By Ashley Shuler
House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, called the governor’s plan for a balanced budget constitutional amendment “a solution in search of a problem.”
Just minutes after Republican Gov. Mike Pence finished his third State of the State address, Pelath and other Democrats all but dismissed his idea.
“We’ve been balancing budgets ever since I’ve been here,” Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said. “Since 1998, I can’t think of one time that we didn’t pass a balanced budget in the state of Indiana. That’s not a problem that we have here.”
The balanced budget was the surprise in Pence’s speech and his staff said they’re still working with legislative leaders to work out the language. That means it’s not clear the final proposal might affect the state’s budget.
Pelath, in fact, raised concerns about the amendment’s eventual language, saying it could force future tax hikes for individuals and services. And House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said the balanced budget amendment is not a legislative priority for Republicans.
“I don’t think it was the most important (thing) I heard tonight,” Bosma said. “The budget balance amendment is a great goal, but I wouldn’t call it the focal point of the legislative session. I thought the focus was on education funding.”
Pence also talked about his budget proposal, saying he wants to boost funding for schools. But Democrats raised some concerns about the way in which Pence’s proposed increase in education funding will be spent.
“He says $200 million in terms of an increase in education,” Lanane said. “But I’ve seen some details in terms of where at least a good portion of that money would go, and it would go for some things I think we really need to step back and take a look at, mainly expanding the voucher program … which drains money from public education.”
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he thinks the governor’s education plans should give benefits to teachers.
“We need to invest in our teachers in a more prolific way than we have in the past,” Long said. “We need to make sure that it is an honored and respected profession and it remains that way.”
Bosma said he thought the governor’s speech fell short only in explaining Indiana’s economic standing.
“He didn’t talk long enough or give enough statistics to tell the position Indiana is in today as the fiscal and economic envy of the rest of the nation,” Bosma said.
Overall, Democrats said Pence’s vision was for his potential presidential run and the “year 2016, not 2015.” The governor has said he’ll announce after the legislative session whether he intends to seek the GOP nomination in two years.
“The State of the State had nothing to do with Indiana,” Pelath said. “We heard a lot of platitudes. We heard a lot of going down the tea party check list for those who may have a role in choosing the next president, but we didn’t hear much about Indiana.”
Ashley Shuler is a reporter at TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.