Indiana lawmakers set to approve $30B budget
By TOM LoBIANCO and TOM DAVIES Associated Press April 26, 2013 11:28PM
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana General Assembly is poised to approve a $30 billion budget with new tax cuts, a modest expansion of vouchers, new oversight of the $2.8 billion Rockport coal gasification project and a series of other measures as the 2013 session comes to a close.
State lawmakers worked through the day Friday on compromises and adjustments to the proposals that have been hammered over the last four months in the Statehouse. They were set to end their work late Friday or early Saturday morning.
The largest proposal is the state’s $30 billion budget, which includes a modest increase in school funding, new money for roads and highways and roughly $350 million in new tax cuts. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indiana, has also pointed out that the budget continues an incremental cut in the corporate income tax approved in 2011, although he has also said there were no plans to end that cut.
The plan marked a partial victory for Republican Gov. Mike Pence in his drive this session to cut the personal income tax 10 percent over the next two years and a marginal win for the leaders of Indiana’s localities who have stood on the other side pushing for more money for road repairs.
Democrats say Republicans are shortchanging education by increasing school funding by 2 percent in the budget’s first year and 1 percent in the second after big cuts were made during the recession. The budget adds about $200 million more than what Pence sought for schools. It also would pay off more than $80 million in loans taken by charter schools, possibly including schools whose charters were revoked by Ball State University earlier this year.
Lawmakers were also set to expand school vouchers for students whose siblings already receive vouchers, would otherwise enroll in failing schools or have special needs. They also were set to approve a new school-grading model following controversy over the one crafted by former School Superintendent Tony Bennett before he lost re-election last year.
House and Senate negotiators were still at work Friday on a bill that would ban secret filming on Indiana farms, dubbed by opponents as the “ag gag” bill for the likelihood it would silence whistleblowers. And they were close to approving a new review by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission of the proposed Rockport plant, if the Indiana Supreme Court determines the state’s 30-year contract to purchase gas from the plant is void.