[r54] Time is Running Out to Pass a State Budget (6/25/2009)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Start Date: 6/25/2009 All Day
End Date: 6/25/2009

Back in early April, I wrote about some of my concerns for our state budget.  Heading into what I hope will be the final days of this special session, I have many of the same concerns. 

Since legislators reassembled two weeks ago, we've seen three different budget proposals - and none of them have managed to gain bipartisan support in the House.  They were all bad budgets, in my opinion.

The governor's budget proposal did many things I did liked.  It cut state government spending - a must in light of the state's dwindling revenue - and it maintained healthy reserves.  However, I had some very serious concerns about how it would fund public education, especially for the rural schools in House District 54.  I wasn't alone. 

House Democrats quickly scrapped the governor's budget and crafted their own.  It was oddly similar to the budget they proposed during the regular session.  It contained funding for the Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Children's Home, a cause I've been behind since session convened in January, but it would have led to tax increases in the future through out-of-control spending in a recession. 

It was a difficult decision for me, but I could not support the House Democrat budget.  I voted against it upon third reading in the House chamber.

Even without my vote, the House Democrat budget passed by 52-48, and made its way to the Senate.  The Republican-controlled Senate got right to work, and for the most part, I think it did a commendable job.  Many of the governor's original provisions remained, but increased spending in education and other areas. 

However, there were problems.  I still worried about how this new budget would fund our rural schools.  In my view, education needs to be our top priority, and regardless of all other spending, we cannot afford to cut funding to individual schools now or in the future.

Even more, the Senate's proposed budget included language to help Marion County's bankrupt Capital Improvement Board, something I have opposed since the beginning of session.  I could not, in good conscience, support a bill that contained this CIB provision but left out more important programs, particularly the children's home. 

When prioritizing how we will spend taxpayer dollars, how can state government defend putting Indianapolis' sports teams ahead of 108 children who badly need the services provided by this historic and successful institution?  I couldn't vote to put dollars before kids. 

I didn't have to put up a vote on the Senate's proposal.  House Democrat leadership offered a motion to dissent to the Senate's budget, and that motion passed by a voice vote, sending the budget into conference committee.

As I write this column, the bipartisan conference committee from both houses of the General Assembly is meeting to decide the final version of the budget.  With less than one week until the end of the fiscal year, these people have their work cut out for them. 

We must equitably fund schools.  We must preserve our reserves to weather the future.  We must send the state into debt.   And, to fulfill our duty to taxpayers, we must do all of this before July 1.