We are now at the midpoint of the 2015 legislative session, which works much like halftime at a basketball game. Similar to how basketball teams switch sides, bills will soon switch chambers.
There have been over 650 bills filed in the House and nearly 100 of them have been passed out and sent to the Senate for further consideration. However, the most important bill we must pass this session is House Bill (HB) 1001, our state’s biennial budget. The House Republicans recently released the details of the budget, which I would like to share with you.
As Vice Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, I have spent a great deal of time, with the rest of the committee, crafting our proposed budget before we send it to the House floor for consideration by the full House. I have shared in past columns about our agenda for the 2015 session. The House Republicans proposed budget demonstrates our commitment to funding the priorities we outlined, such as education and public safety. We realize that it is not enough to have good ideas; we must also allocate the funds necessary for these ideas to succeed.
Our proposed budget dedicates more money than ever before to Hoosier education. We have increased funding by $469 million over the biennium for a total of $16 billion for education through 2017 fiscal year. By reworking the funding formula, we were able to raise the foundation level of spending per pupil for every Hoosier student. Ensuring that our students receive the highest quality education possible better prepares them for the future.
In addition to this increased investment, we are furthering our efforts to improve education through innovation. We have allocated funds for more STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teachers and for our Freedom to Teach initiative, which frees teachers from burdensome regulations, allowing them to apply creative teaching methods in the classroom. We have also set aside money to provide a $200 tax credit for teachers who purchase supplies for their classrooms.
While K-12 education funding makes up over half of our proposed budget, we have also funded other priorities such as public safety. Working towards this goal, we have doubled our funding for domestic violence prevention in Indiana. Increasing this funding will support victims of domestic violence who are in need of shelter and help. Additionally, we allocated funds for a Safety P.I.N. (Protecting Indiana’s Newborns) Grant Program which allows groups to apply for a grant to reduce and prevent infant mortality.
Our budget also appropriates $2 million per year to expand the 2-1-1 dialing service to include infant mortality and domestic violence. This allows those service professionals to provide additional help to the Hoosiers who need it most. The proposed budget also includes additional funding for criminal justice reform, working to reduce recidivism and provide alternatives to incarceration, which will serve as a long-term solution to address crime in Indiana.
The House Republicans have a strong history of fiscal integrity. Our proposed budget continues that legacy by maintaining healthy reserves that protect Indiana taxpayers, students and the elderly. We need to continue to manage our finances responsibly so that our state can operate in the event of another economic downturn. It is also one of the main reasons why Indiana has maintained its AAA credit-rating while other states continue to lose theirs.
By crafting an honestly balanced budget and developing a sustainable spending plan, we can ensure financial stability for future generations. When we live within our means, our children inherit opportunities rather than debts. I am pleased that our proposed budget is not only honestly balanced, but will also serve Hoosiers well.
As we continue through the legislative process, we will make sure that we adhere to fiscally responsible principles. I appreciate your feedback and welcome your response to this and other issues affecting our state. Please continue to stay in touch. Feel free to contact me by phone at 317-232-9651 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rep. Cherry represents portions of Hancock and Madison counties. He serves as Vice Chairman of Ways and Means. He also serves on the Local Government Committee and the Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee.