April 22, 2017

Indiana Lawmakers Approve New $32B 2-Year State Budget

Article origination IPBS-RJC
The Indiana House floor on April 21, 2017. - Eric Weddle/WFYI

The Indiana House floor on April 21, 2017.

Eric Weddle/WFYI

The Republican-led Indiana General Assembly crafted a two-year state budget that spends about $32 billion while maintaining what Speaker Brian Bosma calls a “healthy reserve.”

Even as Indiana’s new revenue forecast gave an optimistic outlook, House and Senate fiscal leaders didn’t waiver from their conservative appropriations.

Yet Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb achieved some of his legislative goals during his first budget session.

These included a $1.2 billion per year road funding package for state and local roadways. It is funded by transportation-related taxes, including gas and diesel tax hikes.

Lawmakers agreed to a $30 million fund for Holcomb to spend on innovation and entrepreneurship education and regional development initiatives, such as incentivizing direct flights from the Indianapolis International and regional airports.

The state-funded preschool initiative, On My Way Pre-K, was funded at $19 million per year, despite attempts in the Senate to reduce that amount.

“I’m thrilled our lawmakers are providing thousands of low-income Hoosier families access to high-quality early education,” Holcomb says in a statement. “This important legislation gives more children in more counties the chance to start their educational journey on the right foot.”

House Ways and Means Chairman Tim N. Brown says the budget is balanced.

“We have an unofficial statement from the budget agency which will be a $118 million structural surplus in the first year,” Brown says. “And a $189 million structural surplus in the second year.”

About 52 percent of the budget will be spent on K-12 education. Schools receive funding for each student enrolled. The budget includes a 1.6 percent increase per student funding the first year and 1.7 percent increase the second year.

Though some school districts could see fewer dollars if their enrollment drops.

The private school voucher program gets boosted by $20 million. The Choice Scholarship Program, currently one of the largest in the country, is projected to grow by 5.8 percent more students in the first year and 5.5 percent in the second year.

As the legislative session drew to a close Friday, there were last-minute surprises wrapped into the budget package.

Holcomb requested language allowing the state to keep the identity of vendors who provide lethal injection drugs confidential. This request comes after U.S. Supreme Court blocked Arkansas from carrying out death penalty cases before its supply of similar drugs expired. The last state execution was in December 2009.

Another unexpected provision blocks an annexation planned by the city of Bloomington.

The 2017-19 budget also includes:

The first pay raise for the State Police in nearly a decade, a 24 percent bump over two years.

A 200 million dollar increase to the Department of Child Services funding – this answers a request from the agency to deal with a recent spike in cases that coincides with Indiana’s ongoing opioid epidemic

Higher education funding increases by 1.25 percent in 2018 and 2.5 percent in 2019.

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