Another viewpoint: Lawmakers should make most of unexpected $1.5B


Indianapolis Business Journal

The legislature learned last week that state taxes will generate $1.5 billion more than expected through June 30, 2025, meaning lawmakers could spend more than they thought on the next two-year budget.

State fiscal analysts say Indiana’s economy is performing better than expected this year as inflation slowed, consumer spending remained high and home sales rebounded slightly.

Senate Appropriations Chair Ryan Mishler, R-Mishawaka, has declined to say how the $1.5 billion windfall would be allocated, although he said Senate Bill 1, a mental health funding bill, will likely get a boost.

House Republicans, meanwhile, will continue to push for accelerated income tax reductions, an expansion of Indiana’s school voucher program and additional investments in economic incentive packages.

Here are a few other suggestions:

The Senate budget cut a $10 million allocation to Martin University, the state’s only predominantly Black college. Gov. Eric Holcomb had asked for the money to support helping more minority students graduate from college.

The House included the money in its budget, though it required the money be used to attract and retain students in high-demand professions. The Senate’s budget instead directs $10 million into a College Success Program that would offer aid to low-income minority students at public and private universities across the state.

With the extra revenue now available, the compromise should be to fund both ideas. As Holcomb said in January, one way to address the state’s brain drain is to enroll more low-income minority college-goers.

We also would urge lawmakers to fund the career scholarship accounts for high school students that the House included in House Bill 1002. The Senate stripped that program and funding out of the bill, a move we hope is just a negotiating tactic.

Along those lines, we hope the final budget includes a House proposal to allow students who qualify to use money from the 21st Century Scholars program to pay for training and certification programs as well as college. The program now restricts those students — who come from lower-income households — to using the money for a two-year or four-year degree. Let’s broaden the options.

Lawmakers should also fund public health at the level suggested by the Governor’s Public Health Commission — which would mean $480 million more over the next two years. That’s more than Holcomb requested (even though he appointed the commission that came up with the recommendation) and significantly more than the House and Senate put in their budgets. But the new revenue projections mean that bumping the amount back up to the commission’s recommendation — a number meant to bring Indiana up to the funding in neighboring states — is certainly possible.

Finally, the final budget should include $160 million annually to eliminate K-12 student textbook fees. Holcomb proposed the idea, and while the House bill agreed to eliminate the fees, it left school districts to come up with the money. We think the state can cover the bill.

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