INDIANAPOLIS – Most of the negotiating went behind closed doors Wednesday, with agreements on the budget – and possibly other key items – expected today.
We’re getting there, Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said. I will tell you that on almost all the large issues, we’re having movement.
We’re moving in a good, positive direction toward a Friday closure.
Both Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma hope to release details of a two-year budget deal today with a vote Friday.
Our goal is to have the largest single tax cut in state history, with over a billion dollars in tax cuts that will touch every Hoosier, every Hoosier family, every Hoosier business, every Hoosier taxpayer – and I think we’re going to get there, Bosma said.
He said the budget compromise will include some level of an income tax cut sought by Gov. Mike Pence. Pence wanted 10 percent, and the most-recent version of the budget included a 3 percent reduction.
Legislators also want to repeal the state inheritance tax and cut the financial institutions tax.
When adding all those items up – including a corporate tax cut passed two years ago – tax relief could top $1 billion over the biennium, Bosma said.
But it’s not just the budget that lawmakers have to finalize in the next two days. A number of education issues remain, including whether Indiana should back away from Common Core standards.
The Senate has sought a pause while the House previously was standing by them.
Common Core standards were created by the states, and all but a few states signed on voluntarily. But in the last year, there has been a backlash from people who now perceive them to be federal standards and don’t want the federal government involved in local schools.
I haven’t made a big deal about it, but it’s time to take a look at it, and it took a little while to bring members of our caucus to that same conclusion, Bosma said.
The standards are currently being phased into a new grade each school year, and he said nothing will be reversed. Instead he thinks the State Board of Education – which adopted the standards under former Gov. Mitch Daniels – should review them, as well as the legislature.
He said implementation under way for the next school year will proceed.
I think the key is most of us want to have Indiana-based standards, Bosma said.
Several education groups have warned the state might lose its No Child Left Behind waiver if the state moves away from the standards.
Legislators are also reworking A-F rankings that are assigned to schools based on test performance. The most recent rankings were roundly criticized after the Indiana Department of Education last year tweaked the formula.
For a while, lawmakers were considering moving to a school receiving two grades – one assessing overall student performance on state accountability tests and one showing the growth of the students on the test.
Senate Education Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said Wednesday the House and Senate have agreed to one letter ranking focusing primarily on growth – or whether students improved on the test even if they might not pass it.
There also is a move to widen the state’s voucher program for private schools. The House wanted a massive expansion, including eliminating the requirement that those meeting financial guidelines attend public school for one year.
The Senate scaled it back, eliminating the public school requirement for kids who would otherwise attend a failing public school.
House Education Chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, said Wednesday that both he and Kruse have come to agreement on all the issues, and each Republican caucus would have to weigh in before a vote could happen.
Behning said the public school requirement would be dropped for any student who would otherwise be assigned to a public school receiving a D or F ranking.
Legislators also will increase slightly the amount of the elementary voucher, which is currently capped at $4,500. The cap would rise to $4,700 the first year and then $4,800 the second year.
One other bill that could complicate the finale of the 2013 session is an attempt to help Indiana’s ailing casino industry. The state’s two horse track casinos want live dealers. Right now those casinos have electronic table games, which aren’t as popular. The state’s other casinos want to move operations inland.
Bosma said he thinks Gov. Mike Pence will veto table games for the horse tracks.
But lawmakers could override a veto with a simple majority – the same number needed to pass the bill.