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March 13, 2014

Indiana lawmakers eyeing roads, preschool deals

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Votes on deals to spend heavily on new road construction and a preschool pilot program are expected to dominate the final day of this year’s legislative session in Indiana on Thursday, March 13.

The agreements between Statehouse Republican leaders announced late Wednesday would have the state potentially release $400 million for transportation projects this year. The state would also rely on $10 million from budget cut savings and $5 million in private donations to launch a preschool program for children from low-income families.

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said legislative leaders had agreed on the compromises with Gov. Mike Pence. Republicans hold a supermajority in both chambers. The deals come as lawmakers work toward their self-imposed Thursday deadline for adjourning the General Assembly’s session.

The announcement follows weeks of brinksmanship between House leaders, who first proposed the spending, and Senate Republicans, who raised concerns about the state’s budgeting and tax collections.

“The Senate was very creative and cooperative in helping us address some of their issues that they had about the program, and we just were persistent on it and stuck with it and kept providing solutions to the questions,” Bosma told The Associated Press.

Bosma said a bill that would allow properly stored guns in school parking lots also has support from House and Senate negotiators.

Supporters say the measure would protect parents from being charged with a felony if they bring a gun with them to pick up their children. Opponents say the proposal would create easier access to guns and could lead to greater risk of school shootings.

Bosma said the revised bill would redefine what constitutes school property. A vote is expected on the bill today.

The deals effectively tie up the last few major items of the 2014 session. House and Senate fiscal leaders reached a deal this week to cut the state’s corporate and financial institutions tax rates and let counties decide whether to cut property taxes on business equipment.

The road funding, preschool program and business tax cut were all sought by Pence, although he kept his distance in Statehouse negotiations.

Bosma said he believes the state could use the $400 million to leverage up to $2.4 billion for highway projects — including additional lanes for Interstates 65, 69 and 70 — through federal funding. The first $200 million would be given to the Indiana Department of Transportation immediately, but the second half would only be released after legislators receive an update of the state’s finances in December.

The preschool pilot would be used to send low-income children in five counties to early childhood programs.

The state would kick in $10 million through a mix of money saved through budget cuts and federal grants, and matched with $5 million in private donations for the program. Families with incomes up to 127 percent of the federal poverty level — a little less than $30,000 for a family of four — would qualify for the pilot program.

 

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