The Journal Gazette
Thursday, April 25, 2019 1:00 am

$34.6 billion 2-year budget OK'd

2.5% increase for traditional public schools

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana has a new $34.6 billion two-year budget after Republicans approved the spending plan Wednesday that focused on education while also prioritizing other key investments.

“We all made sacrifices to push money to K-12,” said Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen. “In the end, I feel the big winner is the kids. And as a parent with an eighth grader in public school, I'm OK with that.”

But Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, said a $2 billion surplus is not necessary and pointed out many smaller programs that were nonchalantly dismissed.

“This budget is too meager, too tight-fisted,” she said.

Tallian noted the budget spends $2.5 million on a new swine barn but cut more than $600,000 for immunizations. And there are millions to subsidize direct flights while refusing to spend $800,000 to stabilize the Lake Michigan shore line.

The Senate approved House Bill 1001 by a vote of 41-8 and the House followed with 67-31.

Republicans focused on historic new dollars for education.

In addition to 2.5% increases for traditional public schools, the budget addresses funding needs for abused and neglected children.

But the GOP didn't fulfill a $286 million annual request for the Indiana Department of Child Services.

Instead, $256 million is provided in the first year and $246 million the second year. The department can tap other backup funds if needed – but not a gas tax fund previously discussed.

Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, said “we are putting Hoosier children at risk” by not fully funding DCS.

House Speaker Brian Bosma said the department has made great progress reducing caseloads and services in recent months, making it possible for the state to save some money.

Gov. Eric Holcomb praised the budget.

“From the very beginning, my administration, the House and the Senate shared our top two priorities – passing a balanced budget and protecting our reserves that in turn protects our AAA credit rating and increasing K-12 funding as much as we possibly could,” the Republican said. “This budget proposal does both. I appreciate the hard work of all of our colleagues as we near the end of this legislative session.”

A last-minute budget change would shift $185 million from toll road lease proceeds to the double-tracking of the South Shore rail line in northwest Indiana. Holcomb had planned to use that money to speed up work on the Interstate 69 extension and U.S. 31 upgrades.

But Scott Manning, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Transportation, said the state highway fund has built up a sufficient balance over several years to fund the road projects.

“The state has held excess dollars in the State Highway Fund to guard against federal and state uncertainty,” he said. “The state is now in a better position to spend some of those dollars due in part to the toll road lease agreement.”

Language requiring short-term rental owners to collect local hotel taxes and state sales taxes also was inserted in the budget bill.

Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, said the provision doesn't impact Hoosiers who rent their homes only a few times a year. 

“The intent is to get to those who do this as an investment,” he said. “It's a fair method.”

All Republican legislators from northeast Indiana supported the budget while GiaQuinta opposed it.

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