The 2017 session of the Indiana General Assembly is charged with approving a two-year budget before it adjourns. The process the Legislature follows may seem shrouded in fog. However, Rep. Don Lehe assures Hoosiers there is method to what may seem like madness. He is confident that when the final day of the session arrives, there will be a workable budget.
Lehe, a longtime representative from White County, is also part of a family hog and grain operation. He recently shared the steps that must take place before the Legislature can arrive at a budget.
Here’s a closer look at what will happen during this budget session through Lehe’s eyes.
Step 1. Information gathering and forecasting started before the session began.
The Legislature wasn’t in session in December, but key legislators were already hard at work, laying a groundwork for the budget. Even though Indiana entered this year with a budget surplus, a large share of the revenue the state expects to take in is already obligated. The slice of the pie that might be available for groups eyeing new funding is much smaller than many think, Lehe observes.
Step 2. All funding bills originate in the House.
Bills that require more than a minimal amount of funding are generally assigned to the House Ways and Means Committee. This committee plays a big role in shaping the two-year budget.
Step 3. The governor prepares and delivers a budget to the Legislature.
The governor has his own ideas of what the next two years should look like in financial terms, Lehe says. His budget is presented to the Legislature. However, legislators are under no obligation to act upon it directly.
Step 4. The House approves a budget.
The entire House must act upon the budget presented by the House Ways and Means Committee. As political wrangling begins, there can be amendments. Even if a project wasn’t introduced through a bill, it can be included through an amendment or as a line item in the budget.
Step 5. The Senate receives the House budget.
Senators typically have their own ideas of what should be in the budget, and their version may be very different than the House version that reaches the Senate chamber.
Step 6. The Senate approves a budget.
The entire Senate must approve the budget. While it began as the House budget, at this point, it will likely have many amendments attached.
Step 7. The budget heads to conference committee.
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. The committee consists of one Republican and one Democrat from both the House and the Senate. These four people develop a final budget.
Step 8. The final financial forecast is released in April.
Before the final stages of the process, a forecast is issued with up-to-date figures for expected revenue. The April revenue forecast typically has a significant impact on the final budget, Lehe says.
Step 9. The final budget must pass both the House and the Senate.
After the conference committee report is finalized, both the House and Senate must vote on the state budget as presented in the conference committee report. By law, the session must adjourn by April 30.