With less than a month left in the legislative session, decision time is approaching for state lawmakers as they negotiate their differences on several major issues.
This week negotiations are ongoing with on several big items- which might not get through this session to the extent that some lawmakers had hoped.
Lawmakers began the year with ambitious plans to fix more Indiana roads, start a pilot program to help pay for preschool, and start phasing out a tax on business machinery. But now with the end of the session approaching, some lawmakers have suggested scaling those items back, or taking more time to study the issues instead.
The plan to put more four-year-olds in preschool hit a major hurdle this week, as the Senate Education Committee put the brakes on the proposal.
Senator Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, proposed an amendment to the bill, forcing it into a summer study committee for more research.
“My concern is to make sure that if we do this, number one we have a really good program and number two that we can fund it properly,” said Kenley on Wednesday.
The bill, which passed the House, would have started a pilot program to give vouchers to young children living in poverty. It was a major agenda item for Gov. Mike Pence, who made the rare step of testifying before the committee in support of the bill last week.
“I’m just convinced that this an idea whose time has come (and) that we can do it in a responsible way,” Pence said on Wednesday.
Senators said they hope to expand the program beyond just a pilot once they get more answers. This marks the second year in a row the bill surrounding funding for Pre-K has failed to pass the Senate.
“I know (the governor) wants to see something happen,” said Senate president pro tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne. “We’ll be discussing that next year… (and) we’ll go into next year with a lot more information.”
“We haven’t thrown the towel in on that (pilot program),” said House speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, who also made the plan a major agenda item for this session. “But (it’s) pretty difficult to have three issues and walk away with three wins also.”
On the issue of funding for roads and construction, lawmakers are still talking about how much money they can put toward that issue this session.
And on the proposal to phase out the state’s business personal property tax, key lawmakers (including Kenley) have suggested that lawmakers needed more time to review the issue.
While supporters feel the tax keeps more businesses from moving to Indiana, many mayors around the state have said that phasing out the tax would be disastrous for their city budgets.
Still, House and Senate leaders said they were still working on a compromise plan to do something about it this year.
“I think there are plenty of options out there right now,” said Bosma. “Most of us acknowledge that if there is a mandatory cut here, that there needs to be some replacement (revenue). My personal preference would be not to have a ‘forever’ replacement, but to create a soft landing for communities.”
“We’re going to do something, and I think it’s important that we do,” said Long. “We’re looking at how do we bring those (House and Senate) ideas together, we’re working pretty hard on it. The Governor’s office, Senate and House leaders are meeting a couple times a week. We’re pretty close to consensus, we’re not quite there yet (but) there could be a break through sometime next week.”
Lawmakers have until March 14 to finish their work and reach a compromise on this year’s legislation.