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Schools chief, mayors seek more funds from Senate

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Friday, March 22, 2013 - 8:45 am

INDIANAPOLIS — The two groups most likely to benefit from changes made by House Republicans to the state budget asked Thursday that the Senate Appropriations Committee maintain new funding for roads and schools, and maybe find a little more.

Democratic Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz opened the Senate budget hearing with a call for more money for teachers, many of whom have not seen a raise in years.

"This is not enough money to compensate effective and highly effective teachers," she told the panel.

Gov. Mike Pence increased school funding $128 million in his budget, but the House added another $200 million to that figure. Lawmakers from both parties have said $300 million in education cuts made by former Gov. Mitch Daniels needed to be restored.

Ritz has faced trouble in the House, where Republicans who drove a sweeping education system overhaul two years ago floated plans to strip power from her office, amid concerns she might not enforce the changes. But her dealings with the Senate have been far easier, where Republicans have taken a wait-and-see approach with the new schools chief.

The state is also facing a transportation shortfall caused by the end of funding from the leasing of the Indiana Toll Road and a continued decline in gas tax collections.

Pence proposed putting roughly $347 million in a transportation fund at the conclusion of the next two year budget. But House Republicans said that money was needed sooner and proposed spending another $250 million annually on roads.

Mayors representing the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns told lawmakers of their travails trying to do basic tasks like pave roads amid a continuing budget squeeze. Joe McGuinness, mayor of Franklin, Ind., detailed his stress trying to figure out how to find $500,000 to rebuild a half-mile of road with a $300,000 city transportation budget.

"We do beg, borrow and steal from a lot of other departments," McGuinness said of his city's transportation efforts in general.

The 2013 budget battle has largely been waged between supporters of Pence's plan to cut the personal income tax by 10 percent and supporters of more funding for roads and schools. House Republicans swapped Pence's tax cut, which would cost more than $500 million annually, for an additional $200 million for schools and another $500 million for roads.

Lawmakers must approve their biennial budget before leaving the Statehouse at the end of next month. The $30 billion plan consists largely of spending on school but also includes a series of pass-throughs to the state's localities, including roads money.

The General Assembly is working with a roughly $500 million annual surplus and $2 billion in cash reserves left by former Gov. Mitch Daniels, but also struggling with pent up demand from the many spending cuts he made to build those reserves.