House and Senate have big differences on budget bill to resolve

By Shelby Mullis
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS — Lawmakers still have sharp disagreements over taxes and education funding to resolve within the next two weeks before presenting a final biennial budget to Gov. Eric Holcomb.

The Senate version of the biennial budget passed the Senate Thursday 39-9. The $32.1 billion budget slashes the House’s proposed $1 cigarette tax hike, provides the state’s On My Way Pre-K pilot program with an additional $3 million annually — $7 million less than what both the House and the governor proposed — and removes the House’s provision to shift 100 percent of the sales tax on gasoline purchases to fund roads.

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said the Senate’s plan is strong and balanced while maintaining more than $1 billion in reserves. The budget allocates the greatest amount of money for K-12 education with an additional $358 million in funding over the next two fiscal years.

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, asks Senators to support the Senate version of the state’s two-year budget. The budget will head to a conference committee where lawmakers from both chambers will reconcile their differences and produce a final budget. Photo by Shelby Mullis, TheStatehouseFile.com

“The budget focuses a great deal on education because we spend a big share of our money on education,” Kenley said. About $7 billion of the budget is spent on K-12 education over two years.

The House version would increase K-12 funding by only $273 million over the next two fiscal years. It would also raise the cigarette tax by $1 and shift the sales tax on gasoline purchases to fund roads.

But Kenley removed those provisions from the Senate version last month because of concerns with the federal government’s health care funding over the next few years. He said it would be illogical to enact the cigarette tax until it is needed to fund state health programs.

Senate Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said the largest obstacle remaining between the Senate and the House is the issue of teacher performance pay.

The House voted last month to eliminate the performance grant program and reinvest the money into the general school fund. When the Senate presented its version of the budget last week, it included the teacher performance grants.

“I still feel that’s very important to support the teachers and maybe we’ll find ways to better do that in the future but I think it’s important to acknowledge our teachers in every way we can right now for the good work they’re doing,” Long said.

Other issues also divide the two chambers, Long said. One of those issues is economic development money for more direct flights to Indianapolis International Airport, something Holcomb had requested and the Senate added to the budget.

But House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said the biggest difference surrounds the number of issues each chamber has with one another. There are more issues to be resolved than the Senate realizes, he added.

“Some of those are very minor and technical. The larger ones surround education funding, both at the K-12 and higher ed level,” Bosma said.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats presented more than 17 amendments to the budget bill Wednesday, but only one passed. Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said many items within the budget were good, such as the additional funding for higher education loans and grants and workforce development.

Lanane said the Senate Democrats would still like to see more funding for early childhood education and increase the income tax credit, calling it a “reward for people who are working.”

“The end is near, maybe,” Lanane said. “But we’ve got a ways to go.”

Shelby Mullis is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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