[r82] Spending what we have, and wisely (4/4/2011)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Start Date: 4/4/2011 All Day
End Date: 4/4/2011

We have heard a lot of emotional issues this week in the House chamber, perhaps making the discussion surrounding the budget a bit mundane. But it's still an important issue that deserves consideration, debate and support.

Crafting and passing a budget is a very lengthy process. The State Budget Committee began the process last September with budget hearings. Then in December, the revenue forecast was presented to the committee to provide guidance about future revenue collections to the state over the next two years.

Last January, we began budget hearings in the House Ways and Means Committee providing state agencies an opportunity to present their budget requests to committee members.

Throughout each step of the budget-writing process, revisions are made. There have been three main concepts that have kept my focus to help create a structurally balanced budget.

First, I have to consider that Indiana is $800 million out of balance this year, so we have to find a way to make that up over the next two years in order to get a balance by the end of the next biennium.

Second, we need adequate reserves in the bank to take care of services provided by the state.

Third, we don't need any tax increases, which are important for Hoosier families, but also important to show an efficient and stable environment that is good for creating jobs. If a company is considering relocating to another state, they will look at Indiana and see an atmosphere that provides stability, prudence and responsibility in government.

These are the concepts that have led me over the past five months to the budget I presented to House members on Wednesday. On Tuesday, however, we made some changes to the budget, which I was happy to do. I wasn't so happy to see 349 amendments filed, which would have spent nearly $600 million in new funding. I was glad to find some that weren't so costly, that would actually improve the budget and could be adopted with bipartisan support.

Ten out of the 34 amendments that were presented on the House floor were passed and are now included in the House passed budget bill. I didn't expect to get any Democrat support for the budget, and I didn't. But I am hopeful that before the April 29 deadline, we will have bipartisan support. I will continue to encourage and solicit everyone's involvement and ideas as long we continue to live within our means.

When considering what is included in the budget, I have been told I didn't spend enough and I have been told I spent too much. I will be honest, the appropriations for this budget, in its current form, are about $1 billion less than the appropriations of last year's budget. Please keep in mind that the last budget included more than $1 billion in stimulus money.

So this budget does under spend compared to last year's budget-not something I am particularly happy about, but it's all we have to spend. Common sense tells me not to spend money we don't have. No one likes to make cuts, but we are forced to spend within our income or we would have to raise taxes.

Fifty percent of the budget goes to K-12 education funding-which has been one of the sensitive issues addressed this session. We have gone over and over more than 26 versions of the funding formula, and we have found one that best suits the needs of our state. It is the most simple and most fair formula ever presented to this assembly.

We did cut many of what I consider to be phony ways of spending. For example, the restoration grants and small school grants. If a school doesn't get the funding they desired, through those grants in the past, the state would simply cut those schools a check. In a perfect economy, I wouldn't have a problem with this because I represent small schools, but we are not in a perfect economy.

In any budget, there are always things to like as well as things not to like, but we will continue the discussion. And I will continue to listen to any legitimate complaints, but I will stand firm in saying "you want to add a dollar, you need to cut a dollar," so we can continue to live within our income.

Overall, we have spent the money we have and we have spent it wisely.