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Indiana Senate's top Democrat demands budget-cut data

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The top Democrat in the Indiana Senate demanded Tuesday that Gov. Mitch Daniels release a list of exactly what programs have seen less money because of state budget cuts.

Minority Leader Vi Simpson, D-Bloomington, said the Republican governor's budget director told her that a comprehensive list of executive branch budget reductions wasn't available. She said that's unacceptable.

"Either the office is totally incompetent or they're keeping secrets," Simpson said. "The public has a right to this information."

Daniels has cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the state's budget since it was enacted last June.

In April, the governor's budget director sent a memo to all state agencies directing them to reduce 2011 fiscal-year spending by another 5 percent. That comes on top of a 10-percent spending cut ordered a few months ago.

Simpson said she wants to know exactly where those cuts are being made. So she's sending a letter to individual state agencies asking them for a list of withheld distributions for fiscal year 2010 and 2011, along with information about layoffs and the estimated impacts of cuts on people served by state programs.

Simpson said she's frustrated with the "culture of secrecy" of the Daniels administration and will introduce legislation next year that will make the state budget more accessible to the public. Her proposals could include plans to put budget information online, which is done in several states, and require the governor to inform lawmakers about budget cuts or other actions taken to balance the state's books.

Daniels spokeswoman Jane Jankowski said the governor has already publicly outlined several cuts, including pay freezes for workers, strategic hiring and fleet reductions. As of April, state revenues were $950 million below budget, she said.

"Spending reductions are never easy, but Hoosiers expect us to be good stewards of their dollars, and that is what we are doing," Jankowski said. "We'll continue to manage within our means and provide essential services without raising taxes."

Simpson first asked the governor for information about cuts in January, after she said she was unable to get the data from the state budget agency. State Budget Director Chris Ruhl wrote a letter to Simpson later that month saying the administration set overall budget reduction targets but left the decisions up to agencies.

"We have allowed the management teams of our 70-plus agencies the discretion and flexibility to implement their own cost savings measures to meet the very aggressive targets that have been centrally set," Ruhl wrote.

Ruhl said it was a "very fluid process" and noted that declining tax collections have meant difficult decisions for the state, but he said he could get Simpson information on specific budget decisions made at the agency level.

But when Simpson hadn't received any information by May, she again asked Ruhl for a comprehensive list of cuts and other information.

"It is disturbing that budget cutting information has not been made available to members of the General Assembly," she said. "I have been involved in state budget matters for many years, and I can assure you there has never been poorer communication between the state budget agency and the General Assembly."

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