EDITORIAL: Daniels budget should be OK'd

June 8, 2009

Overtures Gov. Mitch Daniels has extended to the General Assembly should be sufficient to end squabbling over the budget. Legislators ought to take the offer, pass a budget, and leave the Statehouse before they throw any more sand in the gears.

Public schools would get a 2-percent increase in funding and higher education would receive $450 million for capital projects, thanks to federal stimulus cash. Education also won out over two prisons Daniels wanted to build.

It had to have pained the governor to agree to surrender $300 million of the $1.3 billion in reserves he has staunchly defended from shortsighted lawmakers. He is correct in warning hard times might linger and that the state might wish it had the money further into the future. Still, the compromise is reasonable.

Daniels, having offered little guidance on the budget in the regular session, seemed uncharacteristically detached through much of the session. Considering how few of his initiatives, particularly local government consolidation, were adopted by the General Assembly, he's headed toward his least productive year in office.

Hoosiers nevertheless are fortunate to have a rock-ribbed fiscal conservative in office at a time many other states have burned through reserves and are considering tax increases to plug their growing deficits. Daniels made a solid call when he demanded an updated budget forecast last month--a move resulting in projections of $1.1 billion less in taxes through June 2011 than was predicted just a month earlier.

A quick, clean conclusion to the special session, which begins June 11 in anticipation of the fiscal biennium beginning July 1, would help redeem a legislative body that did miserably little to distinguish itself this year.

Its most glaring shortcoming was opting for tradition and political pals back home instead of whittling away unwieldy layers of government. And legislators didn't deal with the Capital Improvement Board, which faces a $47 million budget deficit due largely to higher operating costs for Lucas Oil Stadium and $15 million in operating costs it anticipates assuming from Conseco Fieldhouse next year.

Daniels and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard propose chucking CIB and merging it with the Marion County Building Authority. The revamped board, the Facilities Management Board of Marion County, would oversee the big sports facilities along with other properties.

Daniels and Ballard also want to cut $27 million in expenses and raise $20 million through taxes on hotels, admissions and rental cars.

Given the importance of the sports facilities to state coffers, we would've welcomed a more regional solution, but at least the governor would get two appointments to the nine-member facilities board. Again, this is a reasonable proposal lawmakers should welcome.

The onus is back on legislators now that the governor has extended an olive branch.

Let's hope they take it.


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