

That, of course, is the way it is in most states. Legislators get to make the laws while governors get to grab the headlines.

But it’s even more dramatic here in Indiana, because of the way our state government is set up.

Legislators may not get the headlines, but they have something else.

Power. A lot of it.

From the days of the Civil War, Hoosiers have distrusted what they see as any potential excess of executive authority.

That’s why Indiana governors have term limits, which now are actually looser than they used to be. Up until the early 1970s, governors couldn’t even run for re-election. Whatever they wanted to get done, they had to get done in a single term.

Then there’s the issue of the governor’s veto.

At the federal level, it takes a two-thirds majority for Congress to override a presidential veto. That gives presidents a powerful tool in negotiating with federal lawmakers, because getting two-thirds of the members to agree that the sun rises in the east is tough. Getting them to agree on anything else is even tougher.

In Indiana, though, the legislature doesn’t have to summon a two-thirds majority to defeat a gubernatorial veto. A simple majority does the trick.

In other words, if the legislature delivers a one-vote majority in each chamber the first time around to pass a law, the same one-vote majority will knock down the governor’s veto.

That’s not a veto. That’s a pretty-pretty-please–won’t-you-please-please-reconsider exercise in gubernatorial begging and self-abasement. That’s why vetoes are pretty rare in Indiana. The legislature gives them about the same consideration that other Hoosiers give junk mail.

What governors can do is command the spotlight and the microphones. They often try to use those to exert public pressure on lawmakers, but that’s not always easy. Most lawmakers now have been gerrymandered into safe districts, which make them all but immune to public pressure.

That brings to Bosma’s last and most fundamental truth — delivered, again, oh so politely.

The candidates may have their roadmaps for Indiana, but there’s a traffic cop on that road.

His name is Brian Bosma — and he’s got the radar gun out.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and executive editor of TheStatehouse, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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