By Megan Banta
The Senate Appropriations committee passed a two-year, $28 billion budget Monday with a vote of 8-3 along party lines.
Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville), chairman of the committee, made several changes to the bill originally authored by House Ways and Means Committee chairman Jeff Espich (R-Uniondale).
"We think that this is going to be a real strong and sterling effort on the part of Indiana in terms of our fiscal responsibility and moving forward with things we want to do in our state," said Kenley.
The senator continued, saying that this is particularly true "when you compare it to many other states ... where they're still trying to figure out how to slash enormous amounts of money from their budgets."
Kenley's job of helping to craft the budget was made easier by a new revenue forecast released Friday, which projected that Indiana will receive an extra $644 million in revenue from state taxes.
Kenley praised Gov. Mitch Daniels for showing diligence, fiscal discipline and stewardship, and for putting Indiana "in a position where... hopefully, the revenue forecast will come true and we'll have more revenues."
Sen. Kenley followed the governor's proposal to put an extra $150 million into K-12 education, with $46 million to go toward completing the extension of full-day kindergarten and $15 million helping to fund a teacher merit pay program.
Sen. Ed Charbonneau (R-Valparaiso) said enacting this proposal in the budget means that children "stand ready to reap the benefits."
"At a time when we are watching other states significantly cut K-12 education, we're here today to talk about an increase of $150 million in money to fund K-12 education," he continued. "It's an investment in our future, in our children, in our teachers, and in our schools."
Sen. Kenley also included another mechanism relating to education. It would give $100 per student to any school with more than 500 students, with the maximum amount of students set at 1,000. Because several of the smallest school districts have less than 500 students, it would force them to consolidate in order to receive funds.
Kenley made several other changes to the budget passed by the House, including cutting $62.5 million from Medicaid funding, earmarking some of the state funding given to state universities to go specifically toward building repairs, and increasing funding for hospitals and nursing homes.
This version of the budget also includes an extra $550,000 in funding to go to the office of tourism, which brings in dollars through events such as the NCAA cross country and softball championships.
According to Kenley, Indiana has "reaped enormous tax returns through those activities."
"The actual tax dollars that we have generated from that have been far greater than the amount that we've invested in that amount of money," he said. "That doesn't even mention the economic impact on those local economies, so we think that's an investment that we want to continue."
While the Democratic senators voted against the bill, they said they "preferred it over the governor's budget and the House budget."
"I think we all agree that this is a much better proposal than what we've previously seen," said Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage).
Though Democrats thought it was an improvement over other proposals, they had some reservations.
"I still really have deep concerns about what we're doing with public education and the funding of public education and what it's going to do, particularly to rural school corporations that may have declining enrollment, but continuing cost," said Sen. Lindel Hume (D-Princeton).
"With that in mind, I'm going to vote no."
The above is one of an ongoing series of reports from the Indiana Statehouse by students at the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism.