2/23/2017 House GOP budget funds key services while remaining fiscally conservative
By Kathy Kreag Richardson Indiana State Representative, District 29
This legislative session, lawmakers are tasked with crafting Indiana's next biennial budget funding state operations. After gathering recommendations from the governor and groups that rely on state resources, members of the House Committee on Ways and Means get to work on crafting a budget bill that then moves through the legislative process. Soon, I will be voting on House Bill 1001, which provides the fiscal blueprint for state operations in 2018 and 2019.
The budget proposal presented to House lawmakers is balanced and works to meet the needs of Hoosiers while remaining fiscally responsible. It funds key priorities like education and public safety while retaining healthy reserves, which is a savings account established to protect the state against unforeseen economic downturns. Because the state abides by the principle of not spending more than we take in, our credit rating is strong, which allows us to save millions of dollars.
The $31 billion budget appropriates funding to K-12 education, higher education, Medicaid, health and human services, general government, corrections, public safety and capital projects. In the current state budget, appropriations dedicated to K-12 education accounts for more than half of the entire budget.
To continue supporting educators and students, House Republicans are working to increase the base per-student funding by 4.7 percent over the biennium in addition to providing an overall increase for local school tuition support funding. The budget also provides modest funding increases for higher education and doubles funding for Indiana's high-quality pre-K pilot program, which helps low-income, at-risk students.
Other highlights of the budget bill include increasing state police salaries and the state income tax exemption for military pensions and survivor's benefits. It also includes funding to address the state's opioid epidemic and incorporates the creation of an executive director position for Drug Prevention, Treatment and Enforcement at the recommendation of Gov. Eric Holcomb.
Emphasis was also placed on investing in innovation and workforce development, including efforts to advance bioscience research and programs that deliver high-value training to Hoosiers, like the WorkINdiana program.
Among the groups requesting funds is a coalition of businesses, healthcare professionals, nonprofit groups and education leaders working to promote tobacco cessation efforts to improve the overall health of our state. Indiana consistently ranks at the bottom among states for smoking and overall health. We also have a high infant mortality rate, and doctors have testified that smoking causes or can account for up to 10 percent of all of the infant deaths in Indiana. An effective way to improve the health of our citizens is to reduce the number of Hoosiers who smoke and prevent kids from ever starting the addictive habit. According to those in the health industry, increasing the price of cigarettes is one of the most effective ways to decrease smoking rates in Indiana, especially among youth. The budget bill currently proposes to raise the cigarette tax by $1 per pack. The funds generated by the increase would be dedicated to cessation and prevention programs.
Other House members from both sides of the aisle, Senate members and the governor will also be weighing in on this initial budget proposal that could significantly change as it goes through the lengthy legislative process.
Crafting a budget for the state is a balancing act between funding vital services while remaining fiscally prudent with taxpayer dollars. As the budget bill continues to be discussed, I will work closely with fellow legislators and other state officials in order to best serve our community. Indiana, unlike other states, has cut taxes and reduced the size of government - all while building up a savings account. This has helped boost our economy, and if we remain fiscally prudent, Indiana can continue to grow and prosper.
Kathy Kreag Richardson is a Republican State Representative from District 29, which includes Noblesville, and has served in the legislature since 1992. She also is the elections administrator for Hamilton County. You may contact her at email@example.com.