INDIANAPOLIS -- Lawmakers are prepared to return to the Statehouse on Thursday at 1 p.m., to begin the task of formulating a budget that will support our state agencies, schools and other important programs.
The governor has offered a proposed budget and lawmakers have used that document as a starting point in negotiating a final agreement.
I was sorry to see negotiations hit a snag when some of the Democratic members of the Special Joint Budget Committee walked out of a hearing on the governor's plan in protest. I do not believe that move was responsible. While I feel the governor should be more honest about the financial impact his budget will have on public schools, I feel there are more appropriate ways to demonstrate our feelings than simply walking out of the meeting.
Passing a budget will take much patience and lots of negotiating to come up with a document we can collectively support. Staying at the table should be our No. 1 priority.
The governor's budget, unveiled June 2, contains 180 pages that cover funding for the broad scope of state government. It takes some time to go through the whole bill, but I do have some initial concerns.
The governor has stated that he will use a portion of the state surplus, as long as we keep our reserves equal to $1 billion. He also claims his budget provides a 2 percent increase in school funding. In reality, as I look at the formulas for the eight corporations serving District 44, the proposal either flat-lines or cuts school funding by 2011.
The governor acknowledged that any increases in funding will come from federal dollars, some provided through the stimulus package and some through funds designed to benefit special education programs and at-risk students.
However, the federal government will not allow stimulus dollars designated for those programs (Title 1 and special education) to be used for general educational purpose.
I believe the plan will create a funding "cliff." Federal money provided now for local schools will not be there in two years, so schools will have to find other ways to fund operations.
Every day, I realize the huge challenge we face. It will take time to recover from this recession. To say the least, I expect the next two fiscal years to be very difficult.
If our economy does not improve by 2011, there will be a serious crisis in school funding down the road. This could prevent our children from getting a quality education due to larger class sizes, teacher layoffs and program cuts. In addition, local officials will have to seriously consider tax increases.
The governor's school funding plan favors schools with growing enrollment, without providing any protections for schools where student numbers are going down. If your school's enrollment is going up, it will get more state money. If it goes down, it will get less state support of be flatlined. From the information provided, it appears that there is increased funding for most charter schools but this could be at the expense of public schools.
Education must be a priority in Indiana. It is the engine that will stimulate our economy. I am supportive of all efforts to support education as long as we give each student every opportunity to reach their fullest potential. The only reason we argue about the options between public and charter schools is because of the limited funds that are available.
I expect there to be long discussions about our funding options for schools, both public and charter. I will follow up over the next week or so to keep you informed on the most current consideration.
While the governor has proposed an increase in student financial aid, he also is cutting state support for higher education. I fear this will cause our state-supported colleges and universities to raise these lost funds by increasing tuition rates. That will create more difficulty for people to attend classes that provide the advanced training that can lead to better paying jobs.
While the governor does call for a few university construction projects that can get Hoosier back to work, his budget still lacks a broad-based job creation program. Projects already scheduled to take place do not provide new jobs. Indiana needs a completely new, comprehensive job creation plan that puts people back to work now on projects that improve local roads, bridges and other infrastructure. The bipartisan job creation package passed in the House during the regular session serves as a model for this plan.
Finally, while the special session agenda should be restricted to discussion over a new budget, there will be a proposal to assist the Indianapolis Capital Improvement Board (CIB). I understand that the Mayor of Indianapolis and Governor Daniels want us to pay attention to the CIB's $47 million deficit. It will be difficult to ignore requests for assistance from other parts of our state if significant consideration is given to the entity that runs Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.
Regardless of the difficult issues, I believe we will pass a budget by our deadline on June 30. When we return to session on June 11, the House will begin its own deliberations on a budget. There remains ample evidence that the best approach in writing a budget is to pass a one-year plan, particularly when there are so many factors that are still unclear, such as the timing for a economic recovery and its impact on state revenue numbers.
Thank you for staying in touch. I look forward to visiting with everyone over the summer months. In the days to come, you can reach me by calling the toll-free Statehouse telephone number of 1-800-382-9842, writing to me in care of the Indiana House of Representatives, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, Ind., 46204, or submitting your comments to my website at www.in.gov/H44.
While visiting the website, you can also sign up to receive regular e-mail updates from the Legislature.