- Associated Press - Thursday, January 8, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The first major step in the debate over Indiana’s new two-year state budget came Thursday as Republican Gov. Mike Pence’s proposed spending plan was presented to legislators. Plenty of debate and changes will come before the GOP-dominated General Assembly adopts a final version in late April. Here are the five things to know about the governor’s proposal:


State spending would grow by about 1.3 percent over the next two years for a budget of about $31 billion during that time. Pence budget officials say that the state would have surpluses each year that would keep the state’s cash reserves at nearly $2 billion, which they say is needed in case of economic troubles.


Total school funding would increase by 2 percent in the budget’s first year and 1 percent in the second year. State funding for charter schools would increase by about $41 million over the two years. Pence proposes giving $1,500 more per student to charter schools to bring them closer to funding levels for traditional schools, which receive additional money from local property taxes. Pence officials say that money is needed to attract more top-level charter school operators to the state. Democrats maintain the Pence proposals will drain money from traditional public schools.


Funding for the state colleges and universities would increase by 1 percent each year, for a total funding boost of $40 million over the two years. The proposal would provide an increase of about $90 million during those two years to cover a projected 45 percent jump in cost for the 21st Century Scholars program, which started in 1990 and promises low-income middle school students a full state college scholarship if they stay out of criminal trouble and get acceptable grades.


The Pence proposal includes no money for hiring the nearly 80 additional Department of Child Services case managers it would need to meet state-mandated workload standards. Democrats maintain that hiring those workers should be a top priority to protect the safety of children. The Pence administration says an agency review is being done on whether the workload standards are still appropriate before seeking more funding.


The budget would set aside $300 million over the two years for unspecified projects to expand the state’s highway capacity. It would dedicate $51 million for expansions of the Miami Correctional Facility near Peru and the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility near Sullivan. It also proposes spending $25 million each on a new State Archives building and construction of an inn at Potato Creek State Park near South Bend. Those projects are planned as part of Indiana’s 2016 bicentennial of statehood, with the money coming from an expected $50 million from the lease of the state’s excess cell tower capacity to private operators.

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