Indiana GOP budget plan boosts school vouchers, smoking tax

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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: 697533

Reported Deaths: 13138
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion951321706
Lake50779930
Allen38511669
Hamilton33981404
St. Joseph33279535
Elkhart26810431
Vanderburgh21931393
Tippecanoe21440212
Johnson17325371
Porter17012297
Hendricks16631308
Clark12592190
Madison12223335
Vigo12089243
Monroe11237166
LaPorte10601204
Delaware10241182
Howard9555211
Kosciusko8999112
Hancock7842137
Bartholomew7797152
Warrick7657155
Floyd7501175
Wayne6846196
Grant6724167
Boone647399
Morgan6335137
Dubois6052117
Marshall5709108
Cass5657102
Dearborn564674
Henry5545100
Noble532583
Jackson489469
Shelby474095
Lawrence4305118
Gibson424988
Harrison424870
Montgomery414486
Clinton413153
DeKalb402583
Huntington371880
Whitley371039
Miami369565
Knox363589
Steuben358457
Putnam350560
Wabash344677
Jasper341646
Adams336652
Ripley332368
Jefferson306479
White305954
Daviess287999
Wells283580
Decatur278092
Fayette276562
Greene268685
Posey267333
Scott258553
Clay250744
LaGrange249970
Randolph233379
Washington228429
Spencer226731
Jennings223947
Fountain207245
Sullivan207041
Starke199352
Owen190856
Fulton188939
Jay184829
Carroll184520
Perry178536
Orange175552
Rush169324
Vermillion165343
Franklin164435
Tipton160343
Parke143416
Blackford131730
Pike129634
Pulaski112245
Newton102334
Brown98840
Crawford96814
Benton94513
Martin81915
Warren78315
Switzerland7678
Union69410
Ohio55311
Unassigned0405

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1037600

Reported Deaths: 18827
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1203461345
Cuyahoga1048492040
Hamilton774221164
Montgomery49484984
Summit44494904
Lucas39105757
Butler37437566
Stark31094890
Lorain23775467
Warren23688291
Mahoning20622581
Lake19698360
Clermont19305226
Delaware17783130
Licking15970205
Fairfield15493195
Trumbull15377458
Medina14662255
Greene14484233
Clark13433287
Wood12547182
Portage12144193
Allen11216229
Richland10899197
Miami10455211
Muskingum8639127
Columbiana8478225
Wayne8451209
Pickaway8388120
Tuscarawas8311239
Marion8297135
Erie7415153
Ross6636145
Hancock6595123
Geauga6449146
Ashtabula6355163
Scioto625299
Belmont5518158
Union550847
Lawrence5435102
Huron5229112
Darke5225121
Jefferson5210147
Sandusky5087118
Seneca5048118
Washington5029107
Athens493654
Auglaize470484
Mercer467884
Shelby453289
Knox4332108
Putnam417298
Madison416157
Ashland408986
Fulton402165
Defiance395096
Brown383855
Crawford3819100
Logan369676
Preble367995
Clinton356859
Ottawa351978
Highland344858
Williams317574
Champaign317055
Jackson304451
Guernsey303348
Perry286449
Fayette276348
Morrow272639
Henry261266
Hardin261063
Coshocton255957
Holmes251499
Van Wert237462
Gallia232146
Pike230931
Adams226151
Wyandot224153
Hocking207057
Carroll187746
Paulding167538
Meigs140838
Noble131737
Monroe128441
Morgan105722
Harrison104836
Vinton80913
Unassigned01
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Rain showers continue Saturday evening, as will a few thunderstorms. Overnight, rain will taper off a little as temperatures drop into the mid 40s. On Sunday, rain chances return in late morning and last much of the day. Temperatures max out in the mid 50s and winds will be brisk at times.
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