INDIANAPOLIS – As the next Indiana General Assembly was sworn in Tuesday, Republican legislative leaders say they see opportunity to increase funding for schools, improve the state’s public health system and possibly cut some taxes.
House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) pledged “record new investments” for K-12 schools as lawmakers work on a new state budget – a process done every two years.
“We recognize schools have those needs and we’ll get them additional dollars,” Huston told reporters.
Two years ago, Indiana lawmakers approved a $1.9 billion increase in funding for schools.
This time around, Huston said, Republicans are looking at additional funds as well as potential changes to the school funding formula.
“I think we are always looking at changes to the school funding formula,” Huston said. “Ways that we can make it better and I think we’ve tried to support particularly special needs students and English as second language students and that will continue to be a focus of ours.”
Lawmakers will work on a new budget as the state sees a significant surplus.
As of July, after the fiscal year ended, the surplus topped $6 billion, $1 billion of which was returned to taxpayers during the special session.
Republicans are considering potential tax cuts, especially when it comes to property taxes, Huston said.
“The explosion of assessed valuations is presenting some challenges, so [House Ways and Means] Chairman [Jeff] Thompson and the committee are looking at ways that we can provide some property tax relief,” Huston said.
Republican legislative leaders say they also want to lower health care costs and improve the public health system.
Earlier this year, a state commission recommended Indiana invest $240 million per year to bring its public health spending up to the national average.
Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) told reporters it’s a funding goal they’ll try to meet.
“That’s not a small amount of cash, so the thing that we have to make sure of is that we can get that money distributed out to the local health departments and they can do a lot of good with it,” Bray said.
Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) argues Republicans should be more willing to make those kinds of investments, pointing to the state’s surplus.
“This is the Hoosier taxpayers’ money,” Taylor said. “And we need to be thoughtful about how we provide assistance to those people who need it the most.”
Indiana lawmakers will return to the Statehouse January 9 to begin considering bills.