WITZ Radio News is an affiliate of Network Indiana
INDIANAPOLIS -- The General Assembly has adjourned for the year.
Legislators closed out their work by passing a new two-year, 35-billion-dollar budget and approving a new casino in Terre Haute as part of a sweeping gambling bill. A 13-hour final day wrapped up a session which also saw passage of Indiana's first hate-crime law, increases in a school safety grant fund, financial backing for a pro soccer stadium in Indianapolis, and encouragement to local school boards to boost teacher pay.
Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray and House Speaker Brian Bosma boast a nearly 800-million-dollar increase in school spending is the biggest ever, though it works out to two-and-a-half-percent a year. The budget also includes money to pay down local teacher pension liabilities, freeing up an additional 70-million dollars a year for schools.
Democrats argue Republicans passed up opportunities to accomplish more for Hoosiers, with a two-billion-dollar surplus that's slightly more than Governor Holcomb requested. Instead of a nonbinding bill prodding schools to give teachers raises, Democrats say the state should have budgeted those raises directly. Bray and Bosma say they're concerned a booming national economy can't keep it up forever. And they note they've said consistently they wouldn't interfere with local school boards' budgeting authority. Bosma says rural, urban and suburban superintendents' groups have assured him they've gotten legislators' message and will prioritize teacher pay in their budgets.
After a chaotic midnight scramble last year, legislators veered to the opposite extreme this year, adjourning the session five days ahead of their deadline. Only a couple of bills died on the final day, including a proposed tax on vaping scuttled by a combination of lawmakers who thought it was too low and those who didn't want a tax at all.
Holcomb had joined Republican legislative leaders on Tuesday to celebrate the budget agreement. He issued a statement after adjournment praising legislators for working collaboratively to pass a budget he says will strengthen the state.