Indiana House passes $34.6B budget along party lines

The Indiana House on Monday passed a $34.6 billion two-year budget along party lines.

The budget, authored by House Republicans, includes an additional $286 million per year requested by the Indiana Department of Child Services, covers increases in Medicaid costs, and hikes K-12 spending by 2.1 percent in fiscal year 2020 and 2.2 percent in 2021slightly more than the annual increase suggested by Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Under the proposal, K-12 funding would be $7.31 billion in fiscal year 2020 and $7.47 billion in fiscal year 2021. Plus, the budget calls for spending $150 million in surplus funds to pay off a teacher pension liability that schools have been gradually paying down. The one-time payment is expected to save schools $70 million per year.

None of the extra money is required to go to teacher paychecks, although that's what Holcomb and House Republicans are recommending.

The budget, which passed 65-32, heads to the Senate for consideration and amendments.

Rep. Todd Huston, one of the key budget writers this year, emphasized the education investment during remarks on the House floor Monday.

But Democrats have criticized the budget for not specifically allocating dollars for teacher pay.

House Democrats tried to make changes to the proposed budget Thursday, introducing 27 amendments and debating the legislation for more than three hours, but Republicans shot down almost all of the proposals.

House Speaker Brian Bosma criticized Democrats on Thursday evening, saying the suggestions would add more than $1 billion in spending to the budget.

"I'm proud of my team for standing firm even though they're tough votes," Bosma said.

On Monday, Democratic Rep. Greg Porter refuted Bosma’s comments, saying Democrats offered other streams of revenue, too. They called for stopping or delaying the scheduled phaseout of some of the corporate tax cuts. They also suggested looking at other ways to use the $1 billion the state is set to receive from the Indiana Toll Road rate increase.

“Our checkbook does have money,” Porter said. “We’re not that low-income.”

The budget plan that advanced Monday would have a surplus of about $63 million in fiscal year 2020 and $55 million in fiscal year 2021.

“This budget is financially responsible,” Huston said.

Porter said the budget could have done a lot more to address issues like pre-kindergarten funding and school safety.

“But it’s your budget,” Porter said of Republicans, who control a super-majority in the chamber. “It’s what you want to give to the state of Indiana. It’s what you want to send over to the Senate.”

Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, criticized the budget for not doing enough to help middle class families.

“There’s nothing in the budget that's going to help Hoosier working families,” Pryor said.

But Huston defended the budget for being fiscally responsible and making the right investments.

“When you craft a budget, you have to make tough decisions,” Huston said.

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