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(INDIANAPOLIS) — Budget hearings have begun at the statehouse, with legislators questioning

Governor Holcomb’s plan to pay off some debt early.

The administration wants to spend $302 million to wipe out bond debt for I-69 and some hospital,

state park, State Fair, and prison construction projects. Office of Management and Budget director Cris Johnston says the plan would save $66 million in interest in the long run, without building more spending into the budget baseline.

Democrats have been critical of similar proposals in the past, and Indianapolis Representative Ed

DeLaney renewed those objections to the latest version. He says especially with interest rates low,

Indiana wouldn’t gain that much in interest savings. And he argues the coronavirus pandemic has

created immediate needs. DeLaney says many students have fallen behind due to their schools

either canceling classes or moving them online, and need help to get caught up again. And he says

the pandemic has exposed public health disparities the state could be addressing with that money.

House Republicans have proposed a one-time grant fund to pay for summer catchup classes, and

Johnston says federal relief money includes at least $140 million to help bridge any learning

gap created by the pandemic. DeLaney says legislators need details on federal money Indiana is

receiving and spending before they vote on a budget.

At least one Republican is also voicing skepticism about the debt repayment plan. Schererville

Representative Hal Slager says while there may be disagreement on what the top priorities are, the

state has needs right now where that money might do more good.

The House Ways and Means Committee has two days of budget hearings this week, with more to

come before it rolls out its own version of a spending plan. The Senate will deliver its version in April,

with a final bill coming at the end of the month.