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House Republicans advance state budget to Senate for further negotiations

The photo shows the Indiana House chamber during floor debate on legislation. A lawmaker is standing at a podium in the front of the chamber, while other legislators sit at their desks - some actively listening, some not.
Brandon Smith
/
IPB News
The House approved a new, two-year state budget along party lines, sending it to the Senate for further debate.

House Republicans sent their proposed budget to the Senate Thursday, where disagreement likely looms over tax cuts and school voucher expansion.

The House’s $43 billion state budget, HB 1001, significantly increases overall K-12 education funding. But a major part of that – and a major sticking point with Democrats and, potentially, Senate Republicans – is more than doubling the amount of funding in the state’s school voucher program.

Rep. Jeff Thompson (R-Lizton) said his caucus’s philosophy is that public funding should follow the student to whichever school they choose.

“Ninety percent of our students still choose traditional public," Thompson said. "But I think it’s key we give parents – and parents decide exactly what is best.”

READ MORE: House GOP unveils budget proposal, including big education increases and accelerated tax cuts

Democrats like Rep. Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis) said the choice isn’t fair because private schools don’t have to follow the same rules that public schools do.

“Now, we’re going to open it up even more with, from my perspective, less transparency, less accountability,” Porter said.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) indicated his caucus may be more hesitant to expand the voucher program – without added accountability – as far as the House Republicans do.

The two Republican caucuses may also diverge on a key portion of the budget – whether to accelerate cuts to the state's individual income tax.

READ MORE: Indiana lawmakers will write their two-year budget this session. Here’s how that process works

Join the conversation and sign up for the Indiana Two-Way. Text "Indiana" to 73224. Your comments and questions in response to our weekly text help us find the answers you need on statewide issues throughout the legislative session. And follow along with our bill tracker.

The House GOP plan would slash the rate to 2.9 percent in just three years, half the time the legislature planned for those cuts in legislation last year. It also removes guardrails for those cuts that ensure the rate is only reduced if state revenues steadily grow.

House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) said those guardrails were impractical and unnecessary. Bray said he was concerned about their removal.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

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Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.