Legislative leaders back money for third Regional Cities grant

Republicans who control the Indiana Senate released an agenda Tuesday that includes a request from Gov. Mike Pence for an extra $42 million for the new state grant program aimed at encouraging counties and cities to collaborate on regional development projects.

Legislators last spring approved $84 million for the Regional Cities program, with the money coming from a state tax-amnesty program that allowed people and businesses to pay up on overdue taxes.

After that amnesty period collected more than planned, a state board voted in December to give $42 million each to three proposals from among seven submitted around the state. The original plan called for only two proposals to be chosen.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. board, of which Pence is chairman, selected metro regions around South Bend, Fort Wayne and Evansville to receive the grants.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said Tuesday he decided to support granting the additional money after being surprised by the level of cooperation within the regional groups.

Later, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he expects the extra funding to pass the House as well. 

"Do I think it’s probably going to happen? I would say yes," Bosma said. "First of all, it’s a great initiative. The governor deserves credit for that. And the money is there in the amnesty program."

Bosma's comments are important because he was initially cold to the suggestion that lawmakers approve more funding for the Regional Cities Initiative. In particular, Bosma was frustrated that Pence announced that three cities would win the money without giving him a heads up about the decision, especially because it needed legislative approval.

But Bosma said on Tuesday that he and the governor had discussed their miscommunication and decided, "We both need to pick up the phone a little more often."

He said House Republicans "are not opposed to" approving the extra money.

Portage Sen. Karen Tallian, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said she believed it was a bad precedent for the Legislature to boost the program's funding during a session when the two-year state budget isn't being debated.

"That's not any reflection on the merits of the project," Tallian said. "It's a reflection on the integrity that once you set a budget, that's the budget."

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