Bell: Republican Resolve Led to Responsible Budget

Thursday, July 2, 2009 7:00 pm

Start Date:  7/2/2009  All Day  
End Date:  7/2/2009    
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STATEHOUSE (July 2, 2009) - As we near Independence Day, it is appropriate, in the aftermath of the General Assembly's debate and haggling over the state budget, to remember this would not have been possible without the courage and sacrifice of those who won our freedom.

That courage and sacrifice gave us our liberty and the opportunity to invent a nation and system of government that allows us to have these discussions.

Republican resolve on sound fiscal principles helped lead Indiana to a responsible two-year budget plan in the special session.

The House, with all 48 Republicans voting for the budget, passed the budget 62-37 on June 30. Shortly after that, the Senate passed the bill 34-16, and Gov. Mitch Daniels signed it at 8:05 p.m. that evening.

This budget puts Hoosier taxpayers first and puts Indiana in an enviable position compared with the rest of the nation because it focuses on needs and not wants.

Indiana's public education also fares well. At a time when most states are clear-cutting their education budgets, Indiana protects education spending and provides a modest increase. Beyond that, this budget commits to K-12 education 50 cents out of every dollar collected above our projections.

The rest of the nation would do well to take a look at the philosophy we used. No tax increases, the budget does not rely on gimmicks, it keeps at least $1 billion in the bank and it is a pro-education budget. Another important factor that should not be overlooked: Although this budget contains long-held and time-tested core Republican principles, it also is a compromise budget. Truly, it is a budget for the whole state.

This budget comes at a time when more than 728,500 government employees in at least 21 states have taken or will take furloughs, according to news reports, while at least another 54,000 have been laid off.

Michigan, for example, has laid off 100 state troopers and ordered troopers on duty to drive no more than 50 miles in their daily patrols. In Georgia, state prosecutors have been furloughed at least one day a month since September. In Hawaii, public defenders are being furloughed three Fridays a month. In New Jersey, 5,000 parolees were unmonitored for a day in May and June because their parole officers had to take furloughs.

These are the principles Gov. Mitch Daniels, along with House and Senate Republicans, based their budget work:

nNo general tax increases. More than 20 states have raised taxes to fill gaps in their budget. But not Indiana.

nMaintaining at least $1 billion in state reserves. Kansas, on the other hand, had to temporarily suspend income tax refunds, according to news reports.

nCutting a dollar for every dollar spent above the governor's budget recommendation.

nUsing one-time federal stimulus money responsibly, including statewide infrastructure and university construction projects.

nNot raiding trust funds or other dedicated money for operating expenses.

Many states have cut education, raised taxes or both, but that won't be necessary in Indiana, thanks to this budget. Take education, for example: More than 35 states have cut education spending or are considering it, but Indiana not only increases education support, it also promises even more money if state revenue meets projections.

The "education trigger" would allot half of state revenue to education when the state's income exceeds its revenue projections. The other half of the money would be designated for the state's general fund.

Other education support:

nK-12 public education receives a statewide average increase of 1.1 percent in calendar year 2010 and 0.3 percent in calendar year 2011.

nThe budget fully funds enrollment increases at rapidly growing schools.

nIt includes an Educational Scholarship Tax Credit, providing hope for low-income students and families to attend the school of their choice.

nIt allows charter school growth by removing Democrat-backed caps, which is critical if Indiana is to be eligible for federal competitive grants under the "Race to the Top" program. 

nIt also allows the state Department of Education to create a program for federal matching grants for charter schools and grants charter schools access to state technology funds.

nIvy Tech Community College receives enhanced support, improving the state's community college network as well as training opportunities for unemployed workers.

nThe state's higher education scholarship grants program receives increases of 6 percent in fiscal year 2010 and 3 percent in fiscal year 2011.

nBonding is authorized to fund 38 university capital projects throughout the state, including Indiana University Southeast, Purdue University and Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

The budget also includes other beneficial programs for Hoosiers:

nCommunity and Home Options to Institutional Care for Elderly and Disabled (CHOICE), which allows the elderly and disabled the opportunity to continue living at home while still receiving the care they need.

nCommunity Health Centers, which provide medical care to Hoosiers who might not otherwise have the resources for it.

nDepartment of Child Services ombudsman, which will increase accountability within DCS through an independent review of sensitive cases.

All of this is done without a general tax increase now, without the threat of one within two years and without a shutdown of state agencies and services. It isn't necessarily a budget I would have written, and it's not a budget some of my colleagues would have written. Nevertheless, it is a good budget for the state, built on solid, fiscally responsible principles and crafted through the give and take of compromise. All made possible because of patriots' love of liberty and democracy.

Happy birthday, America. Enjoy the Fourth.