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Take time to discuss 2014 state budget priorities

Gov. Mike Pence’s 2014 legislative agenda looks much like his 2013 agenda – a tax cut and vouchers. The Republican-controlled General Assembly helped him deliver slimmed-down versions of each last April, but its next session allows little time for proposals without detail or a funding source.

The governor’s proposals certainly are worth considering. Repeal of the personal property tax paid by business owners on equipment and inventory could be another tool in luring employers or in encouraging investment from existing businesses. Indiana lawmakers should discuss the effect the tax has on the job climate.

Likewise, Hoosiers need to begin investing in early learning if the state is ever to reach the education goals it claims. The voucher proposal Pence has offered, however, looks more like a transfer of tax dollars to churches and private interests than an investment in children. Without more detail or any plan to pay for it, the governor’s preschool plan is nothing more than a conversation starter.

A legislative session without another tax cut or a controversial education “reform” would, in fact, be welcome. The next year already promises drama with the push to adopt House Joint Resolution 6, advancing a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

The governor’s tax-cut plan, after all, comes after a reduction in the individual income tax rate and on top of property tax caps that have left some local units of government and schools hurting.

As for the personal property tax that Pence wants to end, Allen County collected $49.3 million last year, about 15 percent of its overall property tax revenue, according to the county auditor’s office. A plan that would cost nearly $1 billion statewide demands much more discussion than a short session allows.

Pence’s preschool voucher plan offers no more specifics than an income cap for families at 185 percent of the federal poverty level. Research has shown that preschool investment has the greatest effect on children from poverty, but it also emphasizes quality programs. Indiana’s record with unregulated child care is abysmal. Great care must be taken to ensure the same substandard providers don’t rush to collect preschool tax dollars.

Fortunately, some lawmakers are already expressing reservations about the governor’s agenda. Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee Chairman Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, urged caution in cutting the personal property tax without replacement revenue to mitigate the effect. Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, warned against retrofitting the existing voucher program.

It seems unfair to give business a break, like ending the personal property tax, when Pence and others acknowledge pressing needs like early-child education. The importance of programs like that to business hardly needs explanation. If almost everyone acknowledges their importance, everyone, including business, should help pay for them.

A year of study and debate is not a bad approach.