Indiana legislative leaders are optimistic the Republican-led House and Senate can reach a budget deal by the time the legislative session ends Friday.
"We're feeling pretty good about wrapping up business within regulation time," said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.
House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, and Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R- Noblesville, have been narrowing down the list of budget issues that divided the House and Senate versions of the bill. Kenley said he hopes to reach a compromise budget agreement by noon Thursday, which would set the $28 billion proposal up for House and Senate votes Friday.
Democrats are complaining that the budget is being used as a catchall of provisions aimed at correcting errors made in other recently passed legislation.
"The budget has become a dumping ground to fix bills," said House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend.
Espich said the five-week walkout by House Democrats has compressed the legislative process, leaving lawmakers rushed and putting fixes in the budget that wouldn't normally happen.
"It is compromising the integrity of the system," he said.
Bosma said proofreading bills would continue and that it's better to find problems before the session ends than months afterward. Bosma noted the budget and other bills have been used in previous years to fix errors.
"It's really not an uncommon practice," he said.
The House and Senate versions of the budget have several differences, including what to do with any extra state money, whether Indiana should cut subsidies for the horse racing industry and whether the budget should include a way to fine boycotting lawmakers.
Kenley and Espich both predicted there would be some provision in the budget to crack down on lengthy boycotts, though they did not release details of how it would work.
"We're sorting things out," Kenley said.