Even more than most states during this difficult budget year, Indiana needed a new spending and tax bill. The national recession had put a big hurt on its manufacturing sector and Governor Frank O’Bannon declared that an additional billion dollars in revenue was needed. Meanwhile, a state Supreme Court decision on school funding, coupled with reassessments, threatened to raise property-tax rates by more than 30 percent.
Finding the votes to raise some taxes, while lowering others, in an election year posed a major challenge. The House leadership — Democratic Speaker John Gregg and Republican Minority Leader Brian Bosma — announced that no tax package would pass their chamber unless it enjoyed bipartisan support.
Gregg and Bosma were old friends. Bosma jokes that the state House is their second tour of legislative duty together, since they both served on the Student Bar Association Council at Indiana University Law School. The two regularly share Bible study sessions, but their friendship is also full of good-natured teasing. Their personal relationship had helped break a logjam over budget and redistricting issues at the end of the 2001 legislative session. “I think the bond of Christianity always keeps the door open,” Gregg says. “You realize there’s a higher authority and that’s what you’ve got to answer to.”
This year’s task was even more daunting. In the end, however, they pushed through a tax restructuring package that most observers in the state had believed was as dead as it was needed. Although neither one of them ended up voting for the bill, they brokered votes from both sides of the aisle in a way that made passage possible and spread the pain between the parties.
On a personal level, Gregg was unalterably opposed to the bill’s gambling expansion provision, while Bosma’s objections were, if anything, even stronger. He hated its sales, cigarette and gas tax increases and its lack of an economic development package his party had developed. These differences merely reflected the many doubts other members had about the bill.
Still, there was tremendous pressure to come up with a workable plan. An alliance was formed to lobby for it that included not only major business groups concerned about the tax climate but also local officials, universities and teachers who were threatened by funding cuts. O’Bannon was pressing hard for passage as well. The governor signed off on a plan crafted in special session by leaders of the Senate Finance Committee. But rounding the last curve in the racetrack — final House passage — still looked treacherous. “I thought it was all going to fall apart,” Gregg says.
Indeed, the first time the Senate bill came up for a vote in the House, it failed. That set the stage for a fair amount of last-minute dickering. (Indiana House rules allow for second tries on agreeing to Senate amendments). Bosma and Gregg scrambled to make a deal.
They knew enough members of their respective caucuses were willing to switch their votes in favor of the bill, if only they could be assured that the other party wouldn’t use it as an attack issue. Bosma comforted anxious business lobbyists with the news that an equal number of Democratic and Republican votes would be found for passage. “Somewhere within the space of 20 minutes, Speaker Gregg and Minority Leader Bosma found eight more votes for that bill,” recalls Dan Clark of the Indiana State Teachers Association, “and somehow found equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats to switch their votes.”
The final product didn’t please anyone entirely, perhaps least of all Gregg and Bosma, who both voted “no.” But the pair was able to work together to pool what votes were needed to pass a bill that modernized a badly outmoded tax code. The two hugged emotionally when the vote was over. “I think John and I both realize,” Bosma says, “that while political position certainly plays a part in the legislative process, responsible adults have to bring the process to a responsible close for the benefit of those who are governed.”
— Alan Greenblatt
Photos by Mary Ann Carter