INDIANAPOLIS – In just 48 days, Indiana lawmakers hope to curb the smoking epidemic, shore up the state's unemployment fund and make some modest changes in education.

But the biggest issue – raising teacher pay – will have to wait until 2021.

The session opens Jan. 6 and must end by midnight March 14. But the desired end-date is March 11 due to NCAA basketball coming to town.

Republicans are holding firm that a short session isn't an appropriate time to open up the state's two-year budget.

But Democrats say that's exactly what they are doing by planning to change the existing budget to pay for a handful of building projects with cash instead of bonding. This is akin to buying a house with cash instead of taking out a mortgage.

Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, proposed funneling some of the excess dollars in the state's reserve fund – $200 million of $300 million identified by Republicans – to an existing Teacher Appreciation Grant program.

“The governor and Statehouse Republicans have made it clear that they will not address inadequate teacher salaries this upcoming legislative session, claiming there are no options to do so in a non-budget year. Based on the governor's request to cash fund projects that are bonded in the current budget, my assumption is that the budget will have to be re-opened,” Melton said.

“I have found at least one option to put more money in teachers' pockets by June 30 without negatively affecting the current budget plan, without touching the surplus and without raising taxes on Hoosiers,” he said.
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