INDIANAPOLIS -- Tightening agency budget requests may help provide funding this year for teacher salaries, House Speaker Brian Bosma said on Thursday, the opening day of the 2019 Indiana General Assembly.
"We'll find money for it. It will be a tight budget year," Bosma said after a half-hour session of the House. "We're finding some ability to right-size some of the agency budgets that have planned reversions in them and get them down to a more workable, realistic level and free some money up that way."
Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said a more detailed plan, which is being arranged with teacher organizations, would be presented next week.
When legislative agendas were first discussed in December, teacher salary increases were not on the table, with some officials saying salary boosts would take at least two budget cycles. The current session will set up a two-year budget cycle, but focus is expected on funding the Indiana Department of Child Services, which wants more funding for caseworkers, and coverage for the Medicaid health care program for low-income families.
But teachers cannot wait up to four years for salary increases, House Democrat Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, said.
"We must raise education funding to allow for an increase in teacher pay," GiaQuinta said. "We should not pass the buck to local districts.We control the funding, not them. It is our responsibility to address this crisis and we need to do it now."
House Republicans hold a 67-33 majority.
"Let's be candid. We know how to count," said GiaQuinta. "You have the votes to ignore us. You have the raw numerical power to pass legislation that reflects that power. We hope you won't, because regardless of how the votes are divided in this chamber there are hundreds of thousands of Hoosier citizens who are depending on our caucus to ensure that their voices are heard."
Of the 33 members of the Democrat caucus, 17 are women. That accounted for the most diverse for the Democrat caucus including African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and an Asian-American, GiaQuinta said.
In the Senate, Republicans also announced their agenda.
"This session, my colleagues and I will be prioritizing efforts to maintain a balanced budget, protect our most vulnerable children, support education, improve school safety, and help Hoosiers find good jobs," said Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville.
"Given the revenue forecast and the budget needs of the Department of Child Services, there's no question that we have many challenges before us," Bray said.
Committee hearings on bills begin next week.
Also, House leaders announced their annual donation drive would aim to fight child hunger through the Salvation Army. One in five Hoosier children faces food insecurity such as limited or uncertain access to adequate food, officials said.
Bosma said he hoped to collect 400 backpacks of food. GiaQuinta joined Bosma in making the announcement.
Donations can be left outside of the House chambers on the third floor of Statehouse through March 5; or monetary donations can be made to Susan_Solmon@usc.salvationarmy.org.