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Indiana Legislature passes $30 billion budget

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The Indiana General Assembly approved a two-year, $30 billion budget early Saturday that gives Gov. Mike Pence a partial victory in his quest for an income tax reduction and restores some funding cut from education and transportation during the recession.

Lawmakers worked feverishly into the wee hours to hammer out agreements on the budget and other issues, including an expansion of the state's school voucher program and changes to sentencing laws that would require those convicted of the most serious crimes to spend more time in prison.

The biggest item on their to-do list was the two-year budget. The spending proposal, which the Senate approved around 1 a.m., included a modest increase in school funding, new money for roads and highways and roughly $350 million in new tax cuts.

"I think we have a budget we can be proud of," said Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, the Senate's budget point man.

The budget marked a partial victory for Pence, who made a 10 percent cut in the personal income tax a signature piece of his gubernatorial campaign. He instead won a 5 percent income tax cut, which will be phased in starting in 2015, and lawmakers restored some of the school and transportation money cut under former Gov. Mitch Daniels during the recession.

House Democratic leader Scott Pelath, of Michigan City, said the biggest tax savings would go to the wealthy and businesses through a plan to eliminate the inheritance tax and continuing corporate tax cuts. He said the middle class would see little benefit.

"Maybe two years down the road an extra buck a week in their pocket. That is pathetic," Pelath said. "These tax cuts they talk about are a sham. The income tax cut only happens two years from now."

Democrats said Republicans were shortchanging education by increasing school funding 2 percent in the budget's first year and 1 percent in the second after big cuts were made during the recession. The budget adds about $200 million more than what Pence sought for schools. It also would pay off more than $80 million in loans taken by charter schools, possibly including schools whose charters were revoked by Ball State University earlier this year.

Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, said the school funding increases were inadequate.

"This is a percentage increase only over a severely reduced rate and we are not back to where we were before the recession," Tallian said.

Lawmakers voted to expand the state's school voucher program, which is already the nation's broadest. The program would be opened to students whose siblings already receive vouchers and those who would otherwise enroll in "failing" schools or have special needs. More than 9,000 students currently receive the vouchers, which provide public money so they can attend private school.

Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, said the expansion would give more parents options to select the school that is best for their children.

But Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, said the voucher expansion would sap money from public schools.

"I think this is absurd and something we should not be doing," Smith said. "This is too costly a burden on public education."

Lawmakers also approved proposal to halt implementation of national Common Core education standards while state budget officials and a legislative panel look at concerns the education rules might strip autonomy from the state.

They also were expected to approve a new school-grading model following controversy over one crafted by former School Superintendent Tony Bennett before he lost re-election last year. The new model would be drafted by the state Board of Education, minimizing Democratic School Superintendent Glenda Ritz's role.

A proposal that would make it illegal to secretly take videos or photographs that could make a business look bad, dubbed the "ag gag" bill by opponents, died Friday afternoon. The House sponsor withdrew the bill after a lengthy debate during which several opponents criticized it for exposing industrial whistleblowers or even unhappy restaurant customers to possible criminal charges.

Lawmakers also passed a new review by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission of the proposed Rockport plant, if the Indiana Supreme Court determines the state's 30-year contract to purchase gas from the plant is void.

Several proposals failed to advance, including an effort to speed implementation of a deal requiring Amazon.com to start collecting sales taxes for online purchases in July instead of next year as previously approved. And efforts to add table games at Indiana's two horse tracks and allow riverboat casinos to move on land both appeared headed for defeat in the Senate.

Republican Sen. Phil Boots of Crawfordsville had sought those provisions and said Friday he was disappointed he couldn't get an agreement from House Republicans who regarded them as an expansion of gambling.

The 2013 session was largely devoid of the strife that has marked legislators' work the last two years, when clashes over right-to-work legislation sparked Democratic walkouts.

Pence thanked lawmakers as the session adjourned just before 1:30 a.m.

"I am grateful for the efforts of every member who made this one of the most civil and substantive sessions of our state Legislature in recent memory," he said in a statement.

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  • Pragmatic Republicans. Really?
    Apparently the author of this article did not read two key articles in Sunday's Star that questioned the outcomes of the legislative session. One of the articles was from the paper's Editorial Board. I agree with the Star's assessment that this was a session that produced little and avoided major issues such as roads, education, and health care.
  • Huh?
    Hold on. The Pence income tax cut won't be phased in until 2015? So, effectively, there is no income tax cut for two years. Technically, it's not even in this budget, and could be back on the table two years from now?

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  1. If what you stated is true, then this article is entirely inaccurate. "State sells bonds" is same as "State borrows money". Supposedly the company will "pay for them". But since we are paying the company, we are still paying for this road with borrowed money, even though the state has $2 billion in the bank.

  2. Andrew hit the nail on the head. AMTRAK provides terrible service and that is why the state has found a contractor to improve the service. More trips, on-time performance, better times, cleanliness and adequate or better restrooms. WI-FI and food service will also be provided. Transit from outlying areas will also be provided. I wouldn't take it the way it is but with the above services and marketing of the service,ridership will improve and more folks will explore Indy and may even want to move here.

  3. They could take the property using eminent domain and save money by not paying the church or building a soccer field and a new driveway. Ctrwd has monthly meetings open to all customers of the district. The meetings are listed and if the customers really cared that much they would show. Ctrwd works hard in every way they can to make sure the customer is put first. Overflows damage the surrounding environment and cost a lot of money every year. There have been many upgrades done through the years to help not send flow to Carmel. Even with the upgrades ctrwd cannot always keep up. I understand how a storage tank could be an eye sore, but has anyone thought to look at other lift stations or storage tanks. Most lift stations are right in the middle of neighborhoods. Some close to schools and soccer fields, and some right in back yards, or at least next to a back yard. We all have to work together to come up with a proper solution. The proposed solution by ctrwd is the best one offered so far.

  4. Fox has comments from several people that seem to have some inside information. I would refer to their website. Changed my whole opionion of this story.

  5. This place is great! I'm piggy backing and saying the Cobb salad is great. But the ribs are awesome. $6.49 for ribs and 2 sides?! They're delicious. If you work downtown, head over there.

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