Chesterton Tribune



Indiana Senate offers up $32.1 billion two year budget

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Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Indiana Senate Republicans put forward a two-year state spending plan on Thursday that nixes some tax provisions sought by the GOP-controlled House -- most notably a cigarette tax increase.

That could set the stage for tough negotiations as the annual legislative session enters its homestretch and Republicans who dominate state government debate how best to pay for much-needed improvements to Indiana’s crumbling infrastructure.

Both chambers have put forward proposals to increase the state’s per-gallon fuel tax and have signaled a willingness to consider tolling interstates in the future.

But they have major differences over a proposed $1 per pack cigarette tax increase, as well as a shift in revenue from a sales tax that is charged on top of the state’s per-gallon fuel tax. House Republicans wanted to redirect more of that fuel sales tax to infrastructure spending, which would rely on roughly $300 million that currently goes to other priorities. Their cigarette tax proposal would have offset that tax shift.

“My feeling is, if you don’t need a tax, don’t enact it,” said Republican Senate Appropriations committee Chairman Luke Kenley. He has an ally in Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, who also opposes raising the cigarette tax this session.

Both say they’d rather keep that as a possibility in the future -- especially if Republicans in Congress get traction on an overhaul to former President Barack Obama’s health care law, which would likely slash federal funding for the state’s Medicaid program.

“That wasn’t a surprise to us,” House Speaker Brian Bosma said. “They are, especially Sen. Kenley is, not a fan of moving the sales tax on gasoline into roads. That is definitely one of our goals, that’s been our goal for five years.”

The $32.1 billion plan that Kenley announced Thursday includes many of the same priorities as the House. But it would pump nearly $80 million more money into education and would provide $6 million less a year than the House and Holcomb wanted for the state’s preschool program for needy kids. Holcomb wanted $10 million in new funding; Kenley said he was willing to offer $4 million.

Indiana is one of just a handful of states without a robust state-funded preschool program, and advocates say an expansion would greatly help children of low income or single-parent households that struggle to make ends meet, or may have to balance multiple jobs. They had sought $50 million a year to expand a preschool pilot program currently offered in 5 counties.

Kenley voiced deep philosophical opposition and said there are already many programs to help poor kids.

“Does the child belong to the family, or does the child belong to the government?” he said. “... Where on the continuum are (children) ready to go out? Where on the continuum does the parents’ responsibility start to diminish and we need outside help? Where on the continuum should the child still be developing family relationship types of activities?”

Budget negotiations will continue over the coming weeks as the House, Senate and governor work toward a final proposal.



Posted 3/31/2017






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