By BRIAN A. HOWEY and JACOB CURRY, in Indianapolis

1. Busy two weeks on tap for General Assembly 

Here are your Monday power lunch talking points: The Indiana General Assembly is in a for a busy week, according to House Speaker Brian Bosma. The Feb. 25 and 26 deadlines for third readings in the House and Senate are less than two weeks away. While Republicans have passed nearly all of their agenda bills in both chambers, significant hurdles remain to be cleared like the bias crimes bill, gaming, potentially raising the cigarette tax, alcohol sales matters and the budget. Bosma said the House iteration of the budget is “getting pretty close”  and that we should be on the lookout for Ways and Means Committee Co-Chairman Rep. Todd Huston to start talking details. Education will dominate the budget, as always, and last week Bosma gave reporters a preview of a few education provisions that should work their way into this year’s bill. 

In his State of the State address, Gov. Eric Holcomb laid out a 2% annual increase for school budgets over this biennium, a basic amount which is meant to counter inflation. But the House may be looking to increase that amount, though they haven’t settled on an exact number, the expectation is “2-point-something.” The governor also proposed a one-time use of $150 million toward the post-1996 teacher pension fund to help alleviate spending pressures at the local level. Bosma indicated that the idea isn’t universally supported, but will end up in the budget, nonetheless. “Some of our colleagues believe that we should give that money to teachers directly, but I point out to them that that’s taking a bonus check and working it into your permanent spending – it doesn’t work. So, we’ll stick with the one-time use on this.” Finally, the speaker said he believes the House budget will retain Indiana’s teacher appreciation grants. The proposal to eliminate these grants has received some pushback, and Bosma says they’re one of the better ways to get money directly to teachers so the grants are likely to remain.
            
2. House eyes cig tax hike

The House also has some public health and policy matters looming this week. Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer’s HB1565 raises the state’s tax on cigarettes from $2 to $2.995. That bill hasn’t been heard by the Public Health Committee yet but could begin the process on Wednesday. On a similar note is HB1444, authored by Ways & Means Chairman Tim Brown, which imposes a tax on e-cigarettes at a rate of $0.04 per milliliter of nicotine-containing fluid. HB1444 is expected to pass the House this week. HB1518 from Rep. Ben Smaltz, a comprehensive alcohol sales bill focusing on grocery stores and pharmacies, as well as a number of changes to the state’s alcoholic beverage permit process, is another bill to watch.

3. Senate eyes gaming revamp

In the Senate, the much-discussed gaming bill (SB552) should be receiving a hearing from the Appropriations Committee this Thursday. That would put the bill, which could move Gary's two riverboat casinos to the Borman Expressway and Terre Haute, on schedule to hit the floor next week. Proponents of passing hate crime legislation will also be watching Rules and Legislative Procedure to see if they hand down any such bill this week, after movement on the issue stalled last week.

4. Another federal shutdown looms

The dysfunctional power brokers in Washington are just four days away from a second federal government shutdown. This afternoon House Appropriations Committee Chairman Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), Rep. Kay Granger (R-Tex.) and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) will gather to try and hammer out a deal. The Democrats appear to be stuck on the number of criminal illegal immigrants. If that's the reason for a second shutdown, voters are likely to as angry at them as they are with President Trump, who we're still unsure of what he will actually sign.

5. Tax refunds dwindle

The only big deal President Trump has gotten through Congress was the tax reform package in December 2017. Americans are lukewarm on the impacts, with the Real Clear Politics polling composite on the issue split at 42.5% supporting and opposing. The IRS reported Friday that the average refund check thus far is down 8%  and the number of folks receiving a refund has been reduced by almost 25%. And if that doesn't get your blood flowing, the Seattle Times  reports: The 400 richest Americans – the top 0.00025% of the population – have tripled their share of the nation’s wealth since the early 1980s, according to Cal at Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman. The richest own more of the country’s riches than the 150 million adults in the bottom 60% of the wealth distribution, who saw their share of the nation’s wealth fall from 5.7% in 1987 to 2.1% in 2014. Wonder why some folks are talking about "socialism."

Have a great week, folks. It's The Atomic!