Starting at 9 a.m., lawmakers, state employees and reporters alike didn’t know what to think walking in the Statehouse doors. Would the session end on Thursday? Or would it last until the official last day, dragging into Saturday?
With lawmakers shuffling from meeting to meeting, yawning and sneaking snacks, the last day of the session—or technically day, night and early morning—was reminiscent of the first day. Unknown, unruly and seemingly unexpected.
The end of a long session always rests on lawmakers finishing the state budget. In fact, three versions were created before it was finally voted on in the wee hours of Friday morning—passed as was an all but forgone conclusion.
After House and Senate Republicans released a version—the second version—Wednesday, school officials across the state were concerned with the funding allocated to public schools. Money put toward voucher expansion meant less money put toward public schools than expected.
Leading House Democrats shared their distaste with the budget’s K-12 funding, with Minority Leader Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, and Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, sharing the following statement:
“We have no interest in slapping together a budget rife with errors—Republicans’ previous two proposed budgets have already had major problems in them. Our kids are worth time, consideration and thoughtful policymaking. We’ll stay all night until this is made right.”
Shortly after, a third and final version of the budget was shared, giving an extra $300+ million toward K-12 over the next two years.
House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Jeff Thompson (above), R-Lizton, started by presented budget highlights to his colleagues in the House, saying the budget was full of opportunity.
But Porter called the budget a “missed opportunity,” saying there was more work to be done. Most of his frustrations surrounded voucher expansion, saying the budget doesn’t help all students and sets a precedent of favoring charter schools.
“I’ve been in the General Assembly for a number of years, and this is a very disappointing, hard budget for me,” Porter said.
House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, shared his pride for the work of lawmakers, or specifically Thompson’s work in creating his first budget. After Huston’s rather excited speech, he received loud applause.
The House passed the budget by a vote of 70-27.
In the Senate discussion, taking place at the same time, Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Merrillville, also called the budget a missed opportunity, echoing criticism of Democrats in both chambers that Indiana’s surprise surplus would not be used to help those most in need of it.
Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, was a rare Republican rising to express his anger with the budget—or more specifically not having enough time to properly vet it as he said his oath of office required.
“I want to know what’s in these bills,” he said. “I don’t feel very good about being able to cast a vote on this bill.”
The Senate discussion ended at 2:20 a.m. with a vote of 39-10.
With that, bleary-eyed lawmakers and their staffs rushed to leave—with eight months to evaluate what happened in the 2023 legislative session before the 2024 one begins.