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Indiana House eyes another $5M for state fair victims

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Indiana's House Ways and Means chairman laid out a plan Tuesday to give $5 million more for victims of the Indiana State Fair stage collapse and $80 million to pay for full-day kindergarten.

Seven people died and 58 were injured after a stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair last summer. The state has already paid out $5 million to the families of those who died and the injured victims.

Rep. Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, said his plan would give Gov. Mitch Daniels authority to give out another $5 million. The amount would provide another $400,000 for each of the families of those who died and cover the unpaid medical bills for those who were injured.

Espich's plan would also give schools an amount equal to roughly $2,400 for each student to cover the cost of full-day kindergarten.

The proposal come shortly after Indiana's state budget agency discovered $320 million in untouched corporate tax collections. As of December, state budget forecasters expected to end the next budget year with $1.8 billion in cash reserves.

Espich also said Tuesday he wants to re-craft the state's automatic taxpayer refund to give refunds to taxpayers first before paying down teacher pension obligations.

The Senate voted 36-14 to approve its own plan to rework the state law which automatically returns a portion of the state's savings to taxpayers depending on how much money the state has in surplus.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville said directing additional money toward public schools was legitimate, although he wouldn't commit to supporting the levels that Espich proposed.

"I think it's a fruitful idea to look at K through 12 education, which is kind of everybody's highest priority," Kenley said.

The state's automatic tax refund kicks in if the state saves an amount equal to at least 10 percent of its planned spending that year. Money saved above that 10-percent threshold is then split between tax refunds and payments to the state's teacher pension fund.

Espich wants to send the first $200 million above that level back to taxpayers, send the next $200 million above that to the teacher pension fund and then split everything above that $400-million level evenly between the two.

Kenley's plan would, instead, raise the amount needed in state savings using a formula that would roughly put the trigger at 15 percent of state spending. He would then take the first $100 million above that level and send it to the teacher pension fund and divide the rest above that level equally between the pension fund and taxpayers.

Both men want to rework the refund to give taxpayers equal amounts. Under the current law the money is returned to taxpayers proportional to how much they paid in state income taxes.

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