INDIANAPOLIS | The leader of the Indiana Senate claims to believe education policy debates, and not the budget, will dominate Statehouse discussions over the next two weeks as the 2013 session of the General Assembly races toward adjournment.

Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said last week he expects most disagreements between the House and Senate will center on the proper size of Indiana's private school voucher program, limiting use of the Common Core State Standards and deciding who school boards can hire as superintendent.

"The budget may be the easier document to get done," Long said. "That's ironic but true."

However, Long's optimism on the status of the 2014-15 spending plan may last only until Tuesday, when the revised state revenue forecast is released.

The Republican-controlled House and Senate and Republican Gov. Mike Pence have each put forward tax-cut plans that would reduce state revenue by about $500 million a year, though each chamber and the governor seek a different mix of tax cuts.

If the revenue forecast shows lackluster growth, as suggested by the recent uptick in unemployment and the failure to meet state revenue targets in February and March, those tax-cut plans become far riskier.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, whose budget did not include Pence's proposal to reduce the income tax rate by 10 percent, repeatedly has said he does not want to cut taxes now if it will lead to budget deficits down the road.

Meanwhile, Pence shows no signs of letting up on his demand — and the cornerstone of his 2012 campaign — that lawmakers cut the income tax rate to 3.06 percent from 3.4 percent.

He called the Senate plan to reduce the rate to 3.3 percent "a good start" and said he believes lawmakers will embrace his full tax cut once the revenue forecast shows Indiana can afford it.

But perhaps sensing the forecast will be less than stellar, Long already is discounting its importance, in part to preserve the possibility of an immediate repeal of the state's inheritance tax.

"That'll be a factor, obviously it's not the only factor. It's still a forecast, it's not from on high," Long said. "If it's catastrophic, well that's a problem. If it's cautiously optimistic, that's helpful. If there's some storm clouds out there in the forecast ... we'll just have to wait and see."

The revenue forecast is a consensus estimate of all the revenue Indiana expects to take in during the next two years, including sales and income taxes, the state's two largest revenue sources, and gaming revenue, cigarette taxes and other fees and taxes.

Staffers from the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, Pence's State Budget Agency and the House and Senate derive the forecast by reducing global economic trends to a model that incorporates historical data from Indiana and using it to predict how much revenue the state can expect.

Their December forecast showed 1.5 percent revenue growth during the current budget year, 2.2 percent growth in 2014 and 2.9 percent growth in 2015.

Pence said those results mean Indiana can fund its priorities and reduce taxes while maintaining a balanced budget and keeping some $2 billion in reserve.

The Legislature must approve a final version of the budget on or before April 29, the mandatory adjournment date.

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