Budget hearings have begun at the statehouse, with legislators questioning Governor Holcomb’s plan to pay off some debt early.
The administration wants to spend 300-million dollars to wipe out debt for I-69 and some hospital, state park and prison construction projects. Office of Management and Budget director Cris Johnston says the plan would save 66-million in interest in the long run, without building more spending into the budget baseline.
Democrats have been critical of similar proposals in the past, and Indianapolis Representative Ed DeLaney renewed those objections to the latest version. He says especially with interest rates low, Indiana wouldn’t gain that much in interest savings. And he argues the coronavirus pandemic has created immediate needs. DeLaney says many students have fallen behind due to their schools either canceling classes or moving them online, and need help to get caught up again. And he says the pandemic has exposed public health disparities the state could be addressing with that money.
House Republicans have proposed a one-time grant fund to pay for summer catchup classes, and Johnston says federal relief money includes at least 140-million dollars to help bridge any learning gap created by the pandemic. DeLaney says legislators need details on federal money Indiana is receiving and spending before they vote on a budget.
At least one Republican is also voicing skepticism about the debt repayment plan. Schererville Representative Hal Slager says while there may be disagreement on what the top priorities are, the state has needs right now where that money might do more good.
The House Ways and Means Committee has two days of budget hearings this week, with more to come before it rolls out its own version of a spending plan. The Senate will deliver its version in April, with a final bill coming at the end of the month.