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The Indiana House will vote Monday on a two-year state budget that increases funding for education by $378 million, allocates $180 million for COVID-19 relief grant programs, and increases the state’s cigarette tax by 50 cents per pack.

It almost assuredly will advance to the Senate on a party-line vote, with all 71 Republicans supporting House Bill 1001 and the 29 House Democrats voting no.

In the weeks ahead, the Republican-controlled Senate will revise the House budget to prioritize items and programs it believes are most important, and then negotiators from the House, Senate and the Republican governor's office will hammer out and approve a compromise state budget on or before April 29.

The expected Democratic votes against the House budget legislation Monday stem partially from tradition — Republicans voted against the Democratic-crafted budget when Democrats last controlled the House during the 2009-10 sessions.

But Democrats also want to signal to Hoosier voters they would have different spending priorities if Democrats were the ones writing the budget.

Last week, several House Democrats proposed inserting those priorities into the GOP budget, only to be overwhelmingly rejected by the Republican supermajority and typically on party-line votes.

The Democratic budget amendments included increasing elementary and high school education funding by an additional $300 million, boosting funding for pre-K programs by $100 million, and providing bonus payments to Indiana teachers ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.

"Hoosier educators are regularly asked to do more and more without any significant wage increase. Often, they are doing more at their own expense,” said state Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis.

“Educators have been unsung heroes, especially throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, but heroism does not pay the bills. Hoosier Republicans say they want to address our teacher pay problem in interviews and on the campaign trail, but vote down every proposal to do it. Indiana has not seen teacher salaries reflecting both national averages and rates of inflation since the GOP took complete control of state government in 2010. We must do better."

State Rep. Earl Harris Jr., D-East Chicago, proposed establishing a Student Loan Relief Grant to assist low-income Hoosiers with more than $5,000 in student loan debt help pay off those obligations. It was defeated, 67-29.

"While our state continues to see a downward trend in overall college enrollment, 21st Century Scholars are consistently beating that trend and enrolling at higher rates," Harris said.

"Financial support, like scholarships, empower students to pursue higher education by easing the massive financial burden that comes with a degree. The Student Loan Relief Grant would be another opportunity for Indiana to support our students by assisting low-income Hoosiers in repaying their student loans. Our students deserve to be rewarded for their achievements, not punished.”

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The other rejected Democratic budget changes included a $5,000 sales tax rebate for small businesses, establishment of a work share program to provide temporary assistance to Hoosiers working reduced hours, boosting funding for public health programs, and increasing Indiana’s minimum wage for the first time since 2009.

"We are public servants, and we have gotten increases while Hoosiers try to make ends meet on a dismal $7.25 that was deemed livable 10 years ago," said state Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis.

"That amount is barely $15,000 a year. Hoosiers should not have to work multiple jobs to keep the lights on, have a roof over their heads and put food on their tables. Those are basic rights, and if one job doesn’t pay for that, then we are not doing our job at the Statehouse.”

State Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, chairman of the budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee, led the GOP opposition to each proposal.

He repeatedly said the Democratic plans either were too expensive or too incomplete to include in the budget proposal.

In response, House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, said if Republicans can find money to funnel to vague state construction projects and new regional development grants, they should also be investing in Indiana’s human capital.

“House Democrats are focused on the priorities that will help Hoosiers in need now,” GiaQuinta said. “We want to ensure that local public schools get the funding they need, give Hoosier educators the overdue pay raises they deserve, help Hoosiers struggling with mental health issues and build up the state's public health infrastructure so we're better prepared for the next public health crisis.”

“Budgets are about priorities, and I think House Democrats have the right priorities."

Meet the 2021 Northwest Indiana legislative delegation

This article originally ran on nwitimes.com.

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