INDIANAPOLIS -- The House of Representatives reconvened on Thursday (June 11) to start the special session to pass a budget for the State of Indiana.
The deadline for completing our work is June 30. The next couple of weeks will follow the normal process of presenting and passing legislation.
As the process begins, the Ways and Means Committee will review the Governor's proposal. The final result of this committee will be handed down to the full House for second reading, then a final vote. Once the House has passed its version of an approved budget, the bill will be presented to the Senate for the same examination.
In recent days, the Governor presented his proposal publicly. As I have read through the nuts and bolts of the Governor's plan, I have found many problems that I believe should be addressed by our members.
As you have heard many times, the Governor has stated there will be a 2 percent increase in funding for education. In reality, the increase in state funding is only .25 percent, with the balance to come from other federal programs. In summary, all schools in District 44 will lose funding. Unquestionably, this will be disastrous to education.
The basis for his 2 percent figure includes the use of federal dollars that are allocated for Title I and Special Education programs. Never in the history of our state has the General Assembly supplemented General Fund dollars with designated federal program money. This is not allowed by the federal government and will have to be changed.
It is obvious that rural and urban schools are most affected. The information shows more than 55 percent of Indiana schools would have funding flat-lined or reduced.
Clay Community Schools Corp. would be among the 25 school districts across Indiana that would be most adversely affected by the governor's plan, with an estimate loss of more than $1.06 million in funding. The four Putnam County school corporations would lose more than $2 million collectively, while Parke County schools would lose more than $135,000.
Other concerns focus on funding for virtual charter schools.
This is a new expenditure for our state. While I believe this is an innovative way for some children to be educated, it is an expense that should not be incorporated into our budget during a recession.
Additionally, the plan identifies a 4 percent cut in higher education. This is a direct hit on our universities and state community colleges. I have talked to many parents who are concerned about the costs for higher education. Any reduction in state funding will result in higher tuition costs.
Two other topics of great concern include additional taxes to support the Indianapolis Capital Improvement Board (CIB) and a reduction in the health and social services for Indiana.
The governor's budget does contain tax increases to bail out the CIB while reducing the funding for the Indiana prescription drug plan, community health centers and the CHOICE program that provides in-home care for seniors.
The governor's budget is a starting point for discussions that will take place between now and June 30. In response, the House Democrats have crafted a budget proposal that will be considered by the Ways and Means Committee.
The House Democratic budget is a one-year plan rather than the traditional two-year proposal. A one-year budget makes the most sense at a time when our country's economy remains unstable and the state's revenue estimates continue to be unpredictable. For your information, our most recent forecast presented on May 26 turned out to be off by more than $50 million.
In my opinion, it makes sense to write a one-year budget when the revenue numbers are so unpredictable. I would prefer to protect funding for K-12 and higher education initiatives. We can come back in January with updated information on the status of our Indiana economy to address fiscal year 2010. Having better information will enable us to determine whether we can improve school funding in the second year of the biennium or implement cuts.
The House Democratic budget will provide a 2 percent increase in state school support, primarily through the use of federal stimulus dollars designed to help pay school operating costs. Stimulus funds dedicated to at-risk and special education students will be used for those specific purposes, rather than school operating costs as the governor wanted.
The House Democratic budget will contain a hold harmless provision that ensures that no school district will face a reduction in current funding levels, even if they lose students. This will help school corporations face increased costs in such area as utilities, insurance and transportation.
The House budget increases funding for higher education by 2 percent, and includes provisions that enable our colleges and universities to proceed with building projects that can put Hoosiers back to work. The proposal will also restore CHOICE and funding for Community Health Centers in the first year.
While these proposals are under consideration for our committee, the members of the full House will have a chance to weigh into the discussion during the second reading process.
I do understand there will be a separate House bill concerning the CIB. I am pleased to know that this particular issue will not cloud our focus on our biggest priority, the budget. Should you have any feedback about these issues, feel free to call or write. I do appreciate your involvement and feedback.
Throughout the special session, you can reach me by calling the toll-free State House telephone number of 1-800-382-9842, or 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.