Indiana House advances proposal for spending some of $6.1B surplus

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The Indiana House on Friday voted 93-2 to use the state’s unexpected surplus to send $1 billion in taxpayer rebates proposed by Gov. Eric Holcomb.

With $6.1 billion in combined reserve accounts, Holcomb called the General Assembly for a special session to redistribute the funds back to Hoosiers in the form of $225 checks.

Lawmakers delayed the session until this week but advanced different proposals for using the surplus in each chamber.

House Bill 1001 also expands the pool of eligible Hoosiers for the checks to include those using Social Security and disability benefits. Additionally, it shores up various funds in support of families and repeals the state’s diaper tax.

House Speaker Todd Huston made a rare appeal in support of the bill, saying he supported it without any hesitation.

The Senate on Friday approved $45 million in financial support for mothers and children. The Senate Bill 2 vote was 46-1.

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, supported the legislation but said “We’re only doing this because we’re stripping the women of Indiana of their fundamental rights. And there’s no amount of money that will adequately compensate them for the loss of that liberty.”

The bill now moves to the House, where they passed a nearly $60 million in proposed aid including tax credits, removing the sales tax on diapers and more.

“When somebody wants to argue, ‘It’s too late,’ well, I’ve got to do something now and get something done and accomplished (rather) than worrying about who gets credit,” Huston said in response to criticisms. “I’m proud to be in bipartisan support for this bill and there should be no ‘buts.’”

On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, called the bill “camouflage,” noting that roughly half of taxpayers still hadn’t received their $125 from the automatic taxpayer refund earlier this year.

“It hides years of inaction for our families and children,” DeLaney said. “It comes too late and the overall scale is too small… (Still,) let’s vote for this bill!”

Rep. John Jacob, R-Indianapolis, said he would vote against the bill because, though related to abortion, an abortion ban hadn’t yet passed.

“We’re spending millions of dollars when we don’t know if we’re going to get a ban on abortion,” Jacob, an anti-abortion activist, said. “We’re dealing with things in this bill while my constituents and your constituents… are paying an exorbitant price to fill up their gas tanks.”

Rep. Curt Nisly, R-Milford, joined Jacob to vote no.

Different path in the Senate

Across the Statehouse, the Senate’s plan for the surplus took a different route.

Senators bucked Holcomb’s request, instead diverting the bulk of the $1 billion to the capital construction fund and pension liability in Senate Bill 3. The chamber debated  amendments Friday and will vote Saturday.

Sen. Eric Bassler, R-Washington, said he didn’t like either plan presented for spending the surplus.

“I’m not a big fan of what the House (chamber) wants to do,” Bassler said. “My inclination is to take any excess reserves and put it toward pension obligations.”

Bill author Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, said his legislation avoids the $400,000 cost of sending out checks.

“I think there is a more efficient way to do it,” Holdman said.

The bill would halt the collection of utility sales taxes for six months and repeals a one-cent gas tax increase from July while capping gas use tax collections for the next year. A full Senate vote is expected Saturday

To accommodate that loss of gas tax revenue, the state will distribute $17.7 million from the general fund to counties, cities and municipalities.

According to Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, the average household savings – not taxpayer savings – from the temporary utility tax pause would be $18 per month. Holdman said he didn’t know what Hoosier households would save under the bill.

The repeal of utility taxes would disproportionately benefit businesses over homeowners, who use more in water, electric and other utilities.

When asked about the chances for the House plan in the Senate, Huston seemed optimistic.

“I can’t determine what happens in the Senate but we believe strongly (in) this bill; we’re going to continue to advocate for the bill,” he said. “I’d rather give the Hoosiers back their money right now then pay off a pension fund in three or four years. People need the dollars now; they don’t need it in four years.”

The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.

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