Rep. Greg Porter: This year’s budget is a missed, squandered opportunity

Like all budget sessions at the Indiana General Assembly, there are winners and losers. But what sets this year’s now-concluded legislative session apart is that there are more people in the losers’ column than ever before – most Hoosiers, in fact.

A year ago, it was common refrain that we’d be in a recession by now and have to tighten our belts this legislative session. April’s two-year revenue forecast – the final estimate lawmakers use to finalize budget appropriations for the next two years – indicated the opposite, that the state would have $2.1 billion in previously unexpected dollars to allocate in this year’s budget.

The Republican supermajority claimed this session would be all about historic investments in public health and mental health (including in the context of our justice system).When the extra $2.1 billion was projected, an unknowing observer might have guessed that money would be spent fully funding transformative investments in our public health and mental health crisis response systems.

That money was not, in fact, appropriated to making those quality-of-life investments transformative. After several decades as a state lawmaker, I’m used to Republican majority budgets being missed opportunities. This year’s budget goes one step further. It’s a total squandering of the public money of which lawmakers should serve as dutiful trustees.

So: What do you suppose the Republican majority chose to fund instead of programs to improve Hoosiers’ minds and health?

  • An unprecedented school voucher expansion that allows families making $220,000 to receive public money for private education, all while the public schools that educate over 90% of Hoosier children received funding increases lower than the rate of inflation.
  • $500 million for the Indiana Economic Development Corp. to spend on economic development projects, including speculative real estate acquisition, that may never materialize into solid, long-term jobs for Hoosiers.
  • $700 million into a retirement savings account that we have already been paying down at a responsible rate.
  • Sped-up income tax cuts that will result in the most savings for Indiana’s wealthiest.
  • $800 million in cash for capital improvements to the Westville Prison project, financing that our AAA credit rating could have easily been marshaled to pay for through bonds.

During his floor speech before the final budget vote, House Speaker Todd Huston said, “The tough thing around here is nothing is ever fully funded. When you ask people what would it take to be fully funded, the answer is always the same: Just a little bit more.”

It seems to me that a lot of programs were fully funded. They just aren’t the ones that are going to help you with your property tax bill. Or expand IndyGo’s services. Or give every Hoosier child a fair shot at success through universal pre-K. Or improve our public health outcomes.

It’s a shame that the only fully funded programs in this budget are the Republican supermajority’s ongoing crusade to transfer public dollars into private pockets.

This budget is not a win for Hoosiers. The only impact the majority of Hoosiers will feel is their roads, their public schools and their health care systems being abandoned while the supermajority’s pet projects get more than their fair share of funding. This is unacceptable and a slap in the face to hard-working Hoosiers in need of a hand up – which is why I chose to vote no on this year’s budget.

Rep. Greg Porter, D-96th District, Indianapolis, is the ranking member on the Indiana House Ways and Means Committee. This commentary previously appeared on Send comments to [email protected]