INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Lagging tax collections, the impact of new laws and the perpetual question of how best to spend Indiana’s education dollars are all expected to factor into the state budget proposal being developed by Gov. Mike Pence’s administration ahead of the 2015 legislative session.
Indiana law requires the General Assembly to pass a budget every two years, and lawmakers who will reconvene in January will be charged with approving a spending plan before they adjourn in April. The current $30 billion budget expires in June.
This will be the first budget compiled by the Pence team; former Gov. Mitch Daniels’ team crafted most of the current budget.
“You’re going to see a deeper stamp of (Gov. Mike Pence’s) administration on this budget,” state budget director Brian Bailey told The Journal Gazette.
Though the state has a $2 billion surplus, department heads have already received strict marching orders as they prepare their requests for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. They include subtracting 3 percent from their 2015 appropriations and identifying potential cuts to offset request for new or expanded programs.
Bailey said each agency also has been asked to rank the programs it oversees in order of importance as part of the Program Assessment Comprehensive Evaluation, which helps identify and eliminate underperforming programs or those that conflict with Pence’s primary goals.
“It helps us make funding choices,” Bailey said.
Republican Sen. Luke Kenley of Noblesville, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said setting priorities is a “bruising process” but a necessary one.
“I do think that’s a duty of the executive branch to continually evaluate your programs and see which ones you don’t need,” Kenley said.
Education spending could be a challenge again this year as K-12 schools and universities compete for dollars.
Kenley said lawmakers need to take a “good, hard look” at regional schools like IPFW and the challenges they face.
He also isn’t a fan of Democratic schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s proposal that the state pay for textbook rentals and instructional materials. Indiana is one of only eight states that require parents to pay for these items.
“I am not convinced that paying for textbooks universally is necessary, because we pay so much toward public education,” Kenley said. “I think it’s good for parents and kids to have some investment in this, especially toward tangible items like books. It’s not the best use of scarce resources.”
Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, the ranking member of the budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee, noted that Indiana spends the majority of its budget on K-12 education.
“Our support of K-12 is crucial and has to be our top priority,” Porter said. “We have to look at the millions siphoned off of traditional public education and need to fully fund kindergarten and the tuition formula.”
Other issues that could complicate spending discussions include the impact of criminal sentencing changes that took effect in July. Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, said budget writers might need to put less money into state prisons but more into local probation services and mental health treatment.
The State Budget Committee will hold hearings on proposed spending in November and December.