Democratic leaders at the Indiana Statehouse are questioning whether the governor should have the power to withhold state cash from certain programs after lawmakers allocate money for them in the state budget.
Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson (D-Bloomington) said Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels should be able to reduce spending for his own state agencies in economic hard times – but shouldn’t be allowed to slash funding to groups outside state government such as colleges and public broadcasting stations.
Simpson said those institutions rely on the state’s budget to create their own spending plans, and that the Legislature – not the governor – has the authority and responsibility to decide who gets state cash.
“The budget needs to be a real document, not just a recommendation to the governor,” Simpson told reporters in her office yesterday.
Daniels said in a statement that the ability to withhold money allocated in the budget helps the state stay on the right financial track.
“Without the tool and a governor willing to use it, Indiana would be broke today like forty-some other states,” Daniels said.
Daniels ordered a series of budget cuts in December, and the administration is looking for additional savings in hopes of ending this fiscal year with a budget that spends less than the state takes in.
Daniels cut higher education operating costs by 1 percent and postponed spending on several planned capital projects. State agencies were told to make additional cuts of 3 percent on top of 7-percent reductions they already were supposed to make.
For years, the budget bill passed every two years has given Indiana’s governor the authority to withhold money, but Simpson said Daniels’ cuts are different.
“Up until now, we have not had a governor abuse that privilege like this one has,” Simpson said.
House Speaker Patrick Bauer (D-South Bend) said some people feel Daniels has gone too far. He said the idea of removing the governor’s power to withhold some money is worth talking about as Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate seek a budget compromise before the legislative session ends April 29.
“That’s going to be part, perhaps, of the deliberations we have,” Bauer said.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) also predicted the issue would come up during budget negotiations. He said Daniels is known as an “aggressive guy about how he’s going to manage his resources” and that’s part of the reason why the issue has been raised now after years of the budget allowing the governor that power.
Former Democratic Gov. Frank O’Bannon didn’t spend all the money allocated in the budget earlier this decade, Kenley noted.
“He made cuts and there were some that we disagreed with, but that was his prerogative,” Kenley said.
Kenley also questioned how spending would be cut if the state ran into financial problems during months when the part-time General Assembly is not in session.
“Does that mean that in case we get into trouble that the Legislature’s supposed to sit here all year long and then come in and review those things?” Kenley said.
Simpson suggested that the governor could call the General Assembly into session to deal with budget cuts if needed.
“I think that’s just too much power for the governor,” she said. “We have the obligation to do the budget – we have the authority.”