The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, February 23, 2021 1:00 am

General Assembly

House passes $36 billion budget

Democrats: Plan lacks vision; GOP: Education helped

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana House voted 65-30 on Monday to approve a $36.3 billion budget that increases K-12 spending slightly while preserving a $2 billion surplus.

“This is a good budget that will keep us the No. 1 state in the Midwest. Please vote yes,” said Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, the architect of the two-year spending plan.

But Phil GiaQuinta disagreed.

The Fort Wayne Democratic representative said the state is “grappling with a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic” with a budget that is “business as usual.”

GiaQuinta also noted that “we have current human capital projects we are simply ignoring” to instead fund a $100 million capital reserve account for unknown projects.

House Bill 1001 includes $378 million in new tuition support – 1.25% in the first year and 2.5% in the second year. But that total includes $144 million in money for private school vouchers over the biennium.

Also related to school funding, the House GOP budget would increase a charter school grant, give more funding to virtual schools, increase funding for non-English-speaking programs and flatline teacher appreciation grants.

The bill includes no specific dollars or provisions to raise teacher pay despite a state report recommending state and local actions to bring Indiana teacher compensation in line with other Midwest states.

Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, said the bill lacks vision for Indiana – saying it does nothing to improve Hoosiers' health, the nursing home system or unemployment.

“We are better off than Illinois – if all you care about is your surplus and your bond rating,” he said. “You've got the supermajority, do something with it.”

But Brown listed ways the budget helps: $150 million for one-time learning loss grants; $30 million in small business aid; $70 million for a renovation of the Indiana Law Enforcement Training Academy; $150 million in a regional recovery initiative; $50 million in health grants; and $250 million in broadband expansion.

It also includes a cigarette tax increase and a new vaping tax that he said could reduce Indiana's smoking rate. The cigarette tax would go to $1.50 a pack and vaping products would have a 10% retail tax.

“There's a lot of great things in this budget,” Brown said. “We've come through a lot. A year ago, I wouldn't think we would be in this place.”

He was referring to a $900 million loss in tax revenue last year due to the pandemic.

Area representatives voted along party lines – with Republicans in support and Democrats against. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Sign up for our daily headlines newsletter

Top headlines are sent daily