House Republicans have a string of spending proposals among their priorities for this year’s legislative session.
The first year of the new two-year budget is expected to be tight because of the pandemic. House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) says he’s wary of building spending into the budget that may not be sustainable over the long term. But he says spending cuts imposed by Governor Holcomb last year when lockdowns cut into the state’s bottom line mean there’s room for one-time spending.
Several of the proposals focus on problems either caused or exposed by the pandemic. Huston says Republicans want to expand a relief fund to help restaurants and other small businesses stay afloat. They also want one-time grant funds to help local police departments purchase body cameras, and pay for summer school to help students who fell behind when the pandemic closed schools last spring.
Huston says Republicans will use the six-year-old Safety PIN program, which awards grants to local groups to reduce infant mortality, as a model for a new grant program to tackle other public health issues like obesity and smoking at the local level. Indiana’s infant mortality rate fell to its lowest level in history last year, and Huston says the Safety PIN focus on locally-run, research-based approaches is a proven success.
Huston says the House will seek to expand rural broadband. The last budget included 100-million dollars for that — Huston says the goal this year will be a more targeted approach zeroing in on underserved areas.
Huston isn’t announcing a price tag for the various grant funds, but says it will be “a significant amount.” He says Republicans will pass a bill clarifying that schools won’t lose funding for holding classes online because of the pandemic. They’ll also seek to expand eligibility for the state’s private-school voucher programs.
Huston says he hopes to increase school funding in the new budget but isn’t committing to it. Governor Holcomb has said his budget proposal, expected next week, will include an increase.