The Journal Gazette
Thursday, April 22, 2021 2:47 pm

State GOP budget pleases some Democrats

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – The $37.4 billion GOP biennial budget was so popular Thursday that even Democrats voted for it – passing 96-2 in the House and 46-3 in the Senate.

“This is a wow budget. This sets the table,” said Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne.

All 29 Democrats in the House supported the measure and 8 out of 11 in the Senate. Every northeast Indiana lawmaker voted for it except for Goshen Republican Rep. Curt Nisly.

The spending plan gives K12 schools nearly $2 billion in new education dollars – money that lawmakers hope school districts use to give teachers significant raises. Indiana educator pay lags the rest of the nation.

The final bill also spends $5.1 billion in one-time federal and state dollars. Some of those investments include broadband expansion, health grants, mental health programs, pension paydown; debt repayment; capital projects; grants for struggling businesses and a replenishment of the state unemployment trust fund.

The budget has a large amount in reserves – about $2.5 billion in the first year and $2.9 billion the second year.

"We do a lot. We are balanced. We are strong," said House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville.

The K12 tuition support provided by state dollars will grow 4.6% in the first year and 4.3% in the second year – more than double inflation.

One downside for Democrats was that the growth in the state's existing voucher program was more – 32% and 16%. That's because the program is expanded – it increases the individual grant for students and makes families that earn higher incomes eligible.

A new Education Scholarship Account program for special education students also will cost millions.

Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, said this lack of respect for traditional public schools is the reason she couldn't cross party lines with her colleagues.

She and other Democrats lauded some highlights of the budget that help Hoosiers – including increases for food banks, mental health, food desserts, police body cameras and health disparities.

Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, said his caucus fought for Hoosiers and traditional public schools. And he said the mission was accomplished.

He and others pointed out the American Rescue Plan pushed by President Joe Biden made some of the progress in the budget possible.

“Because of the federal investments in Indiana we will be stronger,” Melton said.

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