Indiana House leader expects school spending boost

The leader of the Indiana House said Thursday that his chamber's budget likely will boost education spending more than proposed by Gov. Mike Pence and that lawmakers might skip the GOP governor's planned tax cuts to do it.

Republican Speaker Brian Bosma said he believed the Legislature should try to restore more of the $300 million that was cut from public school funding in recent years because of the recession. Bosma also remained skeptical of lawmakers approving the 10-percent cut in the state's personal income tax rate that fellow Republican Pence highlighted during last year's gubernatorial campaign and included in his budget plan.

Pence's budget proposal calls for a 1-percent increase in school funding each year of the two-year state budget. That would add about $65 million a year to school funding.

"It may be difficult to invest in all the critical needs that we have before us and still accept the governor's tax-cut proposal," Bosma said. "That doesn't mean it's off the table."

The House Ways and Means Committee is now conducting budget hearings and is expected by late February to advance a spending plan to the full House. The Legislature has until late April to adopt a budget bill.

Pence's $29 billion, two-year budget increases total spending by about $200 million each year, or roughly 1.4 percent, while building the state's cash reserves. It also plans for a $790 million cut in the state's personal income tax by reducing the rate from 3.4 percent to 3.06 percent.

Then-Gov. Mitch Daniels ordered the school funding cuts as he scaled back state spending after tax revenues declined during the recession.

Bosma said restoring more of that education funding would be a priority.

"We were around for the cuts in that regard, so we indicated we would seek to strategically restore those where we could," Bosma said.

Pence did not say Thursday whether he would accept a modified tax cut or consider additional spending for areas like education.

"We were very grateful to present a recommended budget," Pence said. "We intend to take that budget proposal to every member of the General Assembly, and, more importantly, to the people of Indiana."

Bosma said he also expected more money would go toward higher education than the 1-percent increase proposed by Pence.

Finding additional money for state and local road projects will also be a priority as funding dries up from the $3.8 billion lease of the Indiana Toll Road that Daniels approved in 2006.

"You can't be the Crossroads of America — and attempt to sell yourself as the Crossroads of America — without adequate roads and bridges and other transportation infrastructure," Bosma said.

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