The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, January 07, 2020 2:30 pm

Panel chooses $291 million for university projects, not teacher pay hike

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS -- Legislators gave initial approval Tuesday to spending $291 million in cash on six university projects despite Democratic attempts to push the money to teacher pay.

The House Ways and Means Committee passed House Bill 1007 by a party-line vote of 13-7 with Republicans supporting the measure and Democrats against.

Indiana closed the fiscal year in June with higher tax collections than expected -- leading to a larger surplus than needed. So Republicans want to use some of that money on one-time cash projects instead of bonding during the next 20 years.

The six projects are a veterinary school at Purdue University; building repairs at Indiana University; a STEM building at Ball State University; a main building replacement for Ivy Tech in Columbus; renovations at Indiana State University; and a classroom renovation at the University of Southern Indiana.

Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, proposed an amendment that instead would have given one-time bonuses of about $4,600 to Hoosier teachers.

But Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown said it isn’t fiscally responsible to spend an unexpected windfall on an ongoing expense that might have to be halted in the next budget cycle.

He added that shifting the projects to cash saves the state more than $130 million during the next 20 years in interest.

Democrats argued that Indiana should use its much-touted AAA credit rating to borrow at low rates and use the money in hand now to help teachers.

"I feel like we’re a prize hen with this AAA rating and never produce an egg," said Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis.

He said Republicans are choosing saving $7 million a year in interest over the wages of teachers, which trail in the Midwest and haven’t kept pace with inflation.

The legislation next moves to the House floor for a full vote.

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