INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana Senate Republicans have unveiled their state budget proposal for the next two years, which includes several differences from the House GOP plan released earlier this session.
Indiana House and Senate Republicans both want to increase funding for schools: In the Senate, Republicans have proposed a $1.1 billion increase in K-12 school tuition support over the next two years. They also want to setting aside $160 million per year in state funding to eliminate textbook and curriculum fees, unlike the House GOP’s plan to change the school funding formula.
And right now, Senate Republicans aren’t on board with the House GOP proposal to increase eligibility for school choice vouchers.
“I don’t think there is an issue whether we have vouchers or not, I mean, we’re fine with that,” said State Sen. Ryan Mishler (R-Mishawaka), who chairs the Senate Appropriations committee. “I think we just have to figure out is it the 300% or the 400%, what should the eligibility be?”
State Senate and House Republicans have proposed the same amount of spending on public health: $225 million over the next two years, which is two-thirds of what Gov. Eric Holcomb requested.
But they’re still working out how to increase funding for mental health, in addition to using state dollars.
House GOP lawmakers have called for raising the state’s cigarette tax. But Senate Republicans are more interested in a phone bill surcharge to fund the 988 crisis lifeline, Mishler said.
“What we decided to do was let’s just work together and decide what is that fee going to be,” Mishler said of the ongoing negotiations between the two chambers.
During a Thursday morning Senate Appropriations committee hearing, State Sen. Eddie Melton (D-Gary) proposed a $1.50 cigarette tax increase, but Republicans rejected it.
“I think it’s a piece to the puzzle,” Melton said. “I think the cigarette tax increase in addition to the 988 solution I think will fully address that issue.”
Senate Democrats say there are several parts of the GOP budget proposal they support but have some concerns.
State Sen. Fady Qaddoura (D-Indianapolis) said he wants to see a bigger funding increase for pre-K. The Senate GOP proposal raises the income eligibility for the state’s On My Way Pre-K program from 127% to 150% of the federal poverty level.
“Investing in early childhood education is the most strategic investment to be sure that we improve high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates,” Qaddoura said.
Senate Republicans have also proposed changing how charter schools are funded, using property tax dollars instead of state grants. Democrats are concerned about the idea and the impact it would have on funding for schools in low-income areas, Melton said.
Lawmakers have another two weeks to work on a final version of the new budget before the session ends. State revenue projections that are set to be released April 19 will factor into their final decisions on spending.