INDIANAPOLIS — A $36 billion dollar state budget proposal is now in the hands of the Indiana Senate.
The House plan increases the cigarette tax and provides more money for school voucher programs.
It also includes several one-time investments in small business, health, broadband and law enforcement.
However, it’s the education portion that has some raising eyebrows.
“I would say that it shows their priority is not funding K-12 public schools,” said Indiana State Teacher Association Vice President Jennifer Smith-Margraf.
The plan gives K-12 an additional $378 million over the next two years but more than one third of that goes to expand Indiana’s school voucher program. That means parents can use these tax dollars to send their kid to private school instead.
“We believe that instead of providing money to families that make up to 145,000 dollars per year when the median income is somewhere between $58,000 and $75,000 per year is not where we should be focusing our priorities,” said Smith-Margraf. “We believe we should be focusing our priorities very clearly on the K-12 system, the public K-12 system that enrolls over 90 percent of students that attend schools.”
Supporters of the school voucher program said the money should follow the student, not schools and that families deserve a choice.
ISTA doesn’t agree.
“That’s like saying we fund drivers not highways,” said Smith-Margraf. “We need to make sure that we have very strong, public education systems for all of our students because that is the backbone of our society and it is a driver of our economy.”
ISTA wants the budget to add the $600 million recommended by the Indiana Teacher Pay Commission’s report.
“We believe that the Senate should and will change some of these things,” said Smith-Margraf.
The current House approved budget also increases the cigarette tax 50 cents and puts a 10 percent retail tax on e-cigs and e-liquids.
The Indiana Hospital Association would like that tax to be $2.00 per pack.
“50 cents is a start but we need to do more,” said IHA President Brian Tabor. “The pandemic has made it clear that Hoosiers’ tobacco use has really been a key driver in some of our outcomes from COVID, we need to act and act big.”
Despite attempts from House Democrats, this version does not include increased funding for food banks or minority owned businesses.
Those measures could come up again in the Senate.
We asked Democratic State Sen. Eddie Melton to comment on the House’s proposal he said he would like more time for the caucus to look at it before doing an interview, but he did say he has preliminary concerns with education funding cuts made in the budget.
During a press availability Tuesday, Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray said, “We’re just starting to take a look at the House budget, there are some things that will obviously change.”
He said he does have some questions about the cigarette tax portion.
“At 50 cents, I’m not sure it makes anybody happy. The advocates think that’s too small of a jump because people may try to make that jump and not quit smoking or the youth will maybe see that as doable and start smoking,” said Bray.
As for education funding concerns, Bray said he is open to discussions to add funding for teacher pay and to look at implementing some of the Teacher Pay Commission Report suggestions.
However, he said there is Senate support for the school voucher program concept, but they will still have lots of conversations about it.