It may not be the “greatest spectacle in racing,” but a Statehouse filled with lawmakers, lobbyists, and citizens is one of the best days of the year in Indy (by some measures…). For 2023, that was today, with legislators formally convening for several busy months ahead before their “last lap” in late April.
The primary work of the Legislature this Session is to pass a biennial budget that will fund state operations from July 1, 2023 through June 30, 2025. To kick off the process, the Governor presents the Administration’s budget in a press briefing just before session starts and again to the House Ways & Means Committee during the first few days of Session. The Committee then holds budget hearings listening to all the state agencies about specific proposals and asking questions about potential changes. In February, the Committee will pass a budget bill (HB 1) on to the full House for consideration. Once it has passed the House, the budget bill moves to the Senate where the Appropriations Committee holds more budget hearings, makes their changes to the proposed budget, and ultimately passes it through the Senate in mid-April. The last days of Session are spent with House and Senate budget leaders negotiating with each other and with the Governor to draft a final budget to be approved by both bodies before their statutory deadline to adjourn on April 29th at midnight.
As is traditional, Governor Holcomb spent 90 minutes last Wednesday unveiling his “Next Level Agenda” for 2023, including significant increases – that may still not keep up with inflation – for education, public health, public safety, and economic development. “This is a bold agenda…not just a wish list. These things are needed, and we have the wherewithal to do it,” said Holcomb.
On the education front, the Governor proposed increasing K-12 tuition support 6% in 2024 and another 2% in 2025. He hopes to boost teacher salaries across the state, eliminate textbook fees, fund incentive programs to reward schools and teachers who improve IREAD-3 test scores, boost dollars for literacy initiatives and higher education institutions, mandate auto-enrollment of students in the 21st Century Scholarship Program, expand eligibility to On My Way Pre-K, encourage employers to sponsor childcare for employees with federal grants, implement the Dolly Parton Imagination Library statewide and provide $10M to Indiana’s only predominantly Black institution, Martin University.
Supporting the Governor’s Public Health Commission’s call for Indiana to make “critical changes to the public health system,” Governor Holcomb vowed to heed the wisdom of, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and has requested $120M for fiscal year 2024, with 80% of funds dedicated to each of Indiana’s 92 counties who opt into a statewide program to create a statewide health infrastructure, subject to a 20% buy in. “We are going to have to do something different if we hope for a different outcome,” said Holcomb. Pre-covid Indiana spent $55 per capita on public health, compared to the U.S. average of $91. The Governor also announced the launch of a Treatment Finder Program this year, funded by the $500M the state will receive from the Opioid Settlement.
Holcomb’s plan includes another $500M round of READI economic development grants for projects across the state. To attract and retain quality employees, the Governor recommended $160M in salary increases for state employees and a starting pay of $70,000 for Indiana State troopers. He proposes $10M for volunteer fire department equipment and $24M for firefighter training. With school safety foremost on the Governor’s mind, an additional request for $6M/year will bring the Secured School Safety Grant fund to $25M/year, costing Indiana taxpayers just $1.6M/year due to federal dollars.
Early responses by Republican leaders were positive and Democrats were enthusiastic, “From eliminating textbook fees to making historic investments in public health, Democrats and Governor Holcomb are on the same page and I’m glad to see support for ideas we’ve championed for years. I am afraid the real question is whether Statehouse Republicans are as forward-thinking as Statehouse Democrats and the governor,” gushed House Democrat leader, Phil GiaQuinta (D-Ft Wayne). “We look forward to working alongside Governor Holcomb this session to ensure Indiana’s positive momentum continues…”
As the Governor was quick to concede after he unveiled his agenda, “This is not my first rodeo,” and we know this is not yours either. We begin this legislative session with optimism knowing the months ahead will no doubt be a wild ride and we look forward to sharing the journey with you.
• Tuesday 1/10
o 9:45 a.m. Eastern time, University of Southern Indiana’s budget presentation to Ways & Means Committee
o 7:00 p.m. Eastern time, Governor’s State of the State
• Wednesday 1/11: 2:00 p.m. Eastern time, IN Supreme Court State of the Judiciary address