Chesterton Tribune



Tax cuts and modest voucher expansion near passage

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TOM DAVIES, Associated Press

TOM LoBIANCO, Associated Press

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 Saturday morning.

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 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.

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 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.


Posted 4/26/2013