Indiana has a two-year budget cycle where legislators craft a state budget in every odd-numbered year. This past session, we gave you an insight on how partisan the new state budget became as session progressed. We explained how only a few Republicans actually have the power to decide what is included in the budget.
We encourage you to think of our state budget not as a list of billions of dollars of line items. We prefer to think of our budget as a clear declaration of our state’s priorities. It makes sense, right? When you put together your budget at home, you give more weight to certain items depending on what your priorities are for that year. Senate Democrats view the Indiana budget in the same light.
This is why Senate Democrats were angry this past session when important issues were dropped from the budget. These items were originally promised to be funded in a bipartisan manner, yet in the final days of voting, Republican leaders removed these projects and ideas with no explanation.
Here are some of the things that were removed:
- Funding for doula services that would have helped lower the infant mortality rate.
- Mandatory adoption subsidy payments for special needs children – to help foster parents take care of these kids once they’re adopted.
- Money to address the massive erosion problem plaguing the lakeshore communities in northern Indiana.
- Relief programs for Hoosiers that are unable to pay interest fees on property taxes
- Funding for the Mortgage Foreclosure Program to help Hoosiers keep their homes (requested by Indiana’s Supreme Court by the way).
- Funding to give teachers across the state a 5 percent raise to their base pay.
Instead, Republican leaders decided to hold taxpayer money hostage in a reserve account and tout $2 billion in excess funds.
Having billions of dollars in reserves is excessive while refusing to address any of the significant issues that could be solved with well-funded programs. Let’s frame this in the lens of a working Hoosier family. It’s good for this family to save money for any home repairs or medical emergencies that may occur. However, if they continue to add to their savings account while not paying rent, ignoring medical bills or not buying enough groceries, then the family will end up hurting themselves in the end.
This is what Republicans have done to our state budget. They have hoarded taxpayer dollars, and instead of using the money to help Hoosiers or return any excess, they keep it in a “reserve” account and never touch it. All the while, Indiana has an abysmally high infant mortality rate and the lowest rate of teacher pay growth in the country.
At the beginning of July, the governor announced that the state now has over $400 million more in unexpected surplus. The total in our reserve account now? A whopping $2.3 billion! A smart family that had enough in savings would take any unexpected bonus and make sure the rent is paid, food was in the fridge or a prescription was properly filled. The governor did none of those things. Instead, he told the state that your taxpayer dollars would pay for projects already funded in the state budget. Then the rest would go back into the reserve.
Hoosier teachers? They still have the lowest pay in the Midwest.
Indiana infants? They will have to wait until we ever decide they’re important enough to fund a program to keep them alive and healthy.
Indiana’s over 26,000 foster children? Well, the state won’t fund mandatory subsidies to ensure they’re adopted.
A swine barn that costs $50 million? You bet the governor is using this extra money to pay for that.
In the end, this is clear, partisan fiscal irresponsibility. Padding the state’s coffers, while Hoosiers suffer right under the supermajority’s nose.
There’s still hope though! Because the governor wants to fund items already in the budget, the legislature must re-open the budget bill and vote once more. That means next session there is a rare opportunity to right these past wrongs and get the state to pay for things Hoosiers actually want and need. So, call your senators. Call your representatives. Call the governor. Tell them that you pay your taxes every year and you want to see some return on your investment.
A Hoosier from District 4 in Northwest Indiana said it best, “What the heck! We pay taxes, we expect things!”