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Indiana GOP leaders say money tight for next budget

Republican Statehouse leaders say they want to increase funding for Indiana's embattled child welfare agency and find a way to pay teachers more, but that money will be tight when they craft the state's next two year budget.

Posted: Dec 14, 2018 9:39 AM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Republican Statehouse leaders say they want to increase funding for Indiana's embattled child welfare agency and find a way to pay teachers more, but that money will be tight when they craft the state's next two year budget.

"The budget is going to be more difficult than most people realize," House Speaker Brian Bosma said Wednesday during a forum previewing the upcoming session, which begins in earnest Jan. 1. "It's going to be a very challenging year."

It's hardly a surprise that lawmakers are prioritizing a larger appropriation for the Department of Child Services. Long-festering problems at the agency exploded into public view last year, when its former director resigned in a letter accusing Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb of making management changes and service cuts that "all but ensure children will die."

Since then, lawmakers have directed additional money to the agency to shore up its finances, which have been stretched thin amid the state's metastasizing opioid crisis.

But there has been confusion over teacher pay. The issue roiled legislatures in Kentucky, West Virginia and other states over the last year. And Indiana Republicans want to prevent such unrest from spreading to their state.

Holcomb has offered a convoluted stance on the matter, suggesting last week that a "framework" must first be developed, with an end goal of increasing teacher salaries by 2021.

However, he said Wednesday that his stance was "mischaracterized," though he did little to offer clarity, vaguely calling for a "short-term" and "long-term" approach.

Bosma, on the other hand, made clear that he will prioritize getting teachers at least some kind of a raise this session, with more to come in the future.

Unlike some other states, teacher pay decisions in Indiana are mostly made at the local level. Lawmakers could still influence those decisions, though, by placing "some parameters" on how school funding is spent, Bosma said.

"Our commitment to teachers has to be enhanced," Bosma said. "We're not hitting the target on the most important profession ... in our state's future, which are teachers."

Under Republican leadership, Indiana has amassed a $1.8 billion reserve fund. But GOP leaders say significantly drawing that down would be fiscally irresponsible and isn't an option they would consider.

Still, Democrats question whether the state faces the dire circumstances Republicans describe. They note that DCS has had problems for more than a decade and are partially caused by a lack of funding.

What's more, under a Republican sponsored plan, the state's corporate tax rate has been cut back in increments. Reverse part of that and the state could have more money, Democrats contend.

"I am just am a little bit skeptical that we don't have the money," said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, of Anderson.

When it comes to teacher pay, Holcomb said last week he wanted a "methodical" plan that would delay a significant increase until 2021.

Indiana ranked 31st among the 50 states in teacher pay during 2016, with average salaries of $50,715, according to the National Education Association. That's lower than the five nearby states that the Holcomb administration wants to compare Indiana with — Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Holcomb's agenda this year calls for state money for a variety of tax breaks for attracting businesses, along with modest boosts in job training and drug-abuse treatment programs.

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Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 730969

Reported Deaths: 13434
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1000031743
Lake53771970
Allen40668678
St. Joseph35733552
Hamilton35629408
Elkhart28577442
Tippecanoe22402219
Vanderburgh22310397
Porter18776308
Johnson17970379
Hendricks17244315
Clark12985191
Madison12673339
Vigo12449247
LaPorte11928211
Monroe11893170
Delaware10696186
Howard9924216
Kosciusko9410117
Hancock8284141
Bartholomew8070156
Warrick7784155
Floyd7669178
Grant7060174
Wayne7051199
Boone6700101
Morgan6576139
Dubois6156117
Marshall6050111
Dearborn581378
Cass5808105
Henry5720103
Noble561384
Jackson501773
Shelby491996
Lawrence4546120
Harrison435872
Gibson435492
DeKalb428485
Clinton427453
Montgomery424189
Whitley396139
Huntington391980
Steuben387857
Miami381866
Knox371990
Jasper366047
Putnam360760
Wabash354179
Adams341354
Ripley339770
Jefferson330981
White314354
Daviess297399
Wells291581
Decatur285492
Fayette280762
Greene278985
Posey271533
LaGrange266770
Scott266354
Clay260247
Randolph240781
Washington240732
Spencer232131
Jennings230149
Starke216654
Fountain212346
Sullivan211942
Owen200256
Fulton195440
Jay195130
Carroll189320
Orange183654
Perry183037
Rush173425
Vermillion169143
Franklin168135
Tipton162845
Parke146316
Blackford134932
Pike134334
Pulaski116845
Newton107834
Brown102141
Crawford99814
Benton98614
Martin89115
Warren82115
Switzerland7918
Union71010
Ohio56811
Unassigned0416

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