GUEST COLUMN: How will I spend my tax refund?

LEO MORRIS, for the Republic

I so want to be a good Hoosier, an upstanding citizen who will do the right thing.

But Indiana officials are set to give me some money, and I’m terrified that I will squander it on frivolities and let my beloved state down.

Well, not “give” me money exactly. So that I won’t be tempted by a sudden infusion of cash, they plan to disguise the gift as a “tax credit” when I prepare my 2021 return sometime next year. That might result in a larger-than-expected refund, or perhaps I will owe the state less than I ordinarily would have.

To give our officials credit, they made heroic efforts to keep the money in state coffers instead of letting it escape into the economy to corrupt the public morality.

When legislators approved a law capping the state’s surplus at 12.5% of spending — with half the extra going to taxpayers if the threshold were hit — most of us recognized it as a mere goodwill gesture. Nobody really expected the state to give money back to the people from whom it was taken, which goes against the natural order of things.

But to our horror, that trigger was hit in 2012, and every individual income tax filer got a $111 refund. And we all remember the wild abandon in 2012 — sometimes still referred to as the Year of Debauchery — when Hoosiers succumbed to an orgy of reckless extravagance.

And this year, the unthinkable — an even greater surplus of $3.9 billion. A whopping 23% of state spending, requiring nearly $2 billion in refunds.

Legislators, bless their hearts, tried to avoid that disaster by draining the reserves as quickly as they could — a few hundred million here for the teacher pension fund, a hundred million there to pay off construction loans early. But that still left $545 million required as a handout to Hoosiers.

At least officials are trying to dampen our enthusiasm. Though the surplus is more than it was in 2012, they warn, there will be more taxpayers to split it among, so we should not be expecting any great windfall.

I appreciate the effort — really, I do — but I fear the damage has been done. I am already planning on ways to spend the money, and I do not admire the avaricious person I am becoming.

I might buy a whole tank of gas at once. Imagine being able to travel nearly 400 miles without even stopping to refuel. The mind boggles.

If there’s enough left over, I’ve narrowed it down to two choices. I might get a haircut — by a professional who actually went to school to train for it. Or I might go out for dinner — not a quick trip to a fast-food place, but a real meal at a sit-down restaurant.

You can see the problem.

Not only am I thinking of being selfish — abusing the state’s largesse by spending the money on myself alone — but incredibly shortsighted. A car trip that lasts but a few hours? A haircut that would need to be repeated in just a few weeks? One meal that would be digested overnight?

I’ve thought and thought, and I think I have a solution.

I will use Indiana’s wonderful gift to me — however much it might be — to buy state lottery tickets.

That means the money will go back to the state where it belongs, taken custody of by sensitive civil servants who would spend the money much more wisely and fairly than I ever could.

And there is a 1-in-9.4 million chance I will win the top prize.

Good odds for a taxpayer.

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at [email protected] Send comments to [email protected]