By Andi TenBarge
INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Eric Holcomb’s press conference in the 2017 legislative session came with revealing details about where he stands on pre-K funding, the cigarette tax and toll roads.
This comes after the Indiana House and Senate unveiled their proposed budgets for the next two fiscal years.
The House budget called for raising the cigarette tax by $1 and shifting the sales tax collected on gasoline purchases to fund roads. The Senate removed both of those provisions. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman, Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, is unsure about what the federal government will do with healthcare funding over the next few years and would rather keep the cigarette tax as an option for that.
Holcomb said Friday that for similar reasons he also does not support raising the tax increase on cigarettes for funding roads. The governor said he would rather see cigarette tax money used to keep Hoosiers who are under HIP 2.0 insured if the state were to lose funding.
“Cigarette tax is, in my mind, has to do more with public health and that discussion,” Holcomb said. “I want to focus the discussion on infrastructure and how we’re going to pay for our roads and bridges.”
Toll roads are an option that, Holcomb said, isn’t off the table. However, he said it’s discussion for “down the road.” Holcomb said lawmakers need to walk away from this legislative session with a robust plan to help keep up with Hoosier roadway maintenance. He said tolling could be a substantial revenue source.
“If you take tolling off the table as an option, then you’re forced to look at raising taxes, in my mind, even more,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb also said he is pleased with pre-K and where it stands right now even though the House and Senate differ on how much money they plan to dedicate to the On My Way Pre-K pilot program, which sends low-income children to preschool.
Both the governor and the House called for an additional $10 million to fund the pilot program. The Senate called for an additional $3 million.
The Senate budget also includes $2 million for the Early Education Matching Grant and $1 million for in-home early education services.
“Most importantly for me is that we double the number of students who have access to pre-K,” Holcomb said. “How we get there, I’m willing to be open-minded about it.”
The governor, the House and the Senate likely will negotiate budget details until the legislative session ends in late April.
Andi TenBarge is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news site powered by Franklin College journalism students.