State's colleges come out ahead after budget hearings - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

State's colleges come out ahead after budget hearings

Updated:

Kevin Rader/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - The state's universities are coming out the early winner as state lawmakers find cash for the colleges.

It must have seemed like divine intervention for supporters of higher education. On the very day they respectfully packed the statehouse to show support for a cooperative effort between IU and Purdue, the House Ways and Means Committee was already acting. They fully funded the Indiana Innovation Alliance for a total of $35 million between the two schools.

"I'm sorry, IU and Purdue, I don't think that is a good deal for Hoosiers down the road," said Rep. Jeff Espich (R-Uniondale).

The Republican minority also took issue with proposing a one-year budget, instead of the standard two-year offering.

"I think a one-year budget is dangerous," Rep. Espich said. "I think it is dangerous for taxpayers. I think it is dangerous to us and ultimately to become a full-time legislature."

"We had precedent in '75 and '76 to have a one-year budget. We did not have a full-time legislature," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Crawford, a Democrat.

House Democrats tapped $200 million for the state's reserves to pay for their spending, but Republicans accuse them of spending nearly all the money the state has.

"We propose that the Soldier's and Sailor's Home remain open and funded at $10.4 million," Rep. Crawford said.

In late January, supporters of the home, located in Knightstown, asked the governor if he could hear their chant to keep the historic children's home open. Clearly, the chairman did hear their pleas. Tuesday's more subdued presence in the rotunda was just as successful.

"This is unprecedented. The two presidents of the two major universities in this state, day after day, coming to the legislature to try and make the case for this historic alliance," said IU President Michael McRobbie.

"You see how many students are here today. They are energized because they know this is about them, their futures, keeping them in Indiana producing the jobs, the companies of the future," said Purdue President France Cordova.

Democrats OK spending $200M from Indiana reserves

Indiana House Democrats are moving forward a one-year budget plan that includes some key differences in a proposal recommended by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.

The plan would increase operating money for higher education by 1 percent in the next fiscal year, instead of cutting it as Daniels had proposed. A separate House Democrat plan for public schools would provide an average increase of 2 percent next year, while Daniels had recommended that their funding remain flat.

The combined spending plans by majority Democrats in the House would tap $200 million from the state's reserves to prop up spending. Daniels wants to keep the reserves in case the sagging economy becomes worse.

The budget bill endorsed by the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday now moves to the full House, which Democrats control 52-48.

Unemployment insurance fund battle

Political fighting in the Indiana House has delayed at least temporarily a vote on a bill to help fix the state's depleted unemployment insurance fund.

The bill would raise taxes on employers to help balance the fund, which is currently paying out millions of dollars more than it collects while relying on federal loans to issue unemployment
checks.

The Democrat-controlled House was set to vote on the bill Monday evening, but Republicans said it wouldn't fix the problem.

Bill sponsor David Niezgodski, a Democrat from South Bend, then pulled his request for a vote, saying Republicans needed to join Democrats in voting for the tax increase on businesses. Niezgodski says he plans to call for a vote on the bill in the future.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)

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