INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana lawmakers expect to be called back to the Statehouse by the middle of June for a special legislative session to pass a new state budget.
The groundwork for that special session is being laid now, but we do not know what the final agreement will be until the budget committee meets to discuss the proposal forthcoming by the governor.
Last week, the State Budget Committee received an updated forecast that indicates state revenues will be $444 million lower than projected over the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The same forecast also indicated a slight revenue growth in the next two years.
The governor will present a full-fledged budget that includes a school funding formula this week.
Using the governor's plan as a starting point, a 12-member special committee will begin negotiations on a final budget. Once an agreement is reached, the governor will call the Legislature back to the State House. The target time for the special session is tentatively set for June 15.
There are still more questions than answers. One important part of the budget debate is the governor's insistence on keeping a budget surplus of more than $1.3 billion. It also is likely that the governor will propose a new budget that either flat lines or cuts education funding in Indiana to maintain those reserves.
The primary issue back in April was the huge reliance on stimulus dollars to support public education. Big cuts in education will mean larger class sizes and the potential of cutting necessary staff. While I believe that everyone can find reductions in their budgets, our support of academics must be number one.
I cannot support cutting state funds for our public schools. I believe it sends the wrong message to our parents and youth at a time when education of our young people is crucial to our future. Education is the key to preparing our workforce and is necessary to stimulate Indiana's economic recovery.
With a practical approach to using Indiana's share of the federal stimulus package and a portion of the state budget surplus, we can preserve our commitment to schools, public safety, health care and other essential programs and services.
Additionally, it is my hope that our new budget will show a commitment toward job creation that benefits the nearly 315,000 Hoosiers who are presently out of work.
Many issues are being touted for this next proposal. Some leaders have talked about the need to expand the budget bill to include a bailout for the Indianapolis Capital Improvement Board (CIB), the group that is responsible for the operations of Conseco Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium. If we include the CIB in the budget, I will be concerned about the potential of other issues, such as the expansion of gaming in Indiana.
A special session could take only one day, or it could extend over a couple of weeks. We must pass a budget by the end of the state's current fiscal year on June 30. If we do not get our work done by then, most state operations will shut down, and that will create many larger problems.
If no agreement is reached by June 30, the governor has suggested keeping state government open through the passage of a continuing resolution, similar to the way Congress maintains federal operations during budget stalemates.
While some people can find flaws in Indiana 's budgetary process, I suspect you will find very few who think we should begin modeling our process on what is done in Washington, D.C.
There is another option. If our economy is so uncertain, and we are unclear about our state's revenue numbers, we could choose to pass a one-year budget that would give us time to see if Indiana will benefit from the federal stimulus and begin our recovery sooner, rather than later. At this time, I do not believe that continuing resolutions and budgets that cut school funding offer the best solution.
As we wait for the start of the special session, you still can reach me by calling the toll-free Statehouse telephone number of 1-800-382-9842, writing to me in care of the Indiana House of Representatives, 200 W. Washington St. , Indianapolis , IN 46204 , or submitting your comments to my web site at www.in.gov/H44. While visiting my web site, you also can sign up to receive regular e-mail updates from the Legislature.