Indiana GOP budget plan boosts school vouchers, smoking tax

Indiana state flag

The plan prepared by Republicans who dominate the Indiana House also includes a 50 cents-per-pack cigarette tax increase and would impose a new state tax on vaping liquids.

Posted: Feb 11, 2021 6:14 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Nearly one-fifth of a proposed state funding hike for Indiana’s schools would go toward expanding private school voucher and virtual school programs under a budget plan Republican legislators released Thursday.

The plan prepared by Republicans who dominate the Indiana House also includes a 50 cents-per-pack cigarette tax increase and would impose a new state tax on vaping liquids.

The proposal would increase the base funding for K-12 schools by 1.25% during the first year and 2.5% in the second year of the budget that would start in July.

That would mean about $378 million more for school funding over the two years, virtually the same as proposed last month by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb.

But House Republicans would direct $66 million toward raising the family income eligibility for the private school voucher program and about $4 million to boosting per-student payments for those attending online-only charter schools.

The additional money for those programs would mean smaller funding boosts for traditional school districts as they face pressure to improve the state’s lagging teacher pay after a Holcomb-appointed commission found it could cost more than $600 million a year to increase Indiana’s average teacher salary ranking from ninth-highest to third-highest in the Midwest.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Tim Brown said school districts would receive more money even with the recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Local school officials will make decisions about teacher pay increases, and the spending plan is aimed at increasing the say parents have in their child’s education, Brown said.

“Parents, by far and away, want to make choices for their kids,” said Brown, a Republican from Crawfordsville. “They want to have options, they want those options spelled out.”

The proposed private school voucher changes would raise income eligibility for a family of four from the current roughly $96,000 a year to about $145,000 in 2022.

A legislative report estimates that and other eligibility expansions would add about 18,000 students to the some 37,000 students now in the program.

Rep. Greg Porter, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, called the Republican school funding plan punitive and shortsighted.

“Republicans brag about increased K-12 spending while siphoning money from the schools educating a majority of students,” Porter said. “Hoosier school districts and educators, who have already been facing the repercussions of the supermajority’s financial apathy, are in dire need of tangible support from the Statehouse, not another legislative session spent fighting for scraps.”

The Republican-controlled Legislature will debate the spending plan throughout its session that is scheduled to last until late April.

The House Republican budget proposal would increase the state’s current 99.5 cents-per-pack cigarette tax that was last more than a decade ago to $1.50 and impose a 10% retail tax on electronic cigarette liquids.

The House health committee last week endorsed a $1-per-pack increase, while health advocates and major business groups had called for a $2 increase to help drive down the state’s 21.1% smoking rate for adults, which was the fourth-highest in the country for 2018, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The House has previously backed cigarette tax increases only to see them fail in the Senate.

Brown said the smaller increase was a consensus among House Republicans and would give Indiana a cigarette tax rate closer to those of neighboring states.

The estimated $150 million a year from the tax increase would go toward the state’s Medicaid expenses, he said.

Other provisions in the House Republican plan would direct $150 million toward a regional development program proposed by Holcomb, along with $250 million for broadband expansion grants and $30 million toward grants helping small businesses recover from losses during the coronavirus pandemic.

Much of that money is made available by dropping a Holcomb proposal dedicating $400 million toward an early paydown of teacher pension obligations.

“We thought we’d invest in businesses and economic activity in the state, that we wanted businesses to be prepared to come out of this recovery,” Brown said.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1007681

Reported Deaths: 16470
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1355212121
Lake664101166
Allen57993801
Hamilton46350465
St. Joseph44397615
Elkhart35949510
Vanderburgh32251480
Tippecanoe27933260
Johnson25107445
Hendricks23897359
Porter22929365
Madison18748409
Clark18557252
Vigo17479303
Monroe15263200
LaPorte15173250
Delaware15073263
Howard14748290
Kosciusko12348148
Hancock11728176
Bartholomew11639180
Warrick11292189
Floyd11108215
Wayne10986253
Grant10082220
Morgan9472176
Boone8926115
Dubois8271131
Henry8229152
Dearborn822393
Noble8031106
Marshall7939135
Cass7546121
Lawrence7457171
Shelby7189119
Jackson698289
Gibson6597115
Harrison649192
Knox6421106
Huntington6395100
DeKalb632399
Montgomery6264111
Miami593398
Putnam581278
Clinton576171
Whitley565755
Steuben562576
Wabash5332104
Jasper532079
Jefferson511297
Ripley500586
Adams482576
Daviess4677114
Scott438974
Greene425196
Wells424888
Clay423360
White418764
Decatur4169102
Fayette406587
Jennings387361
Posey376644
Washington359151
LaGrange359078
Randolph3452100
Spencer340243
Fountain335760
Sullivan329452
Starke317171
Owen314771
Fulton312667
Orange293664
Jay284645
Franklin265643
Perry265452
Rush262432
Carroll261934
Vermillion258654
Parke231426
Pike229243
Tipton228159
Blackford193142
Pulaski183757
Crawford159823
Newton158348
Benton150617
Brown146747
Martin138719
Switzerland135011
Warren121116
Union107016
Ohio84613
Unassigned0540

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1519304

Reported Deaths: 23955
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1642651696
Cuyahoga1464072459
Hamilton1053661431
Montgomery740661279
Summit617841111
Lucas56338917
Butler51580718
Stark466811064
Lorain35628585
Warren32836377
Mahoning30787693
Clermont28193330
Lake27063448
Delaware24208164
Licking23939294
Trumbull22885561
Fairfield22395247
Greene22350326
Medina22047313
Clark19863354
Richland18586292
Portage17978252
Wood17454224
Allen16001279
Miami15582306
Muskingum14831185
Columbiana14080274
Wayne13791271
Tuscarawas12724311
Marion11976180
Scioto11469162
Pickaway11373142
Erie10904184
Ross10586203
Lawrence9759153
Ashtabula9741204
Hancock9707155
Belmont9309209
Geauga8965157
Jefferson8567199
Huron8404143
Union819859
Washington8093144
Sandusky7827151
Athens777779
Knox7739144
Darke7689158
Seneca7372145
Ashland6967130
Auglaize679799
Shelby6530115
Brown636491
Crawford6274130
Defiance6218105
Mercer616493
Fulton602896
Highland600499
Madison594578
Guernsey593071
Logan591096
Clinton583793
Preble5720125
Putnam5335110
Williams529288
Perry518363
Champaign513173
Jackson510273
Ottawa488586
Coshocton484683
Morrow458858
Pike434367
Fayette429263
Hardin419480
Gallia418467
Adams417195
Van Wert372382
Henry365372
Holmes3642125
Hocking356782
Wyandot324662
Carroll302365
Paulding280347
Meigs265851
Monroe216254
Noble200347
Morgan194033
Harrison182146
Vinton166625
Unassigned05
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Showers on tap for Sunday with the chance of a few thunderstorms.
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