INDIANAPOLIS — After four months of work, and hundreds of hours of debate and decisions, the 2019 Indiana General Assembly has adjourned for the year — five days ahead of the statutory April 29 deadline.
During a daylong session that lasted well into the night, more than three dozen legislative proposals won final approval Wednesday by the Republican-controlled House and Senate, including the new, two-year state budget.
House Enrolled Act 1001 grows funding for elementary and high school education by a total of $753 million, including $539 million in additional student tuition support, $140 million freed up for local school districts to spend as they see fit, and $74 million more for statewide grant programs, including teacher appreciation and secure schools.
Democrats noted that the education funding boost does not specifically direct any money to teacher pay raises, despite weeks of "Red for Ed" advocacy by Hoosier educators and several studies showing Indiana teacher pay has not meaningfully increased over the past decade.
But Senate President Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, said the significant education funding hike will give local school corporations the ability to raise teacher pay if they choose, making the budget "truly a win for Hoosier students, teachers and schools."
The budget also is a win for Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and other supporters of extending the South Shore Line to run from Hammond to Dyer, and double-tracking the existing commuter rail line between Gary and Michigan City, to add capacity and speed transit between Northwest Indiana and high-paying Chicago jobs.
Up to $205 million is included in the spending plan to ensure the transformative rail projects can be completed — even if an anticipated federal grant comes in at 38% for the $764 million West Lake extension, instead of the 49% federal match originally expected.
At the same time, the legislation restructures the board of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which operates the South Shore Line, by shrinking it to five members, instead of 11, and having the governor select all five members.
One elected official each from Lake, Porter, LaPorte and St. Joseph counties will comprise four-fifths of the new NICTD board, which must include two Republicans and two Democrats, while the Indiana Department of Transportation commissioner will serve as the fifth member and the board's chairman.
The Democratic senators representing the four counties — Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes; Eddie Melton, D-Gary; Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago; and David Niezgodski, D-South Bend — issued a joint statement expressing support for the extra South Shore funding, while condemning the last-minute shake-up of the NICTD board.
"None of us at any point were contacted or asked for any input on these substantial changes to the NICTD board, which is of a particular interest to the districts we represent," they said.
"We were ready to help on matters like these, including one of the largest economic development projects in the state of Indiana, and would have greatly appreciated inclusion in the governor’s discussions."
Other budget components include a requirement that all health insurance policies sold in Indiana cover Hoosiers with pre-existing medical conditions, regardless of the outcome of a federal lawsuit, supported by the state, that seeks to invalidate the entirety of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, including its requirement for mandatory coverage of pre-existing conditions.
The budget also allocates $2.3 million to a reconstituted Kankakee River Basin and Yellow River Basin Development Commission for flood control projects in eight Northwest Indiana counties, until the new flood prevention fee in House Enrolled Act 1270 takes effect in 2021.
The governor, who stood with GOP lawmakers Tuesday as he thanked them for crafting a budget that spends less than Indiana will collect in tax revenue over the next two years, said he intends to sign the measure into law once it reaches his desk in coming days.
"Because of the work that these women and men have done, behind me and in front of me, both sides of the aisle, our administration is going to have the tools that they need, financial resources included, to lead our state onward and upward," Holcomb said.