Indiana's abortion policies aren't the only source of disagreement this week inside the ancient limestone walls of the Statehouse.

What should be another seemingly easy decision for the Republican-controlled House and Senate — returning excess state revenue to Hoosiers — is, like abortion, proving to be considerably more difficult as lawmakers struggle to reach consensus on specific details of the legislation.

State Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, insisted negotiations between leaders in each chamber are ongoing, and he's optimistic an agreement soon will be reached to return a portion of Indiana's record $6.1 billion in budget reserves to Hoosiers and to boost spending on programs aiding pregnant women and children in connection with anticipated passage of a near-total abortion ban in Senate Bill 1.

In the meantime, the Holdman-led Senate Committee on Tax and Fiscal Policy voted Wednesday to delete from House Bill 1001 the tax rebate and spending provisions approved last week by the House and replace them with the tax and spending plans from Senate Bill 2 and Senate Bill 3.

"There is no nefarious motive on our part to do anything but to keep the legislation moving forward," Holdman said.

The House Ways and Committee took similar action Tuesday when it stripped nearly all the contents of Senate Bill 2 and inserted the original text of House Bill 1001.

These kinds of negotiating tactics play out between the House and Senate every legislative session.

This time it's different, however, because the sole reason Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb gave for convening a rare special session of the General Assembly was to provide inflation relief to Hoosiers as quickly as possible.

It hasn't quite worked out that way.

GOP lawmakers delayed the start of the special session to July 25 from July 6, in part to conduct polling on abortion following the June 24 U.S. Supreme Court ruling repealing Roe v. Wade and authorizing each state to individually permit, restrict or ban women's access to abortion.

Now, even if a tax and spending agreement is soon reached, and the Legislature is required by law to adjourn its special session no later than Aug. 14, Hoosiers likely won't see any benefits from it until late September or October at the earliest — depending on what is enacted and how long it takes to implement.

"The automatic taxpayer refund already is being sent out like molasses in Antarctica. People are barely getting it. Or they're not getting it at all," said state Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis.

According to Republican State Auditor Tera Klutz, the $125 payments to Hoosiers using excess revenue from the 2021 budget year have been delayed for many taxpayers due to a contractor's inability to obtain enough security paper to print 1.7 million checks.

State Rep. Earl Harris Jr., D-East Chicago, believes he knows a better, and faster, way to help Hoosiers.

Harris tried to insert in Senate Bill 2 Tuesday a temporary suspension of Indiana's 33 cents per gallon gasoline tax and the 7% sales tax on gasoline purchases, currently 29.4 cents per gallon, through Dec. 31, 2022, to provide immediate relief by dropping the price at the pump by 62.4 cents per gallon.

"Even though gas prices have come down, we know that the economics of what's going on, and gas taxes, cause a little bit of stress on people's lives," Harris said while noting Hoosier families also will be spending more in coming months on school supplies and the holidays.

Harris' proposal ultimately was voted down by the Republican-led panel. GOP lawmakers said Indiana needs the record-high gas tax revenue to cover record-high road construction costs, and reducing the gas tax also would reward out-of-state motorists who fill up in the Crossroads of America.

As a result, the contours of each chamber's tax relief and spending legislation remain largely unchanged from when they were filed last week.

The House plan, now contained in Senate Bill 2, implements Holcomb's $225 taxpayer rebate, eliminates the 7% state sales tax on child diaper purchases, boosts income tax incentives for families with children and adopted children, and spends $58.5 million to expand coverage for prenatal services, Medicaid birth and delivery costs, child care and contraceptive availability.

Meanwhile, the Senate proposal, now in House Bill 1001, scuttles the $225 checks in favor of taking a penny off the state's gasoline tax, suspending the collection of Indiana's 7% sales tax on residential utility bills through the end of the year, setting aside up to $1 billion for future state construction projects and depositing $400 million in Indiana's pension stabilization fund.

The Senate also is seeking just $45 million in new spending to support programs focused on maternal and infant health, pregnancy prevention and adoption.
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