The April revenue forecast announced Thursday revealed $2 billion more than expected is available to lawmakers as they finalize the state budget, House Bill 1001.
The budget that passed out of the Indiana Senate Tuesday contained significant amendments to the version passed by the House in February. As currently proposed, the budget contains provisions to pay off $110 million in debt, spend $250 million on expanding broadband access, appropriate $150 million to address education loss during the COVID-19 pandemic and provide $100 million to Family and Social Services Administration to address mental health.
“The revenue forecast we received today is certainly good news, and comes on the heels of a decade of fiscal discipline that is paying off in a big way for Hoosiers,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chair, Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen, said.
House Speaker Todd Huston said the legislative leaders hope to use the extra $2 billion to pay off more state debt, provide additional funding to public and private schools and make one-time investments.
“Just one year ago, the pandemic entered the ring and seemed to deliver a knockout punch to our booming economy. In a short period, our near-record-low unemployment of 3% skyrocketed to a record-breaking high of 17%. Now, Indiana is not only bouncing back but winning the fight,” Huston, R-Fishers, said.
The early revenue announcement was followed by testimony about the budget during a separate conference committee Thursday afternoon, where lawmakers from both chambers met to reconcile their different visions for the bill. There, several public education advocates and other organizations testified in hopes of receiving more funding.
“There was a little bit of a jaw drop in terms of the good news,” Gail Zeheralis with the Indiana State Teachers Association said of the added revenue. “I ask that you just keep the promise to our teachers. They’ve been patient, they’ve been vocal, but they responded to the crisis, they’ve worked hard, they’ve waited and now is the time.”
The bill is now in the hands of the conference committee and both chambers will have to vote on its final report.
The House version of the bill included a cigarette tax increase and bigger funding increases for vouchers and charter schools. The Senate version removed the cigarette tax increase and replaced it with funding for mental health resources and students living in poverty.
Democrats, who remain in the super-minority in both chambers, have argued the budget can do more, though. Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, said it is time to start valuing schools and essential workers.
“The reality of these numbers completely dismantles the picture Statehouse Republicans’ have been painting of financial despair,” Porter said in a statement. “Their negotiators have argued the need for frugality as they finalize yet another biennial budget that favors corporations and the wealthy, instead of working-class families and small businesses hit hardest by the pandemic.”
The General Assembly had originally planned to wrap up the session by April 21, but is now having to look at extending its temporary adjournment by at least a day.
“In the coming days there will be a lot of debate on what the right thing to do is in light of this forecast, and I think it is paramount to hold true to the principles that got us where we are today – we need to make responsible, prudent decisions that fund our priorities, like education, and that have the highest return on investment for Hoosiers from every walk of life,” Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, said. “However, we must also be wary of the day when the economy begins to turn because we dare not expect this economy to last forever.”
Alexa Shrake is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.