oosting funding for schools and continuing to put money into local roads will be top priorities for state lawmakers, while local legislators will debate where Interstate 69 should go.
When legislators start their session in 2015, they will be busy setting the state’s spending for the next two years. Priorities this year include setting aside more money for education, despite just a small increase in state tax collections, deciding whether to keep an increase in local road funding and how to best control rising Medicaid costs, lawmakers said.
Plans to increase or decrease taxes aren’t main topics of discussion this year after legislators cut property taxes for businesses last year at the governor’s urging.
Local legislators are working on multiple bills that could have effects for Johnson County if approved, including the route of a highway and a new local tax.
One of the key issues for local lawmakers is the path of Interstate 69. The state recently started a two-year environmental study to plot the route of the last leg of the interstate from Martinsville to Indianapolis. The original concept called for the interstate to follow State Road 37 through Johnson County and then Perry Township to Interstate 465. But the legislature approved a law in 2006 banning the interstate route in Perry Township that State Rep. John Price, R-Greenwood, will try to repeal.
Price and Rep. Woody Burton, R-Whiteland, want to keep I-69 in Johnson County, while lawmakers who represent Perry Township, including State Reps. Brent Waltz and David Frizzell will battle to keep the ban in place.
Price is also proposing allowing local governments, such as counties, cites and towns, to decide whether to charge a food and beverage tax. Greenwood wants its own tax to help pay for police, firefighters and parks. Price proposed a similar law last year that would have allowed Greenwood and about a dozen other communities to charge it. This year the proposal would allow any local government in the state to charge the tax, if they want to.
Guidelines for police body cameras are also on Price’s list. The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office has already been using cameras, Greenwood will start next year, and Franklin may purchase them, too. The state doesn’t have any rules for body cameras, such as how long police departments need to keep videos before deleting them and who has access to the video files.
The main issue to work out this year at the Statehouse will be setting spending for 2016 and 2017, lawmakers said. Tax forecasts for the state have been modest so far, with small increases estimated for the next two years.
But the state also has $2 billion in savings, and finding more money for public schools is a priority this year, lawmakers said.
“We’ll have a little bit more money,
2 percent in 2016 and 3 percent in 2017. The forecast is OK but not rolling in the money, so we really need to be responsive to that and pass a responsible budget,” Sen. Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, said.
The top priority for Republicans, who have majorities in both the House and Senate, is to increase funding for schools that have struggled with shortfalls mainly due to property tax caps. Schools with a high amount of debt, such as Clark-Pleasant and Franklin schools, have had to make significant cuts to their spending each year because property tax caps prevent them from collecting all the taxes they need to pay debt as well as salaries, operating costs and equipment.
The main change lawmakers are considering would be to tweak the funding formula of what different schools get per student. Schools receive funding from the state to pay expenses, such as salaries, based on how many students they have enrolled.
For example, in Johnson County, Edinburgh schools receive about $1,500 more per student than Center Grove. Schools with a high percentage of low-income families get more money. And schools on the low-end of the state scale, like Center Grove, are saying the money they receive from the state isn’t enough to cover the costs of paying teachers and keeping up facilities.
“The disparity between the per-student funding is pretty big and we’re at least going to try to bring some of the rural and urban schools up to par. There’s probably more money that’s going to be going into education,” Frizzell, R-Indianapolis, said.
Local road funding is another topic lawmakers will be discussing. Republicans aren’t making a push to increase funding, but in 2013 lawmakers shifted an additional $120 million to counties, cities and towns for road work and will need to decide whether to continue that funding, Waltz, R-Greenwood, said.
Waltz, who is a member of the Senate appropriations committee, wants to make sure that the $120 million is at least kept in place, if not increased slightly.
State lawmakers will be back in session early in 2015. Here’s a look at some of the proposals by the legislators representing Johnson County:
Rep. Woody Burton, R-Whiteland
Retirement plans: Proposing a cost of living increase for public employees receiving retirement benefits, such as teachers, state employees or police officers.
Homeowner associations: Wants to set up a mediation process that would allow homeowners to resolve issues with leaders or boards of their homeowner’s association.
Rep. John Price, R-Greenwood
Interstate 69: Seeking to repeal a 2006 law that banned an interstate from going through Perry Township. Wants to repeal the law to help keep I-69 along its originally proposed route on State Road 37 through Johnson County.
Food and beverage tax: Would allow any local government, such as a county, city or town, to set an extra sales tax on food purchases. Governments would be able to choose whether to approve the tax to fund local services.
Body cameras: Proposing statewide guidelines for use of body cameras by police. Rules will include how long police departments need to keep video files, who has access and when officers should be recording.
Rep. Dave Frizzell, R-Indianapolis
Civil immunity: Would allow doctors or nurses to provide charity or volunteer medical care without needing to carry medical malpractice insurance. Other states have approved similar laws.
School referendums: Proposing to move all school building referendums to general election years. The move would require schools to plan ahead for building projects, but would put the questions on the ballot during the elections with larger voter turnouts.
Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford
Government incentives: Will propose new laws based on recommendations from the Legislative Service Agency’s review of state incentive programs to tweak or eliminate incentives governments offer to businesses.
Indiana wineries: Will allow farm wineries to sell products directly to grocery stores or restaurants, instead of having to go through a distributor.
Sen. Brent Waltz, R-Greenwood
Education foundations: Wants to improve tax credits for public education foundations that raise money for projects that benefit local schools.
Digital rights: Sets guidelines that would allow families to obtain passwords or data from digital sites if the owner has died. For example, could help parents get into a photo account of a deceased child to save pictures or close the account.
Sen. Rod Bray, R-Martinsville
Dyslexia: Program would provide more resources to schools to help teach students who have dyslexia, who may need more help learning to read and work on projects.
Consumer protection: Would expand definitions in the state’s consumer protection act to better cover disabled or elderly victims. Would also cover other services such as pest control that aren’t currently included in the law.
Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus
Fuel tax: Wants the state to consider changing the gasoline excise tax from a flat tax to a rate that would increase with inflation or charge a percentage like sales tax.
Personal savings: Have the state set up a personal savings program for people who don’t have access to a retirement plan at work. The program would also help encourage saving by Hoosiers.