WARSAW — Two Republican state lawmakers declared the recent passage of a two-year $34 billion budget by the Indiana General Assembly to be a success and touted increases in funding that will help schools.
Pressured by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and various education groups, the Republican-led legislature increased funding for public education by $763 million over the next two years.
State Sen. Ryan Mishler (R-Bremen) who chairs the budget-writing Senate Appropriations Committee, said lawmakers were able to meet his two big goals: Passing a balanced budget and maintaining a strong level of reserve funds, estimated to be more than $2 billion.
Mishler said maintaining a healthy reserve is the responsible thing to do, adding that the next recession is likely to happen within the next few years.
“The number one thing I got beat up on was not spending enough money,” Mishler said. “The Democrats said ‘You’re putting too much in savings’ … So I kind of felt if the biggest problem with this budget is we have too much in reserves, then I can go home feeling pretty good about it.”
Mishler was joined by State Rep. David Wolkins (R-Warsaw) for a legislative update at the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce office Wednesday morning, May 29.
The state will also shift $150 million in state money to pay down the local portion of a retirement fund, Mishler said.
That paydown is expected to save schools about 2 percent of their budget and free-up money for other uses. The legislation includes language requiring school boards to discuss in a public meeting exactly how they intend to use the extra money before the budget is approved.
“I think that will put some pressure on to disclose publically how they want to use that money,” Mishler said.
He added: “We felt we gave them the tools to give more to the teachers. If they choose not to, that’s up to them.”
Wolkins was especially pleased with the retirement paydown plan, comparing it to the savings a homeowner would see if they made a double payment on their mortgage.
“That’s the neatest thing I’ve seen in my 30 years down there,” Wolkins said.
Wolkins contends the increase in education funding is the most ever. He also takes exception to comments from some who say state funding for education has been reduced in recent years.
According to Wolkins, since 2012, tuition funding has risen11.3 percent while inflation has risen 9.4 percent.
Claims that education funds have been reduced in recent years, Wolkins said, are not true. “There may be some individual schools who have lost students and get less money, but the majority of it, it is not,” he said.