JEFFERSONVILLE — Jeffersonville’s Promise will stand as-is after controversial state legislation designed to derail the scholarship program has failed to clear the Indiana Senate this legislative session.
On Friday, State Sen. Ron Grooms, R-Jeffersonville told the News and Tribune that House Bill 1596 did not meet the 5 p.m. Thursday deadline to be heard by the Senate's Local Government committee, which the proposed legislation was assigned to in March.
That committee has no more meetings scheduled this session. Therefore, Grooms said, H.B. 1596 will not be included in the Committee’s report to the full Senate.
“It is no longer eligible for action,” Grooms said. “It is too late in this session.”
This means the bill cannot go before the full Senate for a vote and is dead.
Now, Jeffersonville’s Promise — which offers free tuition to Ivy Tech to qualified Jeffersonville High School students starting with the class of 2019 — will be implemented as originally intended, says Mayor Mike Moore.
“Jeffersonville, Indiana, just became the most progressive, pro-education city in the United States. Our commitment to our kids, our schools and our quality of life will always be my top priority,” Moore said Friday afternoon after learning the bill failed to clear the Senate.
The educational initiative was introduced by the mayor last fall and is the first of its kind in the state.
Jeffersonville, through its redevelopment commission, pledged to commit a total of $750,000 in TIF dollars over the next five years to fund the program. The city has been collecting TIF dollars for approximately 18 years from new businesses in designated commercial areas of the city.
While language already exists detailing how redevelopment districts can utilize TIF funds, H.B. 1596 would have tightened that language to prevent the implementation of Jeffersonville's Promise and any other educational programs inspired by it.
Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, took over as the bill’s author after Rep. Rita Fleming, D-Jeffersonville, originally introduced the legislation on Jan. 22.
The freshman state legislator removed herself as the bill’s author early in the process after hearing from members of the community about their support of Jeffersonville’s Promise.
The bill’s co-authors were Karen Engleman, R-Corydon, Rep. Jeffrey Thompson, R-Lizton and Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis.
Clere, who was outspoken about his desire to tighten up existing legislation, said Friday that he still believes TIF dollars are being misused in Indiana.
“This isn’t about Jeffersonville. This is about abuse of public money, and it is happening throughout the state, including in Clarksville and New Albany. Jeffersonville is a canary in a coal mine,” Clere said.
“H.B. 1596 is dead, but the issue isn’t.”
Clere said he will remain focused on driving change when it comes to how TIF dollars are used.
“I will continue to work to ensure that TIF is used for economic development and not to advance political agendas at the expense of schools and other community priorities,” the legislator said.
“Local schools are losing millions of dollars annually because of TIF. Statewide it is hundreds of millions of dollars, and it must stop.”
The hotly contested H.B. 1596 survived two separate House committee hearings, three amendments and intense opposition each step along the way through the House of Representatives — from local officials to mayors from across the state — before narrowly clearing the House after its third reading by a vote of 55-41.
Once it entered the Senate on Feb. 25, action on the bill was minimal before coming to a grinding halt.
Upon its first reading on March 7, it was referred to the Local Government committee. No further action was taken on it from that point.
Grooms, who sits on the Local Government committee, was the bill’s Senate sponsor.
However, he spoke out publicly against the bill on March 25, stating that legislators need to examine the matter further before halting the scholarship program.
“I believe the issues at hand in House Bill 1596 — using Tax Increment Financing [TIF] dollars for education and the implications of restricting the initiative — need to be studied by the legislature before the intent and purpose of Jeffersonville’s Promise becomes unworkable,” Grooms said at the time.
Not only is the state senator in favor of Jeffersonville using locally collected tax dollars to provide JHS graduates the opportunity to attend Ivy Tech, he thinks other communities should follow the city’s example.
“Any city, town or municipality across Indiana has the same access to establish a program like this with any state college or university — this is not exclusive to Jeffersonville,” he said last month.
“I would like to see programs like Jeffersonville’s Promise expand elsewhere in Indiana so high school graduates who may not have the opportunity become job- and career-ready.”
Moore says he is excited to proceed on with the program as it was originally designed.
“Jeffersonville’s Promise will be the reason families and companies move to Jeff,” Moore said. “This is our city’s greatest accomplishment. Keep watching, there’s more to come.”