INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Governor Mike Pence says the current session of the Indiana General Assembly is “the education session.”
He proposed a budget Thursday, however, that includes modest increases in school spending.
It is the opening bid in a long negotiation and the governor is low balling lawmakers with his first move.
His $31 billion two-year budget increases school funding by just two percent in the first year and one percent in the second year. That amounts to an additional $200 million.
$51 million will go to new prison construction. The state tourism budget will double, and the state surplus will remain at almost $2 billion.
Top aides to the governor presented the budget plan to lawmakers on the state budget committee.
“With our economy growing and unemployment low,” Chris Atkins, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, “Governor Pence’s budget places a top priority on expanding educational opportunities for students and their families.”
But Democrats believe public schools need more money. They also object to the fact that a voucher program and charter schools will see significant increases.
“The $200 million that they put in as a supplement to the K through 12 budget,” said Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage,) “doesn’t even come close.”
They also object to the governor’s plan to pay cash for construction projects at a time when borrowing money is cheap.
“Why not use some of that cash and invest in the future,” asked Rep. Terry Goodin (D-Crothersville,”put that in education?”
The governor’s plan includes more than $50 million in projects and programs connected to the state’s bicentennial celebration next year.
That caught the attention of Republican Budget Committee Chairman Luke Kenley.
“I think that’s a lot of celebrating,” said Sen. Kenley (R-Noblesville.) “I’m a little concerned about that.”
Lawmakers and the governor have until the end of April to find an acceptable compromise.