This week, one of the newer representatives approached me and asked if the tone amongst the members has always been this congenial. I had to reflect for a moment and responded that as I start my fifth year in this institution, I can honestly say that this has been the most bipartisan session of my career. While we may not agree with all the ideas and issues that move through the process, the tone has been a marked change for the better.
There are multiple issues moving through the House that I am very excited about. As we wrap up next week, I will write an update on the first half of session. In this column however, I want to focus on the biggest issue that we face every two years – the biennial budget.
Gov. Pence rolled out his budget at the end of January and it was a great start to the process. I liked his focus on increasing education funding with an emphasis on vocational training. I also liked his emphasis on road funding and many other positive approaches to move Indiana from good to great.
Last Friday the House Republicans presented our budget and I want to highlight a couple of items that I think meet the priorities that we set as we went about crafting this budget.
Invest in Education: In the area of K-12 education, we fully restore the difficult cuts that were made over the past several years. This is a $344 million increase which is a 3.3 percent growth. We put $150 million in the Tuition Reserve Fund that was established to be a rainy day fund to help fund education during future economic downturns. Additional money is allotted for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teacher recruitment, innovation programs and dropout prevention programs.
Boost the Hoosier Economy: The biggest issue in this area is the skills gap. Despite the economic downturn, Indiana employers are still hiring but many Hoosiers are simply not trained to fill those positions. We are working to bridge that gap. We have passed bills that create regional works councils, create an Indiana Career Council and fund a Skills Enhancement Fund. These actions will give more Hoosiers opportunities to train or retrain and close the skills gap.
Build and Maintain Infrastructure: We are proposing changes that will send more gas tax money back to the local units and move some of the sales tax revenues to infrastructure needs. These actions will add an additional $250 million per year to road and bridge projects.
Protect the Vulnerable: Children are our most vulnerable citizens. We are dedicated to helping them and we are starting by revamping the Department of Child Services (DCS). We increase DCS funding to put more case workers in the field and we require them to investigate all reports of abuse or neglect reported by law enforcement. We are also working on the right formula to expand Medicaid so that our fellow Hoosiers that sincerely need our help receive it.
Fiscal Integrity: As a backdrop to all the increases in the budget, we must stay focused on the guiding principles of protecting Hoosier taxpayers, preserving and enhancing vital services and maintaining our fiscal integrity. This budget does not raise taxes and keeps money in the bank with an estimated $2 billion surplus at the end of fiscal year 2015.
If you have specific questions regarding the proposed budget, please do not hesitate to contact me. I can be reached by phone at 317-232-9767 or by email at email@example.com. We are a long way from the final version of the budget, but I am encouraged by the progress we are making.
Keeping things in Lehman’s Terms,