Gov. Eric Holcomb released his 2023 legislative agenda Wednesday, which included his plans for how to spend taxpayer money in the state’s two-year budget. He’s allocated approximately $5.5 billion additional dollars over the biennium, for a total price tag of roughly $43 billion.
Here’s what some of that extra money will go toward and how it will impact Hoosiers.
Holcomb wants to prohibit K-12 textbook and curricular material fees for Indiana families, allocating $160 million each year to help backfill that cost to schools. Indiana is currently one of only seven states that allow such fees.
More public health funding
His agenda also includes $347 million over the next two years toward public health, a portion of what the Governor's Public Health Commission had requested to rightsize Indiana’s low public health funding. The majority of that money will go directly to local health departments which will have to opt-in in order to receive the state funds.
Before the pandemic, Indiana only spent $55 per capita on public funding, compared to the U.S. average of $91, according to a report from the commission.
"We're going to have to do something different if we want a different outcome," Holcomb said, referring to Indiana's poor ranking on various health metrics.
Why should Hoosiers care? Local health departments do everything from food inspections to septic system reviews to disease and trauma prevention, but the extent of services varies by department, leading to unequal health care access across the state. Right now some counties, for example, provide tobacco cessation programs, HIV testing, or wellness checks for children, while others do not.
Free books for young children
Holcomb’s agenda includes $4.1 million to implement the Dolly Parton Imagination Library statewide, which provides children from birth to 5 years old with one book per month.
That doesn’t mean every child will get a book in Indiana; it just means that if local entities come up with half of the money to implement the program, the state will throw in its share of money in order to provide books for every young child in that community.
More education funding
Hoosiers, especially teachers, could see the benefits of more education funding at all levels, from pre-K to higher education.
At the K-12 level, Holcomb wants to increase funding by 6% in fiscal year 2024 and an additional 2% in fiscal year 2025, in hopes that teacher salaries continue to increase. The goal is to increase the average teacher salary to $60,000 per year, up from the current average of $56,600.
Holcomb's administration also wants to make it easier for Hoosiers to obtain a college diploma. For example, his agenda includes the development of a pilot program providing additional aid for those recieving unemployment insurance who want to complete their diploma.
More pre-K and child care options
More Hoosier families could qualify for free pre-K education if Holcomb’s budget plan passes as is.
The governor wants to expand the income eligibility for those who qualify for state-funded pre-K to 138% of the federal poverty limit, instead of the current 127%, using a combination of federal and state funds. That should mean about 5,000 more lower-income families will be eligible for pre-K each year.
His administration also wants to expand child care options in general across the state, by dedicating $25 million worth of federal funds toward a grant program incentivizing employers to provide on-site child care.
More trail money
If you’ve noticed more trail construction in your communities in recent years, it’s likely some of that money came from the state. Holcomb wants to continue encouraging more trail growth in Indiana, requesting $50 million for the trail grant program.
What else is in Holcomb’s plan
Holcomb’s plan also includes $500 million worth of economic development grants, $184 million additional for higher education, $160 million worth of pay increases in order to attract and retain state employees and $36 million to increase state law enforcement pay. The latter would raise the starting pay for state police from $53,690 to $70,000.
He also hopes to up access to mental health treatments, improving the 988 mental health hotline and connected services.
Holcomb’s plan is by no means a done deal. House and Senate Republicans will both release their own versions of the budget over the course of the legislative session, which starts Monday. And while Holcomb is a Republican, his priorities likely won’t all line up with what the two chambers want.
Both chambers have to approve the same version of the budget by April 29, when lawmakers sine die.
Holcomb is optimistic about his chances.
"This is not my first rodeo," he said after unveiling his agenda. "Our agency heads have been working hard on all of these items. We think that [our requests are] not just legitimate, we think that they're needed, which helps us not be cocky about it, but confident that we can be persuasive."
Header image: Gov. Eric Holcomb speaks on his appointment of Judge Dana Kenworthy to the Indiana Court of Appeals on Dec. 21, 2022. (Credit: Gov. Eric Holcomb's office)
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