During these past few weeks, the legislature has set a different pace from what we have previously seen in the House chambers - bills getting heard and voted upon. The most important of these issues and critical to the entire state was our budget.
Crafting and passing a budget is a lengthy and involved process. The State Budget Committee began the process last September with the first round of budget hearings. In December, the revenue forecast was presented to the committee to provide an idea of revenue projections for the state over the next two years.
In January, we began budget hearings in the House Ways and Means Committee, of which I am a member, in order to provide state agencies the opportunity to have their budget requests heard by all committee members.
Throughout all the budget deliberations and debates, there were four key points that we have kept as the core of the bill: no new taxes or tax increases; structural balance by 2013; sufficient reserves; and protecting K-12 education. When the budget bill reached the floor, however, there were 349 amendments filed, some of which challenged these core ideas.
If all of these amendments would have been adopted, they would have cost the state over half a billion dollars in additional spending. We did adopt 10 of the 34 amendments that were discussed on the floor in a bipartisan manner. They improved the budget, while also keeping the core points intact.
Though the budget didn't receive any Democrat support, I believe it is fiscally-sound budget that will accomplish our four goals.
Of course I would have liked to have seen more funding in the budget for education or special projects, and I'm sure all of my colleagues agree. However, common sense tells me that we can only spend money that we have and we have to live within our means. If we want to spend an additional dollar in one area, we have to cut a dollar in another area.
The budget has been criticized because "it does not spend enough in certain areas," however, the current budget preserves education funding, fully funds Medicaid expenses and also fully funds the Department of Child Services requested budget.
These are not the best of economic times for Hoosiers or the country for that matter. So now, more than ever, we need to be fiscally responsible. In doing so, we must protect the Hoosier taxpayer, not spend beyond our means and follow a plan to assure financial security for the future. I believe this budget accomplishes these goals and spends state money responsibly.
The budget passed out of the House and has been receiving public testimony in the Senate Committee on Appropriations for the last week. I'm interested to see what kind of changes they put in place. Either way, I'm sure we will find a common ground for the greater good of our state.