INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana General Assembly approved a
two-year, $30 billion budget early Saturday that gives Gov. Mike Pence a
partial victory in his quest for an income tax reduction and restores some
money cut from education and transportation during the recession.
Lawmakers worked feverishly into the wee hours to hammer out agreements on
the budget and other issues, including an expansion of the state's school
voucher program and changes to sentencing laws that would require those
convicted of the most serious crimes to spend more time in prison.
The biggest item on their to-do list was the two-year budget. The spending
proposal, which the Senate approved around 1 a.m., included a modest
increase in school funding, new money for roads and highways and roughly
$350 million in new tax cuts.
"I think we have a budget we can be proud of," said Sen. Luke Kenley,
R-Noblesville, the Senate's budget point man.
The budget marked a partial victory for Pence, who made a 10 percent cut
in the personal income tax a signature piece of his gubernatorial
campaign. He instead won a 5 percent income tax cut, which will be phased
in starting in 2015, and lawmakers restored some of the school and
transportation money cut under former Gov. Mitch Daniels during the
House Democratic leader Scott Pelath, of Michigan City, said the biggest
tax savings would go to the wealthy and businesses through a plan to
eliminate the inheritance tax and continuing corporate tax cuts. He said
the middle class would see little benefit.
"Maybe two years down the road an extra buck a week in their pocket. That
is pathetic," Pelath said. "These tax cuts they talk about are a sham. The
income tax cut only happens two years from now."
Democrats said Republicans were shortchanging education by increasing
school funding 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.
Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, said the school funding increases were
"This is a percentage increase only over a severely reduced rate and we
are not back to where we were before the recession," Tallian said.
Lawmakers voted to expand the state's school voucher program, which is
already the nation's broadest. The program would be opened to students
whose siblings already receive vouchers and those who would otherwise
enroll in "failing" schools or have special needs. More than 9,000
students currently receive the vouchers, which provide public money so
they can attend private school.
Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, said the expansion would give more parents
options to select the school that is best for their children.
But Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, said the voucher expansion would sap money
from public schools.
"I think this is absurd and something we should not be doing," Smith said.
"This is too costly a burden on public education."
Lawmakers also approved proposal to halt implementation of national Common
Core education standards while state budget officials and a legislative
panel look at concerns the education rules might strip autonomy from the
They also were expected to approve a new school-grading model following
controversy over one crafted by former School Superintendent Tony Bennett
before he lost re-election last year. The new model would be drafted by
the state Board of Education, minimizing Democratic School Superintendent
Glenda Ritz's role.
A proposal that would make it illegal to secretly take videos or
photographs that could make a business look bad, dubbed the "ag gag" bill
by opponents, died Friday afternoon. The House sponsor withdrew the bill
after a lengthy debate during which several opponents criticized it for
exposing industrial whistleblowers or even unhappy restaurant customers to
possible criminal charges.
Lawmakers also passed 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
Several proposals failed to advance, including an effort to speed
implementation of a deal requiring Amazon.com to start collecting sales
taxes for online purchases in July instead of next year as previously
approved. And efforts to add table games at Indiana's two horse tracks and
allow riverboat casinos to move on land both appeared headed for defeat in
Republican Sen. Phil Boots of Crawfordsville had sought those provisions
and said Friday he was disappointed he couldn't get an agreement from
House Republicans who regarded them as an expansion of gambling.
The 2013 session was largely devoid of the strife that has marked
legislators' work the last two years, when clashes over right-to-work
legislation sparked Democratic walkouts.
Pence thanked lawmakers as the session adjourned just before 1:30 a.m.
"I am grateful for the efforts of every member who made this one of the
most civil and substantive sessions of our state Legislature in recent
memory," he said in a statement.