Maybe the biggest surprise of the 2021 legislative session happened on its final day when a new, $37 billion state budget passed with almost no opposition.
A revenue forecast unveiled a week ago was the game changer. It projected $2 billion more for the new budget, much of it put into K-12 education that all but guarantees teacher pay raises. There’s also more than $5 billion in one-time spending, from state and federal sources – paying down debt and investing in infrastructure projects and economic recovery.
For Democrats, all but three of whom voted for the budget, praise was focused in a specific direction.
“Thank God for the American Rescue Plan,” Sen. Eddie Melton (D-Gary) said. “Thank God for Joe Biden.”
Rep. Matt Lehman (R-Berne), who touted the fiscal leadership of Indiana Republicans, called it a “wow” budget.
“We’re going to put broadband into your communities, we’re going to build water infrastructure in our communities and we are setting the table to grow rapidly,” Lehman said.
The Democrats who voted against the budget couldn’t stomach the significant expansion for private school vouchers.
“We are still making traditional public education the stepchild to vouchers and for that reason – and for always that reason – I will not be able to support [the] budget,” said Sen. Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis).
Republicans, though, were unapologetic about making families of four earning up to $145,000 per year eligible for taxpayer-funded, private school vouchers.
“Students win, kids win in this budget,” said Sen. Jeff Raatz (R-Centerville). “Regardless if it’s a traditional pub or a voucher or an ESA [education savings account] or a charter school or a virtual charter – as long as they’re performing correctly, kids win.”
But it was Democrats who spoke more on the House and Senate floor Thursday to praise the budget. They cheered the inclusion of some recommendations from the governor’s teacher compensation commission. They applauded $100 million more for mental health support, money to address health disparities, particularly among communities of color, a cost-of-living increase for public retirees, investments in trails and law enforcement improvements.
Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) even got a little light-hearted, directing a poem to House Republican budget architect Rep. Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville).
“Tim Brown oft gets me to vote no. But what if he sends our schools some real dough?” DeLaney said. “A billion is tough to ignore, so take a close look at the board. For once, my vote may be a go.”
House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) said he appreciated DeLaney’s effort but thought the Indianapolis Democrat was “no Keats.”
Two House Republicans also voted against the budget, without public explanation: Rep. John Jacob (R-Indianapolis) and Rep. Curt Nisly (R-Milford).