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Indiana House panel head expects few budget changes

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The chairman of the Indiana House Ways and Means Committee said Tuesday he expected it would make only modest changes to the budget proposal from Gov. Mitch Daniels.

The committee on Tuesday formally received the governor's spending plan, which would cut higher education spending by 3 percent and eliminate some Medicaid services to help balance the state budget without raising taxes over the next two years.

Committee Chairman Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, said afterward he expected some amendments, but he expected overall spending to be similar to what Daniels proposed.

"We're supportive of what the governor's done in 95 percent of the cases," Espich said. "We're going to pass a budget that has a similar amount of reserves, that doesn't raise taxes."

Under the governor's plan released last week, the state would spend about $27.8 billion over two years and have about $725 million in reserves at the end of fiscal year 2013. Spending on public schools would remain at current levels, but school funding cuts of about $450 million made over the current budget cycle would not be restored.

Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee said they were troubled by the cuts proposed for Medicaid services such as hearing aids and dental care and by the lack of increases for public schools.

Chris Ruhl, director of the state Office of Management and Budget, said protecting school funding was a priority in the spending plan.

"We think flat line is appropriate given the circumstances we're in," he said. "We don't know what's going to come in the future positively or negatively."

Rep. William Crawford, the committee's top Democrat, said he worried public school funding would also be hurt by Daniels' proposals for expansion of charter schools and vouchers to help parents send their children to private schools.

"Flat lining is really cutting," said Crawford, D-Indianapolis. "The schools have increased costs — utility costs, insurance costs, some uncontrollable costs — that they have to pay more."

The Ways and Means Committee has scheduled hearings until Feb. 3 on spending plans for various state agencies, after which it will spend the budget bill to the full Republican-controlled House for consideration.

Democrats were frustrated last year in seeking details on spending cuts by the Daniels administration, and Rep. Peggy Welch, D-Bloomington, said they would continue asking those questions of state officials during budget hearings.

"We kept asking, 'How did you cut and what did you cut?' and there were no direct answers," Welch said. "They should be prepared and know that we are going to be asking those questions."

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  1. A Tilted Kilt at a water park themed hotel? Who planned that one? I guess the Dad's need something to do while the kids are on the water slides.

  2. Don't come down on the fair for offering drinks. This is a craft and certainly one that belongs in agriculture due to ingredients. And for those worrying about how much you can drink. I'm sure it's more to do with liability than anything else. They don't want people suing for being over served. If you want a buzz, do a little pre-drinking before you go.

  3. I don't drink but go into this "controlled area" so my friend can drink. They have their 3 drink limit and then I give my friend my 3 drink limit. How is the fair going to control this very likely situation????

  4. I feel the conditions of the alcohol sales are a bit heavy handed, but you need to realize this is the first year in quite some time that beer & wine will be sold at the fair. They're starting off slowly to get a gauge on how it will perform this year - I would assume if everything goes fine that they relax some of the limits in the next year or couple of years. That said, I think requiring the consumption of alcohol to only occur in the beer tent is a bit much. That is going to be an awkward situation for those with minors - "Honey, I'm getting a beer... Ok, sure go ahead... Alright see you in just a min- half an hour."

  5. This might be an effort on the part of the State Fair Board to manage the risk until they get a better feel for it. However, the blanket notion that alcohol should not be served at "family oriented" events is perhaps an oversimplification. and not too realistic. For 15 years, I was a volunteer at the Indianapolis Air Show, which was as family oriented an event as it gets. We sold beer donated by Monarch Beverage Company and served by licensed and trained employees of United Package Liquors who were unpaid volunteers. And where did that money go? To central Indiana children's charities, including Riley Hospital for Children! It's all about managing the risk.

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