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Budget, road plan passage concludes session

The 2017 Indiana Legislative session came to a close early Saturday morning, exactly one week ahead of schedule, after Hoosier lawmakers approved a $32 billion, two-year state budget.
‘Once again, Indiana lawmakers, under the leadership of House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown and Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, have demonstrated their ongoing commitment to maintaining responsible reserves and building balanced biennial state budgets,’ Gov. Eric Holcomb said.
‘It seems every week there’s another example of Indiana gaining national attention for our top-rated business and tax climates, and we owe those accolades ‘ in large part ‘ to the fiscal discipline of our state lawmakers. The budget funds key provisions in our Next Level agenda, including increased direct flights at Hoosier airports, funds to encourage and nurture entrepreneurship and continued support for regional economic development efforts. It also ensures we take strong steps to develop a skilled and ready workforce by investing in pre-kindergarten and credentials in high-need industries for working adults.’
The budget’s provisions include:
Annual spending of $15.9 billion in fiscal year 2018 and $16.4 billion in 2019, leaving a surplus of $79.9 million the first year and $119 million in the second.
A reserve balance of $1.8 billion in 2018 and $1.9 billion in 2019.
An increase to $22 million a year for the state’s pre-kindergarten pilot for low-income families, On My Way Pre-K.
K-12 education funding of $345 million over the biennium, representing a 1.6-percent increase in 2018 and 1.7 percent in 2019.
$5 million to the governor’s office for substance-abuse programs, funding that Holcomb had sought to aid in treatment and enforcement.
‘These strategic and targeted investments are designed to make our state stands out as the best place to live, work and build a business,’ Holcomb said. ‘I commend Indiana lawmakers for their vision, and I recognize the resolve it took to advance these programs amidst many other priorities.’
Another check mark on lawmakers’ to-do list was the road funding plan. Approved on Friday, the road-funding package will cost the average Indiana motorist about $63 a year in higher fuel taxes and new vehicle registration fees.
House Bill 1002 aims to raise an average of $915 million a year during the next seven years to be spent only on state and local road projects.
Provisions of the bill include:
Taxes on gasoline, diesel and other vehicle fuels go up 10 cents per gallon, starting July 1.
The new fuel tax rates annually increase by up to 1 cent to adjust for inflation in each of the next seven years.
By 2025, all sales tax collected on gasoline purchases will be spent only for roads.
All vehicle owners pay a new $15 registration fee to specifically support local road projects, starting in 2018.
Electric ($150) and hybrid ($50) owners pay an additional annual fee since their vehicles use comparatively less gasoline.
The state will seek federal permission to toll existing interstate highways.
The user-fee increases are expected to raise $617 million next year, with $357 million marked for the Indiana Dept. of Transportation projects and $260 million for local road projects.
The state will expand its pre-kindergarten pilot program, On My Way Pre-K, for low-income students to 15 counties, instead of the original five, and provide an additional $9 million in funding. Another $1 million will go toward a new at-home, online program for rural counties that may not have high-quality providers.
‘I’m thrilled our lawmakers are providing thousands of low-income Hoosier families access to high quality early education,’ Holcomb said. ‘This important legislation gives more children in more counties the chance to start their educational journey on the right foot.’
As for ISTEP’s replacement, lawmakers set parameters for the new test, ILEARN, for 2019. According to the IndyStar, much of what the test looks like will be left up to the State Board of Education to hash out. ILEARN will not only allow for some personalization to the state’s standards, but also for using a national test that will allow Indiana to compare test results with other states.
New this year, Senate Bill 30, which was signed by Holcomb on Friday, requires the state DOE to track which voucher school, out-of-district public school or charter school that students are choosing over their assigned public school districts.
When it comes to vouchers, which use public dollars to help low-income families cover the cost of private-school tuition, the budget planned for an increase with the state expecting to serve 38,000 students through vouchers by 2019, at an estimated cost of $167 million.
In addition, House Bill 1384 expanded private-school eligibility for voucher funds by eliminating a one-year waiting period so schools can now receive vouchers in their first year of operation.
In regard to merit-based teacher pay raises, the state allocated slightly less money, $30 million annually for the next two years, as opposed to the previous biennium’s $70 million. However, merit-based teacher pay raises will no longer be tied to ISTEP performance; instead, funds will be distributed based on the size of the school.
Other education bills that passed this legislative session include:
House Bill 1005, which will see an end to the office of the state superintendent of public instruction as of January 2025, after which the governor shall appoint a secretary of education. Indiana’s state superintendent of public instruction has been an elected position for 166 years, but lawmakers have been talking about the change for decades. The reason for the wait in inaction is so the current state schools chief, Jennifer McCormick, can have her shot at re-election.
House Bill 1079, which requires public and private schools to check the criminal history within 30 days of any applicant who will have direct contact with children. They must also check within 60 days whether the applicant has been reported for child abuse or neglect and whether the applicant has had a teaching license suspended or revoked in another state. Checks must be conducted every five years instead of just upon hiring.
House Bill 1024, which protects students from being punished for their religious expression in public schools, allowing them to pray, express their religious beliefs in assignments, participate in religious clubs or wear religious garb.
Senate Bills 29 and 337, which require schools to offer electives on Indiana studies and the study of racial and ethnic groups.
Indiana lawmakers passed the state’s first medicinal cannabis bill in House Bill 1148, which would allow doctors to prescribe an oil extracted from hemp plants to people with treatment-resistant epilepsy. The CBD oil cannot get people high because it is not marijuana.
Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, who carried the bill in the Senate, said this bill was not the ‘gateway’ to medical marijuana or recreational marijuana.
‘This is a gateway for parents whose children have a hundred seizures a day or adults in the population ‘ less than one-third of 1 percent ‘ who have epilepsy that can’t be treated by other means.’
If Holcomb signs the bill into law, it would take effect in July.
At press time a total of 128 bills had been signed into law by Holcomb, who has until April 28 to finish signing bills sent to his desk. To view the full list of signed bills, visit www.in.gov/gov/2923.htm.

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