Indiana lawmakers set a Friday deadline to reach an
agreement on the stateís next two-year budget, as well as the Republican
majorityís top priority — raising taxes to pay for improvements to the
stateís crumbling infrastructure.
But with just days
left in this yearís legislative session, the House and Senate still appear
far apart on some key tax provisions. Thatís put some other pieces of
Republican Gov. Eric Holcombís agenda in limbo.
Lawmakers also want
to curtail the sale of cold beer by convenience stores, an unexpected issue
that cropped up after Rickerís gas stations used a legal loophole to make
beer sales previously reserved only for liquor stores and restaurants.
Itís possible the
factions wonít come together this week. In that case, they could continue
negotiating until the official April 29 deadline for the yearly legislative
session, given that all sides want a deal. But lawmakers had hoped to
ďOnce we get
agreement on roads, the budget and liquor, weíre getting out of here,Ē said
House Speaker Brian Bosma. ďItís my hope that will be before next Friday,
but Iím leaving my calendar open.Ē
Hereís a look at
whatís to come this week:
BUDGET AND TAXES
generally agreed to hike the stateís per-gallon tax on gas and diesel by at
least a dime. They also want to charge new tire and vehicle registration
Republicans also want to fund infrastructure by using all current sales
taxes on fuel purchases, which are charged in addition to the stateís
existing per-gallon fuel tax. And thatís a major sticking point.
and Holcomb oppose the idea because it would take money out of the stateís
general fund, which currently pays for other programs.
To compensate for
that shift, House Republicans have proposed raising the stateís $1 per-pack
cigarette tax, which Holcomb and Senate Republicans also oppose.
lawmakers likely will need to impose tolling, in order to raise the $1
billion in additional yearly funding state officials estimate they need to
maintain and improve roads and bridges. A provision in the roads bill would
allow the governor to seek federal authority to toll. But Holcomb has
signaled that he isnít itching to do that quite yet.
Last month he
suggested that was something the state should consider in seven or eight
years — about the time he would be term-limited from running again.
Holcomb came out of
the gate asking for a $10 million a year increase in funding for a pilot
program that pays for poor kids to go to preschool in five counties. But
Senate Republicans balked.
Whatís unclear is
if the chamberís chief budget writer, Sen. Luke Kenley, will budge from his
initial offer of just a $3 million increase, with an additional $1 million
set aside for an online preschool program that offers 15 minutes of lessons
Holcomb, who has
operated primarily behind the scenes this session, offered an olive branch.
He shifted his request from doubling the funding for the program to finding
ways to double the number of students served by it, which could come with a
smaller price tag.
Experts say there
is ample data showing prekindergarten helps kids perform better once they
enroll in K-12 school, especially disadvantaged kids. However, Kenley has
raised philosophical concerns about a government-sponsored program that
sends kids to preschool, suggesting that children ought to be home with
parents at that age.
Holcombís major agenda items is a bill to make Indianaís elected schools
superintendent a position appointed by the governor.
The bill has had a
bumpy ride and was initially voted down by the Senate. Though it was later
resurrected, the measure is now in limbo in the House. Speaker Brian Bosma
has suggested that heís not in a rush to take it up.
That could mean
Bosmaís holding it to gain leverage in other negotiations, a tactic heís
been known to use in the past.
The push to take
choice away from voters arose, at least partially, from bitter battles
between former Republican Gov. Mike Pence, now the vice president, and
former state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat.
The two clashed
frequently over Republican backed policies, like using public dollars to pay
for private school tuition, or using student test performance to help
determine teacher pay.