By Dan Carden, Times of Northwst Indiana

dan.carden@nwi.com

INDIANAPOLIS | Reform was the word on everybody's lips Tuesday at the Statehouse.

A brief "organization day" meeting of the General Assembly saw the introduction of proposals to add property tax caps to the Indiana Constitution, impose stricter limits and reporting requirements on lobbying and delay a scheduled hike in the unemployment tax rate.

Lawmakers will return to the Statehouse for rare December committee hearings to start working on these proposals ahead of the 10-week regular session that begins Jan. 5.

"We have a lot of issues, but it's got to be a fast session because it's a short session," said state Rep. Earl Harris, D-East Chicago.

The early committee meetings also will consider legislation requiring 80 percent of workers on public works projects to be from Indiana and a proposal to prohibit further outsourcing of state welfare programs in the wake of Gov. Mitch Daniels canceling a $1.34 billion welfare management contract with IBM.

At the same time, with state revenue since July coming in $309 million less than forecast, leaders of both parties in both chambers vowed not to add to Indiana's fiscal woes.

"We can't have it. We can't do it," said Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne.

Long promised to be "absolutely brutal" on any legislative proposal that would spend new money.

That attitude concerns Harris, who said he will protect education spending. Education is the most costly state budget item.

"We're going to make sure, in the midst of this recession that we're in, that we look closely at education and how we're going to keep it in the flow," Harris said.

With so many potential flash points for reform-related controversy, and elections looming less than a year away, state Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, said he expects "things are going to heat up," especially when lawmakers get around to discussing redistricting.

"There will be a lot of things said and done that are not pleasant at all by both sides," Brown said.

Redistricting reforms could determine which party controls the General Assembly for the next decade, making any changes to the redistricting process especially important, he said.

"If we, the Democrats, do not maintain the majority in the House, things will just be totally different," Brown said. "If both houses are in control of one party and they draw the maps, it will be unbelievable."

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