As legislators start work on a new state budget, there’s more agreement than usual on what it should include, but the parties still have some differences.
Both Republicans and Democrats say the new budget should include additional help for small businesses pushed to the financial brink by the pandemic. And there’s general support for increasing school spending, but Democrats want money earmarked specifically for teacher pay. Republicans have consistently said their goal is to give local schools the resources to pay teachers more, while keeping locals in charge of deciding whether and how much to raise pay.
Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray (R-Martinsville) says he’s optimistic legislators will be able to increase funding for schools. Holcomb’s budget calls for a two-percent increase in the first year of the two-year budget while other state spending remains flat, with an additional one-percent the second year. It would add up to an additional 377-million dollars over two years. Bray says he can’t promise those exact amounts — he notes the legislature’s nonpartisan forecasters will update their state revenue estimates in April, just before lawmakers finalize the budget. But he calls Holcomb’s proposal “a good starting point.”
And while Bray says it’s impressive that Indiana can afford to pay off some bonds ahead of schedule as Holcomb has proposed, he says legislators will have to assess whether that’s the best return on investment as the state tries to get Hoosiers back on their feet after the pandemic upheaval. Holcomb’s budget calls for the early payoff of 300-million dollars in debt for the extension of I-69 and a handful of state park construction projects. The administration says it would save 66-million dollars in future interest payments.