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General Assembly

$30 billion budget gets House nod

Passes along party lines; school funding a sore spot

– The Indiana House passed a $30 billion, two-year spending plan Monday night that Democrats said ignores the middle class and doesn’t adequately fund schools.

The 68-28 vote was along party lines with Republicans in support and Democrats against.

“Collectively this budget helps our state by making it more attractive for new investment and jobs by focusing on the priorities of funding roads, significant education funding, protecting fiscal integrity and lower taxes,” said Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero.

The biennial budget is highlighted by about $345 million in new K-12 education funding.

This leads to a 2 percent increase in the first year of the biennium and 1 percent in the second. Some individual school districts could still receive cuts from enrollment loss.

But Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, said changes within the formula make it hard to determine what are new dollars and what is existing school funding.

“That’s all we ask. Truth in funding for public education,” he said. “We shift a lot of money – from one pot to another pot, hide it over here to the left, hide it over here to the right. We just want the truth.”

The state’s public colleges and universities would get 3.5 percent in new funding over the two years, and well as money for capital projects.

The proposed budget also would free up $250 million per year in additional road construction dollars to be split by the state and local governments.

A large chunk of that money comes by no longer diverting gas tax dollars to fund state agencies and from dedicating a portion of the state sales taxes Hoosier motorists pay on gasoline to roads.

Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, said the spending plan offers sustainable funding within the surplus for roads and bridges.

“Locals are demanding help for their roads,” he said. “That’s all I’ve heard about in rural communities.”

Republicans pay for expected Medicaid growth but don’t expand the program under the federal health care act – a move criticized by House Democrat Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City.

“Our human infrastructure is important as well. You do nothing about that in this budget. You let it die on the altar of national politics,” he said.

Pelath also said the middle class is struggling and the bill does nothing to help – such as providing a tax cut for all Hoosiers.

Instead of Gov. Mike Pence’s proposed across-the-board income tax cut, GOP leadership in the House chose to accelerate the elimination of the estate tax.

It is currently expected to phase out in 2022, and the budget would move that to 2018.

Each year of the budget is balanced, meaning it doesn’t spend more than the state expects to collect.

A $2 billion surplus is left at the end of the biennium, but it doesn’t trigger the automatic taxpayer refund because of slight tweaks in the formula.

nkelly@jg.net

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