Rep. Mahan: Setting goals for session

Posted by: Samantha Holifield  | Friday, January 8, 2016 12:50 pm

Setting goals for session

It’s hard to believe that my fellow legislators and I are back at the Statehouse, and the first week of the 2016 session is over already. I wanted to share with you our upcoming priorities, but also put them in the context of our recent accomplishments. This session I intend to focus on road funding and education.

While still maintaining Indiana’s strong fiscal integrity, I am committed to finding long-term, comprehensive funding solutions for our transportation infrastructure. In 2006, the Major Moves program was created to fully-fund plans for our roads and bridges for 10 years. With every dollar already spent or dedicated toward a project, Major Moves allowed us to create 87 roadway projects that are either completed or near completion, build or reconstruct 65 interchanges and resurface 49 percent of our existing roads. Recently, we took several steps to substantially improve road funding. We set aside an additional $400 million for road projects through the new Major Moves 2020 fund. We dedicated one percent of all sales tax revenue to the Motor Vehicle Highway Account, and removed all agency expenses from it. This has resulted in an additional $215 million per year committed exclusively to roads and bridges.

Unfortunately, to maintain Indiana’s transportation infrastructure and plan for future projects, an estimated additional $1.5 billion is annually required over the next 20 years. To simply keep our existing state and local roads system in driving condition, we need an immediate $250-300 million in additional funding. Our Roads and Transportation Committee and Ways and Means Committee are already working to find a solution that is comprehensive and sustainable for both our state and local roads. We know that we cannot rely on any one answer and must account for uncertainty, inflation and economic cycles.

Thankfully, Indiana has been fiscally responsible, and House Republicans are able to lead this charge. As the Crossroads of America, our state is held to a higher standard. I am confident that we will find a package of solutions that will adequately address our future road funding needs.

Education will again be a priority this session. In 2015, we devoted over half of our biennial budget to K-12 education. To retain and recruit Hoosier educators, a grant was established to attract teachers to hard-to-fill subjects, such as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and special education. The teacher performance grant for “effective” and “highly effective” educators was increased and a new $100 teacher tax credit was created to help offset the out-of-pocket cost of classroom supplies.

Like 40 other states, Indiana is facing a teacher shortage. We’ve found that low-income areas (both rural and urban schools) and certain subject areas (STEM, foreign languages and special education) are hard to staff.

An interim study committee was created to identify the potential causes and find solutions. That committee heard testimony last year from experts and educators, and made legislative recommendations for this session. For example, House Republicans have proposed awarding top- performing high school graduates a scholarship if they enter the field of education and stay in Indiana classrooms for five years. This is just one proposal to address teacher quality. A good teacher is the single most important factor in student achievement. By attracting and retaining the best and the brightest educators, Hoosier students, families and communities will all benefit.

This week, the House Committee on Education met to discuss a bill that ensures teacher bonuses and evaluations are not negatively impacted by spring 2015 ISTEP scores. This legislation passed out of the committee unanimously with bipartisan support on Wednesday. The bill will now go before the entire House to be considered. We are working to make sure educators are fairly evaluated during this transition to higher standards.

Many other issues will be coming before the House for debate as well. One of the most important things you can do is stay informed and up-to-date on public policy topics. You can find information on meetings, decisions, legislation and laws at www.iga.in.gov. If you ever want to share your thoughts and opinions with me, or ask a question, you can do so by calling 317-223-9509 or emailing h31@iga.in.gov.

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Rep. Mahan represents portions of Blackford, Delaware, Grant and Wells counties.