Indiana GOP leaders say funding for pre-K, roads are priorities

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma called for lawmakers to move past a "rough" campaign season and refocus on the priorities of state government when the Legislature convenes in early January.

The Indianapolis Republican, who has held the title of speaker since the 2011 session, made the remarks Tuesday when lawmakers convened for Organization Day. It's an annual gathering where new members are sworn in, committee assignments are doled out and legislative leaders outline their priorities for the coming session, which will include increasing funding for infrastructure and a state preschool program.

"The mailers. The advertisements. This was a rough one," Bosma told lawmakers assembled in the House chamber. "No one can point fingers at one aisle without pointing it at the other as well. This group needs to refocus. We need to leave that rhetoric and that hurt behind."

This year, lawmakers are tasked with crafting a two-year budget at a time when state revenue projections have shown a downward trend.

GOP leaders say infrastructure funding will be their biggest priority. Last session, House Republicans pushed a plan that would have raised Indiana's cigarette tax by $1 a pack and tacked 4 cents onto the state's 18 cents-a-gallon gas tax. But Gov. Mike Pence and the GOP-controlled Senate were opposed and a stop-gap was approved instead.

"We continue to call ourselves the crossroads of America and you can't do that with crumbling roads and bridges," Bosma said.

GOP Senate leader David Long, of Fort Wayne, acknowledged Monday that new revenue would be needed.

"It is inevitable that we have to find some new sources of revenue," Long said. "No question about it."

Bosma also said he's hopeful that the state's pre-K pilot program for low income students will be expanded. On the campaign trail Democrats called for a universal preschool program for all students. Before abandoning his gubernatorial re-election bid, Pence also called for expanding the pre-k program, currently offered in five counties, though he wanted to limit it to low-income students.

Bosma said he would like to double or triple funding for the program, but wants to move slow and said he was unsure if there was support in his caucus.

There's also the looming possibility that conservative social issues favored by many members of the GOP caucus could creep into the debate, even as Republican leaders try to steer clear. Former Gov. Mitch Daniels called for a moratorium on them, but Pence didn't steer from social issues. Unknown is how incoming Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb will treat such matters, though he may be tested soon.

State Rep. Curt Nisly, R-Goshen, says he will sponsor a bill that would ban abortion in the state, despite a longstanding U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing it. Indeed, social conservatives are pushing the bill, which they hope could lead to a court case that could eventually overturn the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.

"We always have issues like that to deal with," Long said. "But we are focused on other issues this year."

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