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New budget, in the nick of time

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By Jessica Wray

Both houses of the Indiana General Assembly approved a new two-year, $28 billion budget Friday night as the clock ticked toward the midnight conclusion of this year's legislative session.

If revenue forecasts hold up, it would set aside a $1 billion surplus at the end of the biennium. Provisions in the budget changed after the updated revenue forecast was issued in April, saying Indiana would have an extra $644 million to spend.

A new funding formula in education has directed funding from urban schools with declining enrollment to growing school districts. Rep. Win Moses (D-Fort Wayne) says those changes negatively impact schools in his district.

"That's likely to worsen with the voucher and charter schools. It's a very debilitating piece of legislation," he said.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) said the budget slightly increases funding for K-12 education. The budget bill plans to provide $6.3 billion to schools in both 2012 and 2013.

"We have been vigilant in using our state funds to prepare our students – who are the hope and heart of our future – to succeed in their lives economically, culturally and morally as productive citizens," Kenley said in a press release.

Moses said that the $150 million added to education funding in the budget bill, from the previous budget recommendations, does not adequately help schools in need of extra funding.

"It really won't help many others if any," Moses said. "That's not enough to do full-day kindergarten in most schools that don't have it."

He saidthe bill needs to make up for the $300 million per year that has been subtracted from the budget. The $150 million, he said, "will help somewhat in there if they allow it to open it up," but that he really does not expect it to have much affect on full-day Kindergarten anywhere in the state.

The bill would give a 0.5 percent increase to education funding in 2012, and a 1 percent increase in 2013.

Democrats and Republicans also disagreed about a GOP-backed measure that that would reduce Indiana's corporate income tax rate from 8.5 percent to 6.5 percent.

Rep. Eric Turner (R-Cicero) said that he believes the House bill that would allow a decrease in corporate tax rates, and would create more jobs. He said that bill is the job program legislation.

"I know that somebody is going to come up here and say ... that this is corporate wealth. Well you know, what it is, is welfare, and I'll tell you what kind of welfare it is, it's about a dad and a mom who are providing their own family's welfare with a job." Turner said.

Another provision in the budget bill is a way to prevent legislators from delaying the legislative process three consecutive days, on the final day of regular session or during a special session.

This piece of the bill is in reaction to the five-week shutdown of the Statehouse during the Democrat boycott. It would allow legislative leaders to impose fines of $1,000 a day, plus court and attorneys' fees.

Democrats had said throughout the walkout that they were utilizing the only method providing to them through the state constitution, and that adding this kind of provision to the budget bill would eliminate the only way they can express their opinions on legislation.

Rep. Suzanne Crouch (R-Evansville) said that she believes the budget bill meets the requirements Republicans set out to accomplish at the beginning of the session, including creating a budget that is structurally balanced, have a budget that has savings after the biennium and not raising taxes for Hoosiers.

"We were able to restore a lot of the funding that we were not able to do until that revenue forecast came out," Crouch said. "We were able to restore a lot of the funding that will help Hoosiers that desperately need it, and we were able to do that and still achieve the three goals that we wanted to do at the beginning of the session."

Crouch said that the $150 million for education is a good start to helping K-12 schools.

"However much we have is never going to be enough to do everything we want to do for everyone," Crouch said. "But that certainly is a step in the right direction."

The above is one of an ongoing series of reports from the Indiana Statehouse by students at the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism.

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