INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana General Assembly was poised
Friday to approve a $30 billion budget with new tax cuts, a modest
expansion of school vouchers, new oversight of the $2.8 billion Rockport
coal gasification project and a series of other measures as the 2013
session neared its end.
State lawmakers worked through the day Friday on compromises and
adjustments to the proposals that have been hammered out since the session
convened Jan. 7. They were set to end their work late Friday or early
Lawmakers Friday evening were still tweaking the biggest item on their
to-do list, the proposed two-year budget. The spending plan 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.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said House and Senate
negotiators were close to wrapping work on a voucher expansion, gambling
legislation, and various other measures. He said he expected lawmakers to
still finish the session Friday night.
"The other bills and the bumps out there are being figured out," he said.
"I think all of them are about to get ready to go to the floor. The budget
will be last."
The budget marked a partial victory for Republican Gov. Mike Pence in his
drive this session to cut the personal income tax rate by 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
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.
House Democratic leader Scott Pelath, of Michigan City, said the biggest
tax savings will go to the wealthy and businesses through a plan to
eliminate the inheritance tax and continuing corporate tax cuts, while the
middle class will 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."
Pelath said the Republican budget plan also shortchanges public schools.
He said the 2 percent and 1 percent increases in the next two years won't
make up for funding cuts made by former Gov. Mitch Daniels.
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 expected 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.
A proposal aimed at making it illegal to secretly take videos or
photographs that could make a business look bad, dubbed by opponents as
the "ag gag" bill, stumbled 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 were also 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.
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 was withdrawn Friday after facing dim prospects in
the Senate. 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 the Senate.