State budget passes 

Politics played out with its stereotypical flair last week at the Indiana General Assembly as lawmakers feuded and fussed over a state budget. And while they did ultimately agree upon one, few would call the process or result a true success.

Already in a special session for failing to produce a budget in the four months of the regular session that began in January, Republicans and Democrats debated dollars and one another's common sense right up to the moment when failure to agree on a budget would cause a government shutdown and, most certainly, voter displeasure at the polls.

Just to make the point, around noon on Tuesday, June 30, when the squabbling was still going on, Gov. Mitch Daniels sent an e-mail to state employees outlining the shut-down of all government offices, layoff of most government workers and suspension of all non-emergency government services if lawmakers missed the midnight deadline.

By dinnertime, six months after they started the process, the budget was passed and the emergency was averted.

"This budget is the product of a healthy compromise," Daniels said the next morning. "In addition to striking a great bargain that protects taxpayers in this state, almost uniquely in America, we've done a good thing for our kids, their future and our state's future. And we still have a billion dollars in reserve when there are tax increases happening all over the country."

For those paying attention, the aspects of the budget praised by Daniels were pretty much the rules for producing a budget he would sign as he outlined when the special session began: no tax increases, no spending increases that aren't matched dollar for dollar by expense decreases in all areas but education, keep $1 billion in the reserve fund and federal stimulus monies can only be used for one-time expenses, not for operating/ongoing costs.

As Murray Clark, chairman of the Indiana Republican Party, so aptly put it, "After weeks of grandstanding and foot dragging, House Democrats finally joined with legislative Republicans to ensure those conditions were met."

Democrats, by their own admission, had very little choice.

"For better or worse, we have a budget agreement that will keep state government open," conceded Speaker of the House Pat Bauer (D-South Bend). "Is it perfect? No, but it can work, and it avoids the catastrophe that would result if the state had shut down, eliminating critical operations and laying off thousands of state workers."

"To be sure, this final bill was far from perfect," said Dan Parker, chair of the Indiana Democratic Party. "A shutdown would have been disastrous for thousands of Hoosiers who depend upon [state] services during these troubling economic times. No member of the Democratic Party was in favor of hurting so many Hoosiers,"

While a few are using terms like compromise and bipartisan to describe the final budget, Democrats have been quick to distance themselves from the resulting fallout. As Daniels and other Republicans are maintaining that tough economic times call for tough economic choices, Democrats are calling the tough stance of their political opponents every synonym for heartless and irresponsible they can find.

"Governor Daniels and his Republican allies launched an all-out assault on Indiana's public school system," according to Parker.

"This is a budget that decimates public schools and forces us to choose between our children based on where they live," Sen. Vi Simpson (D-Ellettsville) said.

"This budget will begin the dismantling of public schools," Sen. Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis) agreed.

Rep. Cherrish Pryor (D-Indianapolis) said the new budget brings "the decimation of Indianapolis schools."

The budget is also likely to have major fallout for the City of Indianapolis and its Republican Mayor Greg Ballard.

"It is extremely hard to see school support cut, then see the state budget divert tax dollars to help bail out the Indianapolis Capital Improvement Board," Bauer said. "A group that has made its reputation through gross mismanagement of gaudy, taxpayer-financed palaces."

"It is amazing that after months of deliberation about how to fix the $47 million CIB deficit, the 'solution' contained in the GOP budget manages to raise taxes on Marion County residents while still leaving the board millions of dollars in debt," Pryor said.

"Regarding the Indianapolis Capital Improvement Board," Rep. Phil Hinkle (R-Indianapolis) said, "I do not support any tax increase to bail out an irresponsible spending machine."

For his part, Gov. Daniels said he's in office three and a half more years and doesn't plan on putting the CIB on his agenda again during his tenure.

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