The 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly has come to a close. The agenda that the House Republicans released in October focused on four key areas: budget integrity, education funding, ethics reform and public safety. I am pleased to report that we succeeded in addressing each of these areas.
The most important bill the General Assembly passed this session was the state budget that will fund Indiana for the next two fiscal years. As the Vice Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, much of my time this session was spent crafting the budget. The budget is honestly balanced and maintains a healthy surplus and strong reserves, which will protect Indiana in the event of a future economic downturn and allow us to retain our triple-A credit rating. The budget also funds Indiana’s priorities while not increasing taxes on hardworking Hoosiers or placing an unsustainable financial burden on future generations.
Nearly two-thirds of the budget, more than $16 billion over the biennium, is dedicated to K-12 education funding. This is the largest increase to education funding in our state’s history. We also raised the foundation level, which increases funding for every student. The budget also includes a $100 tax credit for teachers to help offset the personal expenses they face in providing classroom supplies for their students. In addition, we fixed the funding formula and successfully reduced the spending gap between the traditionally highest and lowest funded public schools.
This has been called the session of education with good reason. We focused on many different areas of education, from classroom innovation to teacher compensation. Indiana’s highest priority remains the education of our children. We understand that by giving each child the opportunity for an excellent education, we can ensure that Indiana will continue to flourish in the years to come.
We also provided for public safety initiatives in the budget. Indiana’s domestic violence shelters are underfunded and over capacity, and our infant mortality rate is among the highest in the nation. That is why we doubled funding for domestic violence prevention and treatment and included a $13.5 million appropriation for the Safety P.I.N. (Protecting Indiana’s Newborns) grant program, which seeks to reduce Indiana’s infant mortality rate.
Funds are also allocated for community corrections programming and capacity building. Focusing on criminal justice will ensure that more offenders are rehabilitated and do not continue to commit crimes after their release from prison. Dealing with each of these issues will result in safer and healthier Hoosiers in every part of Indiana.
Another area we focused on was ethics reform. We added measures to our already strong transparency initiatives, including strengthening reporting requirements and disclosure of conflicts of interest. These regulations will protect our part-time Legislature, which is a valuable asset to Indiana. As a citizen Legislature, we are only at the Statehouse for part of the year, which allows us to be in our communities so that we understand the real needs of the Hoosiers we represent.
It has been a privilege to serve you during this year’s session. It has been very helpful to hear your opinions as I work to make the best decisions possible for our district and our state. Feel free to contact me by phone at 317-232-9651 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions or concerns. You can also continue to follow your state government during the summer and fall by visiting www.indianahouserepublicans.com.
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.