- Associated Press - Thursday, March 13, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - A broad package of business tax cuts, a preschool pilot program and new money for transportation was sent to Gov. Mike Pence’s desk Thursday night after state lawmakers who fought bitterly early in the session over a gay marriage ban found consensus in the final hours of the 2014 legislative session.

House and Senate Republican leaders found ways to deliver much of the House Republican proposals, which Pence signed onto. The broad success left House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, sounding a positive note.

“All in all it’s just been a tremendous session,” Bosma said, shortly after gaveling to a close Thursday night. “I’m very proud of the members here - Republican and Democrat, House and Senate. They worked hard. They brought this home despite the predictions that we’d get sidetracked.”

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, had a sharply different view of the past two months at the Statehouse.

“When the true standard for creativity is set in trying to explain to the people of Indiana that many things have been done on their behalf these past two and a half months - as the governor and the leaders of his super-majorities have tried to do today - you know that the bar of accomplishment is very low,” Pelath said in a statement.

The end of the session was a marked departure from its beginning, when emotional debates over a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage divided lawmakers and brought hundreds of activists to the Statehouse on a regular basis.

Opponents of the marriage ban won a surprising victory last month when lawmakers removed language about civil unions from the amendment, forcing them to start the process anew. That means the soonest the issue could appear on a ballot is 2016.

The marriage battle also led to some political fallout. Senate Republican leaders stripped Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, of his leadership posts and moved his Senate seat next to the Democrats in the chamber after he criticized their handling of the issue.

And Bosma announced he had been offered “unlimited campaign funds” to make the marriage ban “go away” this session. But the Republican donor who offered the help, former Republican Party Chairman Jim Kittle, roundly disputed Bosma’s claims.

By the end of last month, however, the focus had turned back to issues most lawmakers were more interested in addressing, including education and taxes.

Statehouse Republican leaders announced an agreement late Wednesday under which the state would potentially release $400 million for transportation projects this year. The state would also rely on $10 million from budget cuts and $5 million in private donations to launch a preschool program for children from low-income families.

Bosma said he believes the state could use the $400 million to leverage up to $2.4 billion for highway projects - including additional lanes for Interstates 65, 69 and 70 - through federal funding. The first $200 million would be given to the Indiana Department of Transportation immediately, but the second half would only be released after legislators receive an update of the state’s finances in December.

The business tax package calls for cutting the corporate income tax and state banking tax to 4.9 percent. It also would let local governments decide whether to cut the business equipment tax.

Pence originally sought to eliminate the state’s tax on business equipment, but local leaders opposed the measure because the tax provides critical revenues.

Supporters said the cuts were crucial to helping Indiana compete with other states for new businesses.

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