2013-03-05 / Front Page

Local State Representatives Baird And Heaton In Favor Of Two-Year Budget Passed By House

by Michael Stanley
Staff Writer

While Governor Mike Pence and the Indiana Senate have slightly different views of the state’s operating budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, the Indiana House of Representatives passed its own $30 billion version on February 25.

Passed by a majority of House republicans, 68-28, the budget would increase spending on K-12 education, higher education, state and local roadways, and Medicaid, all while reportedly leaving a $2.1 surplus in the state’s coffers after 2015.

“We’re at the midway point now, we’ve quit submitting bills in each of the houses and now they are coming across to each other,” District 44 State Representative Jim Baird (R-Greencastle) said. “I thought it was really good that we were able to put about $350 million back in K-12. The data that we had showed that if we could get those young kids involved earlier in life, the quicker the better. That seemed to be advantageous to them and when we can do that, it’s good for them, it’s good for the country and it’s good for us.”

Governor Pence’s version of the budget, however, includes an individual income tax break not included in the House plan.

If passed, the House proposal would signal a major win for local elected officials whose requests for additional funding to improve roadways would ne answered with 47 percent of a $250 million allotment going to local governments for road projects. The Indiana Department of Transportation would receive the remaining 53 percent allotted to the state’s Motor Vehicle Highway Account.

“As an old (Putnam) County commissioner, the one I’m excited about is the road funding. I don’t want anybody to misunderstand what we’re doing there, we’re still going to fund the state police and Bureau of Motor Vehicles, we’re just going to pay for those from the general fund,” Baird explained. “That allows about $250 million a year to go through normal highway funding channels. I hope we can continue that road funding, because it’s has an impact on economic development, particularly in our local area.”

A member of the House Ways & Means Committee, Baird was among those voting in favor of the budget.

District 44 State Representative Bob Heaton (RTerre Haute) was unable to attend Monday’s session due to illness, but told the Spencer Evening World on Tuesday that he too supports the House budget.

“We’re going to put more money back into traditional public education and it’s a good thing that we’re going to be able to do that,” Heaton said. “We’re going to have millions of dollars going back to local governments for roads and this is what has been needed all along. I talked to a lot of people out there and for the most part I heard, ‘Bob, I don’t need any money back to speak of, just go ahead and take care of our roads and education.’ I have a tendency to agree with that and when you have a couple billion dollars extra, people are wanting to get their fair share to fund their cause and there are a lot of good causes to help out with.”

Baird explained that the plan also pays for many university construction projects up front, eliminating interest payments and pays off debts in the form of bonds for the Indiana State Museum and state Forensics Science Laboratory.

“We’re staying focused on the major issues like the budget and others like education, jobs, the skills gap and those types of things,” Baird said. “We’ve decided to speed the process up of eliminating the inheritance tax to end it in 2018. I found it interesting that it has an impact on some of the local revenue to the counties. In a lot of cases, there wasn’t much money in that inheritance tax, so local government spent a lot of time and had more invested into it than what they recovered. There were situations where the next generation had to pay for the operation again, for say a farm, when they were involved all along and had helped grow that small business or farm to where it was.”

Education would receive a two percent and additional one percent increases in funding over two years for an additional $334 million. Schools would also be distributed portions of $16.7 million set aside for educational achievements, however, the formula has yet to be determined. The state’s tuition reserve fund for schools would also receive $300 million over two years. State universities would receive a 3.5 percent increase over the next two years.

The House budget will undoubtedly see several changes now that it moves on to the Senate.

“This is just the first introduction of the budget, it hasn’t reached the midway point because it will be discussed more in the Senate,” Baird noted. “Then the revenue forecast that comes out in early April will give us a better look at the figures. These budgets are based on projections 18 months out. We have a good base, it’s balanced, so any of these things we need to fine-tune, including working with the governor, we have the opportunity to do that.”

Heaton anticipates plenty of behind-thescenes negotiations in April as the House, Senate and governor work towards a compromise.

“I know Governor Pence is hoping for his tax cut and the leadership in the House still wants to look at that, but time will tell,” Heaton added. “We’ll see what happens in the next couple of months, it will probably get down to the last week and a half of the session to get a more defined dollar figure for us to work with.”

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