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Monday, December 29, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - "Lobbyists' protests shouldn't sink nursing home bill"

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette ran this strong and important editorial Dec. 26th:

The money trail serves to explain events in politics better than almost anywhere else. Witness the spending frenzy surrounding a bill in the last session of the Indiana General Assembly. Lobbying costs and campaign contributions of nearly a half-million dollars illustrate why a proposed moratorium on nursing home construction became a flash point at the Statehouse.

When the bill is considered this year, lawmakers should know that the taxpayers who will have to support Indiana’s glut of nursing home beds will be watching as closely as the special interest groups.

Indiana has too many nursing homes – about 13,000 unoccupied beds. The state ranks fourth in the nation for the share of its Medicaid spending dedicated to nursing homes. Other states steer money to home health care services, but Indiana spends 68percent of its long-term care Medicaid dollars on nursing homes. The free-market arguments the ban’s opponents used don’t hold true when government regulation is involved.

“Short” sessions – years in which a two-year budget is not due – generally see less spending to influence legislation. But the sensible moratorium proposed last year by Sen. Pat Miller, R-Indianapolis, prompted the ban’s supporters – primarily established nursing home businesses – to spend 25 percent more than they spent in the last non-budget session. The bill’s opponents spent 52 percent more on lobbying and campaign donations than they spent during the same time period two years earlier.

The most powerful of those opponents was former state Rep. P. Eric Turner, R-Cicero. His son, Zeke Turner, is CEO of Mainstreet, a Carmel-based developer of long-term care facilities. Mainstreet has angered competitors by building high-end nursing homes near existing facilities and luring away wealthier patients. A conflict was inevitable when the push for the moratorium began a year ago.

Zeke Turner joined with a Fishers-based construction company to form the Indiana Alliance for Quality Senior Living – mostly construction companies or trade associations that would lose out on contracts if the ban went into effect. The alliance pulled out the firepower to stop it, spending $40,000 to hire former House Speaker Mike Phillips and his son, Jeff; former state Rep. Bob Kuzman; former House GOP spokesman Tony Samuel; and two lobbyists from the influential Bose Public Affairs group. Americans for Prosperity, a Virginia-based political interest group founded by Charles and David Koch, also opposed the moratorium. Lobbyist Jessaca Turner Stults, the state lawmaker’s daughter, represented Mainstreet in its own $10,000 lobbying fight.

In the end, of course, Eric Turner persuaded his GOP colleagues – in private caucus – to kill the measure, which had passed the Senate by a 33-14 vote. It later was revealed that the proposed ban would have prevented projects under development by Mainstreet Property Group, which the legislator co-owned with his son and other investors. The state awarded $345,000 in tax credits for a Terre Haute project that Mainstreet documents showed would earn Eric Turner an expected $1.8 million.

Sen. Miller said she will again seek a three-year construction moratorium.

“The reasons I filed it last year are still important today,” she told the Indianapolis Business Journal.

This year, without the interference of the House Speaker pro tem and with the knowledge that the lobbying effort is fueled by deep-pocket interests, lawmakers should have no reservations about approving Miller’s bill.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 29, 2014 09:42 AM
Posted to Indiana Government