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Friday, March 12, 2021 1:00 am

General Assembly

Virus bill to give state $5.8 billion

Lawmakers want role in spending latest federal money

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – About $5.8 billion is headed Indiana's way from the latest federal COVID-19 relief bill, according to preliminary estimates.

Rachel Hoffmeyer, spokeswoman for Gov. Eric Holcomb, said about $3 billion would go directly to state government with about $2.6 billion to local cities and counties. Another $200 million would be in a state capital projects fund.

“Greater details should come in future guidance and communication,” she said.

And this time, the General Assembly will be around to decide how to spend it. Previously the legislators were not in session, and Holcomb made all the decisions – including on such matters as rental assistance and business aid.

“We feel some responsibility there,” said GOP Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray.

The legislature is already crafting a new two-year state budget. Some of the items in that budget could now be covered by the new federal relief money. For instance, the House had proposed a $150 million learning remediation program, $50 million in health grants and $30 million for small businesses.

House Republicans were using one-time state surplus money for those items, but now the legislature has a host of new options.

Bray called it “an awful lot of money.” He said he wouldn't want to use the money for ongoing state expenses but would instead focus spending on priorities that can help Hoosiers the most now.

“We are going to put it to the best use we can,” Bray said.

Legislators have bristled as they were left out of the spending conversation last year. In an unrelated committee hearing Thursday, a former Supreme Court justice was asked about whether the executive branch can constitutionally spend federal money without legislative approval.

Frank Sullivan, an attorney and former state budget director, said the state can't spend money unless it has been “appropriated” by the legislature first.

“Thank you very much,” said Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, who has focused on the issue.

None of the money from previous stimulus packages was appropriated by the legislature.

nkelly@jg.net


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