Indiana Senate passes budget

(Indiana)

INDIANAPOLIS (Network Indiana): The Senate has passed its version of a new state budget, setting up negotiations on a final version.

Legislators receive an updated forecast Thursday of how much money the state will take in. But while negotiators will adjust spending levels to reflect the new projection, the bulk of the remaining work involves reconciling differences between the House and Senate spending plans.

Both budgets increase school funding a little more than one percent in the first year of the two-year budget, but the Senate version gives schools a little more money in the second year. The House budget goes further than the Senate in expanding eligibility for Indiana’s school voucher program, while the Senate version goes further in paying down state debt ahead of schedule. Both bills impose a first-ever tax on e-liquids, but the Senate version sets up a separate taxing approach for self-contained vaping cartridges.

And the Senate had the advantage of beginning its work after President Biden signed a new pandemic relief bill in March, sending three billion dollars in federal money to Indiana. The Senate bill earmarks 850-million dollars of that money for specific projects, but Appropriations Chairman Ryan Mishler (R-Bremen) says he expects to add more as he has more opportunity to study Treasury Department rules for how it can be spent. And the House hasn’t yet had its chance to weigh in.

Mishler and House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville) began budget discussions even before the Senate unveiled its version of the budget, in hopes of speeding up final negotiations and meet legislative leaders’ goal of adjourning by next Thursday. The legal deadline to adjourn is April 29. Legislators plan to amend that deadline to November to allow work on redistricting, but that change is part of the budget bill itself.

The Senate approved Mishler’s version of the budget 39-10, with South Bend Democrat David Niezgodski joining Republicans in voting yes. Gary’s Eddie Melton and other Democrats praised Mishler for working to accommodate some of their concerns. But Melton says while the budget improves on the House version, it still puts too much money toward vouchers and not enough toward public schools or teacher pay.

And Indianapolis Democrat Fady Qaddoura says Indiana should act more aggressively in putting money toward economic development, pointing to a half-billion-dollar development effort enacted in Ohio. Both the House and Senate bills include 150-million dollars for Governor Holcomb’s reboot of predecessor Mike Pence’s regional development grants, and Mishler suggests he’s open to pushing that figure higher.

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