House leader predicts 'difficult' budget year ahead for Indiana General Assembly

Indiana legislative leaders speak Monday about their expectations for the 2019 session. From left, House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne; House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis; panel moderator Abdul-Hakim Shabazz; Senate Majority Leader Mark Messmer, R-Jasper; and Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson.

INDIANAPOLIS — Republican legislative leaders are directing Hoosier lawmakers to dial back their plans to seek significant spending increases for new or existing state programs or services during the 2019 General Assembly.

On Monday, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate Majority Leader Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, both told participants at an Indiana Chamber of Commerce luncheon that nearly all the state's inflationary revenue growth for the next two years already is spoken for.

Specifically, Bosma said some $275 million a year in new revenue is needed just to maintain current funding for the Department of Child Services, which has received several supplemental appropriations since the last budget was enacted to cover extra child abuse and neglect expenses associated with Indiana's opioid epidemic.

Since the state expects to collect between $325 million and $350 million in additional revenue during each year of the new two-year budget that lawmakers will begin crafting in January, Bosma said there won't be much left over after fully funding DCS.

"You've taken a whole lot of money off the table, and you still haven't given teachers raises, haven't funded pensions or some of the other required spending that we have to do," Bosma said.

"This is going to be a more difficult budget year than many are aware of."

Nevertheless, Bosma promised the Republican supermajorities once again will approve an "honestly balanced budget, without general tax increases or gimmicks," and with sufficient reserve funds to keep Indiana "the fiscal envy of the nation."

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Who will put that budget together has yet to be announced as state Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, is unlikely to fulfill his role as House Ways and Means Committee chairman on a full-time basis while he continues recovering from significant injuries suffered in a September motorcycle crash.

"This is going to be a puzzle that we're going to have to solve together," Bosma said. "We'll have an all-hands-on-deck effort and try to put this in the right place for Hoosiers."

There also will be a first-time budget chief in the Senate next year with state Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen, taking over for retired state Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

One possible source of additional revenue is the $1 billion payment the state received in October for allowing the company that operates the Indiana Toll Road to impose a one-time truck toll hike well in excess of the usual annual rate increase.

Bosma said he supports Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb's plans to use that money to finish key road projects, expand rural broadband access and other efforts to improve Indiana communities, but "there's some discussion about the appropriation of these funds."

Messmer likewise said he's not a fan of how the governor bypassed the General Assembly and decided on his own how $1 billion would be spent.

The Democratic House and Senate leaders said Indiana's new budget should include funds to boost teacher pay, expand pre-kindergarten availability and support school safety initiatives.

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