[r72] A Clere view of the Statehouse: Bean counting paying off for Indiana (7/18/2011)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Start Date: 7/18/2011 All Day
End Date: 7/18/2011

Bean counting paying off for Indiana

Indiana ended the recently completed budget cycle in better shape than expected, but money is still tight - for both the state and Hoosier families. With that in mind, the upcoming Indiana State Fair will offer many ways to stretch a dollar, but I'll get to that later.

Indiana operates on a two-year budget. The last budget cycle ended June 30. Here are some facts about our financial situation:

  • As of June 30, Indiana had almost $1.2 billion in reserve - a little less than 9 percent of annual revenue - up 42 percent from a year earlier.
  • The reserve was 48 percent higher than predicted by the April revenue forecast on which the current budget - which started July 1 - was based.
  • The higher-than-expected balance can be primarily attributed to revenues that exceeded the forecast and conservative management by state agencies.
  • Even though the reserve has grown faster than expected, it's still not back to where it was two years ago when Indiana had more than $1.4 billion in reserve.
  • Based on current projections, the reserve will grow back to that level - which is about 10 percent of annual revenue, a level generally regarded as a prudent reserve - in two years.
  • We weathered the worst economic downturn in decades without raising taxes or spending every dollar of our reserve.
  • Instead, we cut. In the face of rapidly declining revenues, Gov. Mitch Daniels reduced spending by $1.5 billion from levels appropriated in the 2009 budget. The reductions included a 15 percent average cut to state agency budgets, a 3.5 percent reduction to K-12 education and a 6 percent reduction to higher education. Those reductions carried through to the new budget. With the exception of K-12 education, higher education and Medicaid - which all were spared drastic cuts - the average state agency budget is now about 25 percent less than what it was before the downturn.

Of course, the news of improving revenues was met with immediate calls for more spending. Given ongoing economic uncertainty, however, it would be irresponsible to increase spending. Revenues could dip again, and it would be much better to maintain current levels of spending rather than increase spending in response to good news only to have to make big cuts if the economy worsened.

It costs more than $36 million a day to run the state, so the current reserve of $1.2 billion is only enough to keep the lights on for about a month. For most Hoosier families, having enough money in the bank to cover a month of expenses would provide a little comfort - the kind of comfort that has been lacking over the last few years and still is for many families - but it certainly wouldn't prompt a spending spree.

In fact, most folks could probably use some inexpensive Hoosier fun. May I suggest a visit to the Indiana State Fair, which runs August 5-21? Here are a few special offers:

  • Midway voucher: Walmart is offering $17 vouchers for midway wristbands prior to the start of the fair - good for unlimited rides on certain days. Check out the schedule at www.in.gov/statefair, where the entire fair program is also available. You'll save up to $7 per wristband by purchasing in advance.
  • Discount tickets: $7 at all Indiana Walmart stores, CVS stores and Indiana Farm Bureau offices. The regular admission price is $8; children 5 and younger are free.
  • Turkey Hill Dairy $2 Tuesdays: $2 admission on Aug. 9 and 16 with voucher printed from www.turkeyhill.com/indianastatefair.
  • $2 Taste of the State Fair: On both Tuesdays of the fair, Aug. 9 and 16, concessionaires all over the fairgrounds will have $2 servings available all day long.
  • Free admission for state employees: Aug. 11 with ID.
  • IPL Carload Day: $15 admission per vehicle for up to 10 people with voucher printed from www.iplpower.com
  • Shuttle discounts for seniors: Fairgoers age 55 and older can ride the tractor shuttles all day for $3 with a wristband available at the information booths. On Golden Hoosiers' Day, Aug. 16, seniors can ride the shuttles for free.
  • BMV Day: Save $4 on admission on Aug. 17 by redeeming the voucher available at www.mybmv.com
  • AAA Day: AAA members receive free admission on Aug. 18 with valid membership card. One valid AAA card per person.
  • Free admission for military personnel and families: Aug. 18 with military ID. 
  • $2 Pepsi ticket discount: Bring any Pepsi brand can for $2 off admission on the fair's final day, Aug. 21.
  • Indiana State Fair Value Coupon Book: Buy the book for $5 in the gift shop and save more than $100 on everything from corn dogs to sunglasses.
  • Use your admission ticket to pig out: Present the coupon on the back of your ticket for a $1 discount at any pork tent.

This year's fair includes a "Willkommen to Germany!" exhibit featuring performances, demonstrations, food and displays, including a life-size gingerbread house. It's just one of many engaging exhibits. Last year, my children had fun catching fish in the Department of Natural Resources pond. There's so much to do you'll be even more worn out than the fish.

This is the Year of Soybeans at the Indiana State Fair. According the fair website, Indiana ranks fifth in U.S. soybean production, and soybeans represent a $2.5 billion economic impact to the state. The website features lots of other soybean information, including a recipe for making soybean plastic at home. But don't stay home. Then you wouldn't have a chance to meet Bennie the Bean. Where else can you go to meet someone dressed up as a soybean?

I have to mention another Benny - Benny Breeze, who has some provocative things to say about why it's time to build the bridges. Visit www.b4bridges.com. Make time to pay attention to budgets and bridges, but take a break for bands, beans and batter, among countless other attractions.

If you don't have Internet access and would like to receive a copy of this year's fair program, call my legislative assistant, Clinton Bohm, at 1-800-382-9841. Even if you can't make it to the fair, the program is worth a look. The fair is that good.