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Universities, Schools Vie For Part Of Indiana’s Surplus

Rep. Bob Cherry and Sue Ellspermann

Photo: Indiana House of Representatives

Rep. Bob Cherry, who sits on the Ways and Means committee, speaks with Sue Ellspermann, the next lieutenant governor.

Groups from around the state are already clamoring to get their share of Indiana’s $2 billion surplus.

Part of that money is being returned to the taxpayers through an automatic taxpayer refund. Another piece of it has already been allocated to state employee pension funds. The rest is up to the legislature’s discretion.

Public university officials went to Indianapolis this week to give their pitch to the state for why lawmakers should give them more funding. They asked for additional dollars to go toward capital projects, research and their operating budgets.

But universities are not the only ones looking for money. Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents President Ken Hull says superintendents around the state would like to see more money allocated to public schools, especially since funding per student was cut in 2008 when property tax caps went into place.

“No one questioned what they did the last four years,” he says. “That was the reality of tax collections and the economy, but the state is now receiving more money than it has, it has a surplus. And in good times, it’s time to take care of the children.”

There are plenty of other places the money could go. The state will have to set aside some money to implement the Affordable Care Act. How much largely depends on whether it expands Medicaid. Legislators are also trying to find a way to pay for the remaining construction of Interstate 69.

But Senator Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and sits on the State Budget Committee, says there is also an alternative to spending the money.

“I would prefer that we continue to try to just budget within our revenue stream that we have coming forward,” he says. “I think it’s important to keep a good surplus balance because if we run into another recession, we might need that money to keep the schools shored up or something like that, and I would rather do that than having to ask the taxpayers for more help.”

If the state does spend the surplus, Kenley warns it should not spend it on something needing money several years in a row because there likely will not be a surplus to pay for those programs next year.

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