House Speaker Brian Bosma, responding to reporters at an impromptu news conference Wednesday, said a 2-year budget for the state of Indiana is in the works.
“It’s going to have the largest tax cut, I believe, in state history, with a billion dollars of tax cuts in this biennium, by my count,” said Bosma, R-Indianapolis.
“We’re making progress and we’ll be out of here in a timely fashion,” the Speaker said.
Gov. Mike Pence has been pushing for a 10 percent cut in the individual income tax rate. The House did not include an income tax cut when it approved a budget plan in February and the Senate this month backed a 3 percent cut. But it’s unclear whether legislators will grant the first-year governor from Columbus his wish.
State Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, earlier Wednesday said he may not be able to vote for the state budget unless a provision that puts pressure on counties to pass a local wheel tax to help fund road repairs is stripped from the final document.
Smith and other legislators said they expected to see a draft of House Bill 1001, the state budget, Wednesday night. The legislature hopes to wrap up its work for this session by Friday, including passing the two-year budget bill.
Sticking points that remain include how much additional money will be set aside for road maintenance to aid local governments and whether Ivy Tech Community College’s Columbus campus will get a requested $25 million to fund an expansion of classroom space, Smith said.
The wheel tax has raised hackles among many of the roughly 40 counties statewide that have not implemented one. The wheel tax is a levy that requires residents and businesses to pay $25 to $40 a year for vehicles that they operate.
Bartholomew County has not imposed a wheel tax on residents and has funded road maintenance by other means.
As it stands now, a budget proposal being discussed at the Statehouse would require counties to adopt a wheel tax if they want to share in $100 million or more of new state road funds likely to end up in the final budget.
Smith said requiring a county to approve a tax to get state funds “is absolutely wrong; it is un-Republican, if such a word exists.”
Jorge Morales, president of the Bartholomew County Council, said Wednesday he’s also opposed to the notion that the county must pass a new tax to get more road funds. The seven-person county council has the ultimate decision-making power regarding local fiscal affairs, and Morales said the General Assembly shouldn’t interfere.
Other key issues that remain up for final debate in the budget include the size of a possible income tax cut for all Hoosier taxpayers. At midday Wednesday, Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said negotiations were continuing with the Senate and the governor’s office about the size of the eventual cut.
Rep. Smith said he has had conversations with state Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, about the wheel-tax issue, and Kenley contends local governments should “have some skin in the game” before laying claim to a share of new state road repair money.
Smith said he countered by arguing that counties such as Bartholomew that have managed road maintenance without a wheel tax “should be patted on the back,” not coerced into passing a new tax.
Smith said Kenley conceded in a recent conversation that Bartholomew County legislators aren’t the only ones raising a stink about the wheel-tax idea.
“Others are having a tough time with it,” Smith said Kenley acknowledged to him in a one-on-one talk.
Meanwhile, hopes remain dim that Ivy Tech Community College’s campus in Columbus will be able to win $25 million in state budget money for a capital expenditure to add 70,000 square feet of new classroom space and renovate its main building.
“We’re going to keep fighting, but at this point I’d say it’s a long shot,” Smith said.
Smith and Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, said they’ve both tried to make the case that Ivy Tech’s campus is gaining students and that it needs more space to meet a State Board of Trustees’ goal to more than triple the head count of community college graduates during the next 12 years.
But in a recent conversation with Kenley, Smith said he was told the evolving state budget talks don’t include any money for Ivy Tech in Columbus.
Smith added that he expects money will be set aside in the budget, however, for an Ivy Tech campus in Noblesville, Kenley’s home turf. Efforts to reach Kenley for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.