April 26, 2023

Republicans unveil final version of state budget, including major school voucher expansion

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House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) speaks during the unveiling of the final version of the state budget on Apr. 26, 2023. Looking on are, from left, Sen. Ryan Mishler (R-Mishawaka), Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) and Rep. Jeff Thompson (R-Lizton). - Brandon Smith/IPB News

House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) speaks during the unveiling of the final version of the state budget on Apr. 26, 2023. Looking on are, from left, Sen. Ryan Mishler (R-Mishawaka), Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) and Rep. Jeff Thompson (R-Lizton).

Brandon Smith/IPB News

Tens of thousands more students will be eligible for taxpayer dollars to help fund their private school education under the final version of the new state budget.

Republican legislative leaders unveiled the measure, HB 1001, Wednesday.

House Republicans had pushed to increase the income limit for school vouchers up to about $220,000 a year for a family of four and remove any other guardrails for eligibility. The Senate budget didn’t include any expansion of the program.

But the final budget does everything House Republicans wanted.

Still, Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) insisted the budget makes a significant investment in education for all students.

“All in an effort to show, of course, that public education is by far and away the biggest expense that the state has, but it also is the most important project that the state has,” Bray said.

Total K-12 tuition support funding will increase by $1.2 billion over the two-year budget – a 6 percent increase in the first year and another 2 percent increase in the second.

Rep. Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis) had a blunter view of the budget’s education spending.

“I mean, expansion of vouchers at that magnitude is despicable, from our perspective," Porter said.

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In the health care sector, the measure spends $225 million to expand the services local health departments offer – far short of what the Governor’s Public Health Commission said was needed.

Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) said both House and Senate Republicans were comfortable at that funding level.

“We felt like this was an appropriate number to see what the outcomes are, and we can measure the success of the programs,” Huston said.

SB 1, a major mental health care priority for both chambers, will be funded at $50 million per year in the new budget. That money will go towards a 988 crisis response hotline and resources for community mental health clinics.

But again, the funding falls far short of the need, which an Indiana Behavioral Health Commission report put at $130 million per year.

There's also $10 million to fund HB 1006, which aims to divert people with mental health and addiction challenges away from local jails and into treatment.

The final budget also speeds up the planned income tax reduction put into place last year. Originally, the rate was set to be gradually cut down to 2.9 percent by 2029. Now, it’ll be 2027.

There were also triggers in last year's tax cut law: the income tax cuts would only occur if state revenues grew by at least 2 percent a year. Those guardrails are now gone.

Porter said Republicans are failing to invest in “human infrastructure.”

“The only individuals who will benefit from this are the wealthier individuals, not those working men and women in the state,” Porter said.

The House and Senate are expected to vote on the final budget in the next day or so.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Copyright 2023 IPB News. To see more, visit IPB News.

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