Muncie IN schools benefit from tax relief, preschool pilot approved by state lawmakers

Moratorium on protected taxes keeps some transportation funds

By Rick Yencer

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA (NEWS) -  Muncie schools made out pretty good, according to Supt. Tim Heller, assessing what state lawmakers did for public schools in the 2014 session.

Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, working with Senate minority leader Tim Lanane of Anderson convinced Republican lawmakers to put a three year moratorium on protected taxes that would virtually wipe out transportation funds for school systems like Muncie.

"This bill will keep buses running in Muncie, as well as other school systems," said Errington, after the House and Senate approved the moratorium on cutting more property taxes for public schools.

The measure gives Muncie and dozens of other school corporations losing transportation flexibility to manage their funds. The local school district could have lost 89 percent of its transportation fund but could now recover about half of the $3 million it now spends on school bus transportatoion.

Ninty nine of 336 school corporations would have lost 10 percent or more of their transportation funds with the tax controls.The 2012 protected tax law created unforeseen problems with school funding and Republican lawmakers, some who had school systems impacted, agreed more study was needed before imposing those tax caps.

Errington creditied Tony Costello, president of the Muncie School Board and members of the local League of Women Voters who testified before House and Senate committees on the impact of losing transportation funds and cutting bus service.

It will be now be up to Muncie schools to live within its means and reorganize bus service to meet funding. The school system now plans to borrow $10 million to renovate schools after losing a referenendum to raise property taxes for transportation.

The Legislature also approved a pilot preschool education program funded by $10 million which be a study of how Indiana can join most other states offering preschool education.

Heller said Muncie schools was interested in preschool education and was glad to see the state moving in that direction. Forty one states now have public preschool programs.

Muncie schools recently approved an early college education program for the consolidated Central High School, partnering with Ivy Tech Community College. Student can earn an associate liberal arts degree aloing with their high school diploma.

Errington also said lawmakers agree to regulate day care programs offered by faith based groups. Investigation found some churches had too many children with too few adults supervising, and standards were adopted for those child care properties.

There also have been reports of more than 30 deaths in unlicensed day cares during the last five years, and Gov. Mike Pence made it a priority to regulate all properties.

Infrastructure was the other big bonanza for eastern Indiana as lawmakers agreed to back Pence's plan to put $400 million into highways and interstates after initially cutting it in half.

Rep. Jack Lutz, R-Anderson, said the money, restored by Republican senators like Doug Eckerty of Yorktown, would go for high traffic areas, including the six lane widening of Interstate 69 between Fishers and Anderson besides work on U.S. 31 near Kokomo.

"This is for projects already being planned," said Lutz. 

That work creates jobs and boosts the construction industry that lags in the Midwest, Republican lawmakers said.

Lutz said the Senate did not put a local grant program for roads and streets back in the measure, despite the Great Winter of 14 that has damaged infrastructure. That's what Tyler and local officials sought in the final days to supplement summer paving and repair.

Mayor Dennis Tyler said the state needed to provide more local road and street funds, anticipating thousands of potholes and miles of damaged pavement from the bitter cold, heavy snow and a predicted wet spring.

Republican lawmakers did approved a package of business tax cuts, lowering the state's corporate income tax from 6.5 to 4.9 percent over the next six years.

And it gives local government the option of eliminate business personal property taxes on new equipment and machines.

Tyler and other mayors like Greg Ballard of Indianapolis, are unsure whether local governemts can afford more revenue decline with tax caps on public safety and other municipal services.

Lutz said the tax cut would make Indiana's corporate tax among the lowest in the nation and attractive to businesses wanting to relocate or build new.

Lanane has pointed out how Republicans would not even consider raising the minimum wage while median income in Indiana is among the lowest in the nation. 



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