Indiana Gov. Mike Pence's request for a proposed balanced budget constitutional amendment cleared a legislative committee on Tuesday following a couple of hours in a Statehouse rut.
The House Judiciary Committee advanced the proposal to the full House by a 7-5 margin when two Republican members arrived for the panel's meeting after members originally deadlocked 5-5 on it.
The proposed amendment would prohibit the state from spending more than its anticipated tax collections. Lawmakers could suspend that requirement with two-thirds approval in both the House and Senate.
Pence first asked for the constitutional amendment during January's State of the State speech, saying it would ensure responsible spending and catch Indiana up with many other states that have similar requirements.
Its potential impact on the state budget is unclear, given that Indiana's 1851 constitution already largely bans the state from incurring debt, except for in times of war.
Democrats have maintained that Pence and Republican legislative leaders have pushed the amendment solely for political reasons.
"We're pretending to solve a problem that doesn't exist in order to write an ad," said Democratic Rep. Ed DeLaney of Indianapolis. "This does not improve our constitution, does not improve our behavior and is a waste of legislative time."
Micah Vincent, general counsel for the state's Office of Management and Budget, said the amendment would help ensure that Indiana continues its practice in recent years of having balanced budgets.
"It is much more difficult to come back in and to enshrine these kind of policies when you're actually out of line with them," he said. "That's why I would say now is the time to do this."
If lawmakers endorse the amendment this year, the same language would have to be approved by the General Assembly elected in 2016 in order for it to go before voters in a statewide referendum on the November 2018 ballot.
The Senate approved a similar version of the amendment by a wide margin in February.
Republican committee members Reps. Wendy McNamara of Mount Vernon and Dan Leonard of Huntington joined three Democrats in voting against the proposal.
McNamara said she wasn't sure the amendment was needed, although she could support it later if her concerns about it limiting the state's future budget options were addressed.