By Andi TenBarge
INDIANAPOLIS — Senate leaders unveiled their version of the state’s budget Thursday without a cigarette tax hike, but including the possibility for toll roads and less funding than the House for the On My Way Pre-K pilot program.
The Senate’s version totals $32.1 billion over two years, leaving $1.8 billion in reserves. The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the budget 11-0 and it now moves to the full chamber. Both chambers likely will negotiate changes to the budget until the legislative session ends in late April.
The House budget called for raising the cigarette tax by $1 and shifting the sales tax on gasoline to fund roads. The Senate removed both of those provisions. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman, Sen. Luke Kenley, is worried 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.
“At that time, the cigarette tax would be a logical thing to look at,” the Noblesville Republican said. “But today my feeling is that if you don’t need a tax, don’t enact it.”
Lawmakers also are considering tolling as another way to pay for road improvements.
“You cannot by any means say tolling is absolute,” Senate President Pro Tem David Long said. “It is part of the discussion and it’s enabling INDOT to go forward and look at whether or not it will work for us.”
The Senate also includes an additional $3 million for 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.
“I don’t see why we need to rush with the pilot program that incrementally pushes it up a little tiny bit at a time,” Kenley said. “When in reality we are already providing pre-K for a lot of people which gives us plenty of opportunity to decide which way do we go.”
The budget also includes $2 million for the Early Education Matching Grant and $1 million for in-home early education services. Kenley said because the state already spends $437 million per year for services to children under five, he doesn’t see the need to add more funding.
Other changes include $2 million for supporting direct flights to the Indianapolis International Airport, a request in the governor’s budget that the House removed, and the $5 million requested by the governor’s office for the Task Force on Drug Enforcement, Treatment and Prevention.
Andi TenBarge is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news site powered by Franklin College journalism students.