Indiana senators approve state fair, education money

State senators allocated more state money for victims of the Indiana State Fair stage collapse and full-day kindergarten as part of a broad spending plan approved Wednesday.

The Senate voted 44-6 to approve the measure, which also reworks the state's automatic taxpayer refund to require the state save more money before refunds begin going to taxpayers. The bill now heads to a conference committee to work out differences with House lawmakers.

The measure gives an additional $6 million to victims of the stage collapse last summer. Seven people died and 58 were injured when a stage at the state fair collapsed. The state has already paid out $5 million from an existing fund to cover lawsuits, but state lawmakers agreed that the victims — who were still left paying many medical expenses out of pocket — needed more money.

The spending package approved Wednesday also allots $80 million for school systems to implement full-day kindergarten. As it stands the state sends grants to schools covering roughly half of the cost to begin full-day kindergarten.

Lawmakers began working on the spending package after the state found $320 million it mistakenly left in an untapped state account last December. Daniels spokeswoman Jane Jankowski would only say the governor is tracking the bill's progress.

The plan would increase the threshold before state reserves are sent to taxpayers. As it stands, when the state socks away an amount in savings equal to 10 percent of the state's general spending it automatically returns half of everything above that amount to taxpayers and sends the other half to a teacher pension fund to pay down the state's massive pension liabilities for teachers hired before 1996.

The Senate plan would increase the trigger from 10 percent to 14 percent of general spending. It would also mandate that the state teacher pension liability be paid down first, up to a certain amount, before taxpayers begin receiving refunds.

The plan would also change how the money is sent back to taxpayers. Daniels' plan returns the money proportional to how much state tax was paid, but the Senate measure makes it an equal amount for each taxpayer.

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