In new guest column, Rep. Gregory W. Porter points to secret surplus as means to help struggling Hoosiers
INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana House of Representatives last month passed a bipartisan budget with historic investments in the Hoosier State. What follows is an op-ed written by State Rep. Gregory W. Porter (D-Indianapolis), ranking Democratic member of the House Ways and Means Committee, discussing his thoughts:
Last month, the Indiana House Democratic Caucus unanimously supported the state's biennial budget after a rosy revenue forecast and federal stimulus dollars led to the inclusion of historic investments in education and health care. Republican's adoption of long-held Democratic priorities like raising teacher pay, increasing funding to K-12 traditional public schools and providing additional monies to public health amid a global pandemic were a step in the right direction that we could not say no to. However, it is important to remember it is just a step.
A decade of single-party Republican rule advocating for “smaller government” and “smaller investments” left the Hoosier State “too small to work.” The practice of overly prudent budgeting caused the essential fabric of our state to suffer when faced with the perils of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even after House Bill 1001 drastically improved with new-found monies and little room for excuses, the Republican supermajority could not resist tucking away funds in hidden reserves.
With a state budget reserve totaling nearly $3 billion, it was more politically feasible to park money in line item appropriations like future capital projects and the Teachers' Retirement Fund Pre-1996 Account (TRF Pre-'96) than add another billion dollars to an unpopular and unnecessary surplus. Both of these “investments” total $550 million and $600 million, respectively, but would not provide any immediate impact, or worse, could simply go unspent. The creation of a secret second budget reserve is a waste of tax payer dollars as the economic and physical health of our state remains in limbo.
I would have liked to see this large sum of money invested in the human infrastructure of our state. A billion extra dollars rerouted to help struggling student loan borrowers, address minority health disparities and provide state-sponsored COVID-19 relief would have been a much more impactful investment. As our state looks to expend the additional federal aid money from the Biden stimulus money, I hope we can revisit these priority items with input from both sides of the aisle. Hoosier tax dollars should be used to benefit Hoosiers, not create a second rainy day fund.