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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 9:34 am

Senate passes $31.5 billion budget, will negotiate with House

Niki Kelly The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana Senate voted 42-8 Wednesday to approve a new $31.5 billion state budget, setting up final negotiations with Republicans in the House on the plan.

The budget will move to conference committee, where the two sides will try to iron out differences. The two versions of the budget spend the same amount but prioritize the funding differently.

The task could be complicated by a new revenue forecast coming out Thursday that could downgrade tax collections the state is estimated to receive.

"There are many issues yet to be resolved," said Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville. "It is unlikely we will have the money we have today. People will be saying 'please don't cut this and please don't cut that.'"

Kenley put a large amount of new dollars - more than $460 million - into K12 education.

Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, said she is happy that under the Senate calculations some schools do better than in the House.

"But that might not be a real high bar," she said.

The House focused more of its money on charter schools and giving money to growing districts; the Senate tried to blunt losses for schools with high numbers of at-risk kids.

Tallian also focused on the growing voucher program where the state pays tuition to private schools. The program has almost 30,000 students currently and is expected to grow to 40,000 in the next two years. The cost of the vouchers is currently at about $122 million.

"We are creating an entitlement program," she said. "And pretty soon we're going to be talking about real money."

Kenley also noted language in the budget to study the future of IPFW.

"We think it has more potential for development than we are achieving at this time," he said. "We want IU and Purdue to work to develop the full value we see in that institution."

Other highlights include a reserve of $1.88 billion; $400 million in extra highway dollars; $367 million in university capital projects and $56 million in new community corrections funding.