I have the honor of serving as the Budget Subcommittee Chairman on the House Ways and Means Committee. I applaud the Chairman of Ways and Means, State Representative Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville), for the integral role he played in crafting our state’s budget, and I am very proud of the work we have done. As I write this, debate on the budget is still taking place. However, by the time you read this, we will have passed the budget through the House.
One of our top priorities is education funding. In 2010, we were in the height of the recession and our leaders made the very difficult but necessary decision to drastically cut education funding. With a projected shortfall of $1.8 billion in tax revenue, a total of $300 million was cut. We knew from the beginning that education was going to be a large part of our agenda but I am exceptionally proud to announce that this budget will restore that lost money and then some. Funding for K-12 education will increase by $354 million or 3.3 percent over the next two years. Overall, K-12 and higher education funding makes up 58 percent of the proposed budget.
These increases will help students in every level of schooling. For our youngest Hoosiers, we have allotted $7 million per year to fund a pre-kindergarten pilot program available to low-income Hoosier families. We also provide tuition support for full day kindergarten. Lastly, $300 million will be stored in the Tuition Reserve Fund in case the economy retracts again, so that we can continue to provide the services students deserve and need.
We are also working to eliminate the skills gap by providing $10 million over the biennium to place science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teachers in the schools that need them the most. An additional $5 million will be used to fund innovative education programs geared towards improving student performance and success.
Due to the rural and agricultural nature of our district, the additional dollars for roads and infrastructure improvement is very exciting. The budget permanently increases road and bridge funding by $250 million per year to maintain local and state infrastructure. This investment in our state will help attract jobs and businesses which will further stimulate our economy.
It is important to remember that the budget is still in the initial stages of what is a long process full of amendments and additions. We are continuing to look for responsible ways to give back to Hoosier taxpayers, but it is too early to say exactly what that will look like. In order to accomplish all of our financial obligations while still holding firm to our unwavering and proven commitment to fiscal integrity, we are reserving that decision for April, when the final revenue forecast is presented. It will also depend on what happens at the federal level and how that will affect state funding.
We must remember that fiscal restraint is what allowed us to offer the tax cuts that are already in place. Excess reserves of $360 million, during the Daniels administration, triggered the automatic taxpayer refund which returns $111 to every Hoosier taxpayer. It also led to our decision in this budget to speed up the permanent elimination of the death tax (also known as the inheritance tax) by four years. This decision will save taxpayers nearly $300 million. More importantly, it will keep more farms and small businesses in the hands of Hoosiers and encourage more Hoosiers to stay in Indiana after retirement.
In crafting this budget, I always had the best interest of my constituents and the state as a whole in mind. I will continue to do so as we carry on through the process, and I want to hear your feedback. You can contact me by phone at 317-232-9619 or by email at email@example.com. I look forward to your feedback.