Indiana lawmakers had the pleasure of deciding how to spend $32 billion of your tax money over the next two years.
As this year’s legislative session came to a close early Saturday morning, lawmakers approved plans that focus on improving roads, boosting education funding and making other strategic moves aimed at improving the state’s economy.
It’s your money, and how the state spends it affects you. But we know you don’t have time to read more than 100 pages of legislative yammering, so we’ll break it down for you.
Gas tax increase: In order to raise money for road maintenance and construction, lawmakers voted to raise the gas tax from 18 cents to 28 cents a gallon. Lawmakers say that would cost the average Hoosier $60 more per year at the pump. Motorists also will have to pay an additional $15 BMV registration fee for most vehicles, $50 for hybrids and $150 for electric vehicles. The plan would generate $1.2 billion annually for roads by 2024. It also sets the stage for tolls on some interstate highways, but that likely would be years in the making.
No cigarette tax hike: Earlier in the legislative session, House Republicans proposed a $1 cigarette tax increase to fill a potential hole in the state’s general fund. In the end, they opted not to do it — at least not yet. Senate leaders want to reserve that option in case the federal government decides to cut funding for Medicaid in the near future.
International flights: Travelers could soon have access to a wider variety of direct flights. The budget provides $15 million a year for Gov. Eric Holcomb’s economic development efforts, which could include subsidizing new direct international flights at the Indianapolis International Airport. Holcomb has said such flights are key to attracting new business investment to Indiana.
School funding: If your student attends a suburban school district, such as Carmel Clay, Hamilton Southeastern, Westfield-Washington or Zionsville, good news! Those traditionally lower-funded districts will see some of the biggest gains in state funding. More money also will go toward educating students with severe disabilities and students learning English as a new language in districts where that’s a significant need, such as Indianapolis Public Schools. Students also will receive more financial support for pursuing honors diplomas and programs focused on high-demand workforce areas.
Funding for some urban school districts, such as Wayne Township and Pike, will stagnate, but overall state funding for K-12 schools will increase by about 1.7 percent each of the next two years to more than $7 billion per year.
Pre-kindergarten: The state will pay for more low-income 4-year-olds across the state to attend high-quality pre-kindergarten through its On My Way Pre-K program. Funding would nearly double to $21 million a year. Students in more counties, beyond the first five pilot counties that included Marion County, would be eligible for the grants. Families qualify if they meet income thresholds: $30,861 for a family of four. And if there isn’t a high-quality pre-kindergarten program near you, you may be able to bring an online early learning program into your home.
Veterans: Holcomb pushed for a complete tax exemption of military pensions earlier in the session. While his plan didn’t end up in the final budget, veterans still had some wins. They were given a small increase in exemptions, as well as additional funding for several veterans’ programs. Throughout the process, veteran advocacy groups had maintained they preferred more funding for programs, such as those eliminating homelessness and treating veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Teacher bonuses: The pool of teacher raises will no longer depend on school performance. That requirement roiled teachers last year, with the state’s highest-rated teachers receiving a bonus that ranged from $42 to $2,422, depending on their districts — and some were shut out all together. Now the pool will be based on school size. Larger schools will receive more money, but presumably will have to divide it among more teachers. The state will dole out $30 million each year in raises for public school educators.
Last year’s controversy:$42 bonus was an ‘insult.’ So these Indy teachers made the best of it.
Indiana State Police: State troopers can expect significant raises — 10 percent in the first year of budget and 14 percent in the second. A study last year found that Indiana troopers are paid significantly less than officers in other jurisdictions, with starting pay at $40,902 a year. That would jump to $51,291 a year over the next two years.
Department of Child Services: Some of the state’s most vulnerable children could get more services thanks to a $200 million funding boost over the next two years for the state agency charged with combating child abuse and neglect. Indiana has seen a sharp increase in the number of children who need services, a phenomenon state officials attribute to a rise in meth and heroin abuse.
Adult Protective Services: The state agency charged with protecting people with dementia, mental illness and developmental or physical disabilities would see its annual budget double to $5.5 million. The funding boost comes after an IndyStar investigation last year exposed that the agency was woefully underfunded, leaving thousands of adults neglected or vulnerable to exploitation.