Indiana's House Republicans are looking to spend $750,000 on renovations to desks, leather chairs and a ceiling in their Statehouse chamber, after spending $74,000 to replace worn carpeting in the Statehouse last summer.
The House GOP added the measure to the $30 billion budget it approved last month as a single line item reading only "renovation" with no public discussion. The Associated Press discovered it in a review of the budget Thursday.
The new renovations come as House and Senate lawmakers face renewed pressure to pay for a $500 million income tax cut being sought by Gov. Mike Pence, instead of spending on other priorities that were pushed aside in recent years.
House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, said the money will be used for repair and rehabilitations around the House chambers, offices and committee rooms. He noted that in some cases, the wheels on the bottoms of representatives' chairs had fallen off.
"I think all building structures, like your own home, you look at the depreciation through wear and tear and you try to make accommodations," Brown said.
But supporters of Pence's plan to cut the personal income tax from 3.4 percent to 3.06 percent — which wasn't included in the House budget — called the renovation spending one more example of a broken campaign promise from Republicans.
"It seems like they want to take care of themselves first and then whatever is left, the Hoosiers get the rest," said Monica Boyer, an Indiana tea party leader campaigning extensively for the Pence tax cut. "They campaign that Hoosiers are first. Every time you talk to a politician, they say they're fighting for you."
House Republican spokeswoman Tory Flynn said the spending is routine maintenance included in most budgets and accounts for improvements such as replacing handles on broken desk drawers. The money also covers repairs to the leather chairs in the House chamber and committee room, repairs to the House's ice machine and fixes to the bathrooms.
Office repairs in state government have routinely stirred political battles around Indianapolis.
Former Hoosier Lottery Director Kathryn Densborn resigned in 2011 after news reports that she had moved employees to posh new digs including a $25,000 weight room and $800 chairs.
More recently, Republicans, including House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, criticized new state school Superintendent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, for spending $86,000 to put up new walls in her Statehouse office. Ritz's new digs were lampooned at the annual Indiana Gridiron dinner earlier this week.
"I thought that … one of the funniest visuals of the Gridiron was to have the Ritz Carlton, the entrance to the Ritz Carlton Department of Education," Bosma said Thursday.
Bosma said that when he worked for the Department of Education in the 1980s, his office was adequate.
"My office actually used to be in the area that was redone, and we seemed to be able to function ok in there for a couple of years without any issues," he said.
Upgrades and improvements in the Statehouse have been fairly routine over the years. Flynn said the carpet in the House chamber had become threadbare during 14 years of use, causing some staffers to trip and fall. The Senate has also budgeted for maintenance and upgrades, adding $1.5 million to the budget approved in 2007 and buying a new display for the chamber last year.
But all spending has gotten renewed scrutiny since the recession with the rise of the tea party and the growing presence of outside groups like Americans for Prosperity, which is launching an ad campaign supporting the Pence tax cut.