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(INDIANAPOLIS) — Senate Republicans have unveiled their version of a new state budget,

pumping more money into schools and spending a little less overall.

The House and Senate budgets give schools about the same 1.2% increase in the first year

of the two-year budget, but the Senate adds an extra $30 million the second year, bumping

a 2.5% increase to 2.9%.

The Senate budget revives Governor Holcomb’s plan to spend $400 million to shore up

teacher pension funds to free up money to do that. Senate Appropriations Chairman Ryan Mishler

(R-Bremen) says the state has “cash, but not cash flow.” He says Republicans won’t use one-

time money to fund an ongoing expenditure.

As Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray (R-Martinsville) announced last week, the spending plan

doesn’t include the House’s proposed cigarette tax increase. It keeps the House’s 10%

sales tax on e-liquids, but for prepackaged cartridges, the tax is 10 cents a milliliter, assessed at

the wholesale level.

Mishler says it’s important to achieve “parity” with tobacco taxes to send the message to

teenagers that vaping isn’t healthy. The Indiana Chamber, which has supported raising both taxes,

charges the proposal fails to meet that goal, calling it “woefully inadequate” and worse than no tax

at all.

Two of the four Democrats on the Appropriations Committee joined Republicans in sending the

plan to the House floor. And even the other two call it a significant improvement over the House

version. Gary Democrat Eddie Melton notes the bill scales back a House expansion of school

vouchers, and gives legislators a voice in deciding how to spend money from President Biden’s

just-passed pandemic relief bill. The budget earmarks $900 million of that money, and

Mishler says he wants to include specific instructions for some of the $2 billion remaining.

But Democrats say they’re disappointed the bill doesn’t include money specifically for teacher

pay, even after the recommendations of a commission Holcomb appointed to suggest solutions.

And they say it doesn’t do enough to restore funding cut from state agencies when the pandemic

capsized the economy last year.

The budget’s never finalized till legislators get an updated economic forecast, expected next week.

The pool of federal money adds another consideration. Mishler says Senate Republicans are

close to agreement with the House, but not there yet.

The two budgets are only a half-billion dollars apart in total spending over the two years, with

several one-time items appearing in both. Both plans set aside $50 million for a new swine

barn at the State Fairgrounds, a quarter-billion to expand broadband, and another quarter-billion to

address the aftereffects of the pandemic. Both the House and Senate have called for an

assistance fund for restaurants, a new $50 million local health grant fund, and $150 million for

summer school to get students caught up on ground they lost when schools were closed or

online-only. And both include $150 million for Holcomb’s Regional Recovery Initiative, which the Senate rechristens the Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI).

And the Senate bill adds $100 million dollars in mental health spending to address issues

worsened by the pandemic. Mishler says he’ll talk with the Family and Social Services

Administration about more specific directions for how that money should be spent.