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GOP taps health care expert to run state budget panel

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 Indiana's House Republicans picked their lead health care expert to lead the powerful Ways and Means committee Tuesday, an acknowledgment that health care costs will play a key role in shaping of Indiana's next biennial budget.

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma picked Public Health Chairman Tim Brown to take control of the panel following the departure of longtime budget guru and former chairman Jeff Espich.

Brown, a Crawfordsville physician, will work with a team of Republicans including committee Vice Chair Suzanne Crouch to balance health-care spending with education funding.

"When you look at federal funds and state funds we spend more on those social services than we do on K-12, so it's a big part," Brown said.

Brown's pick comes as a Friday deadline looms for Indiana and other states to tell the federal government how it will provide access to insurance under the rules set forth in the federal health care law. President Barack Obama's re-election last week, in conjunction with a Supreme Court last summer, deflated most opposition to the law.

Gov.-elect Mike Pence has said he opposes running a state health insurance exchange and opposes expanding Medicaid coverage, preferring instead to expand the state's health savings account plan. In both cases he has said the proposals would cost the state too much money. Bosma said he plans to meet with Pence Wednesday to discuss that and other topics.

Lawmakers head into 2013 session with roughly $2 billion in cash reserves, a proposal from Pence to cut the state's personal income tax by 10 percent and pent up demand for services cut during the recession. They are also set to receive the results of an independent audit into $526 million in tax collection errors and new budget forecasts sometime next month.

"We have pledged we are going to look at strategic investments and strategic restorations of what we've had to cut in the past," Bosma said Tuesday. "I think the chairman has expressed proper caution about additional tax cuts. Not to say 'No,' but caution, and as we were talking earlier the fiscal fog is thick. And you only get a couple of points in time where we get a picture, and that's a snapshot."

House Democrats say Indianapolis Rep. Greg Porter will be their ranking member on the budget panel. Porter said Tuesday he is ready to work with Brown, but plans to push Democratic priorities during the 2013 session.

"I believe that we have many opportunities to pass legislation that balances the need to return some of our state's $2 billion surplus to Hoosier families with a desire to restore some of the funding that has been taken from our schools and those agencies within state government that provide critical services to many people across Indiana," Porter said.

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