Indiana just added to its huge surplus. That’s good news, and yet I am still really angry.
After the state’s year-end close of business on June 30, 2019, we had an additional 270 plus million dollars in unexpected tax revenue over the past three months. The bad news is that the legislature didn’t get to spend it.
During the 2019 legislative session, we spent four months working on a budget. Legislators heard testimony from scores of people, representing dozens of programs, all making requests for funding. As the Ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, I worked hard to get some of those programs funded. The list is long, and many of those appropriations were included in the Senate-approved budget.
But here’s the way it really works: only a few people decide what’s actually in the “final” budget. They include the House Republican Ways and Means Chair, the Senate Republican Appropriations Chair and the governor’s office, represented by the budget director. Approximately 36 hours before the final vote, as the budget bill was going through final print, I was called into the office of the Appropriations Chair. It was explained to me that all the programs I had spent months pushing for had been cut. “What?” I asked, incredulous, and nearly speechless. “Why?” With a somewhat sheepish look, it was explained that the Republican supermajority wanted to keep the entire two plus billion dollar surplus. “But,” I argued, “We all know we do not need that much. Do you know how many programs could have been funded with even $100 million of that money?” There was no answer.
On behalf of my legislative district, I pointed out that the Army Corps of Engineers needed only $800,000 to fund their proposal regarding beach nourishment. But it was not just that program. Programs and proposals offered by both Democrats and Republicans were cut. Adoption subsidies. The Mortgage Foreclosure Program. The list goes on and on. Indiana could have easily provided a teacher pay increase of five percent and brought our teachers up to a living salary. The Republicans chose not to.
And now we receive the news that there is even an additional $270 million, bringing our total surplus to nearly $2.3 billion. What a colossal waste. We cut our programs and our services by nickels and dimes, meanwhile keeping billions in the bank. What a colossal waste of the time that 150 legislators spent four months crafting a budget, which was simply axed by a handful of Republicans who seem to have a hoarding problem.
Indiana’s massive surplus is robbing taxpayers of their money. This makes me really angry.