Former state Sen. Larry Borst—one of the most influential budget leaders in modern state history—has died, a Senate leader said Tuesday. He was 89.
Borst served 36 years in the Senate representing southern Marion County and northern Johnson County. For more than three decades, he was chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, the panel through which the budget and all tax legislation had to pass.
Both an understated and commanding presence, Borst was nicknamed the “Silver Fox,” a nod to his thick gray hair and his crafty approach to legislation.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long served with Borst for eight years, “during which time I gained a firsthand view of his tremendous skill and talent, as well as his deep and abiding love for his community of Indianapolis.”
Long called him a “titan of Indiana politics.”
“Most people in central Indiana will never know the role he played in helping to transform Indianapolis into the great city that it is today,” Long said. “His passing is a great loss for the people of our state.”
Borst—who wrote a book recounting his career called “Gentlemen, It's Been My Pleasure"—had a major role in developing Uni-Gov, which largely merged Marion County and Indianapolis government; crafted a number of tax-restructuring programs; helped craft former Gov. Bob Orr's A+ education plan; helped determine the distribution of tobacco settlement money for health programs; wrote the law that brought pari-mutuel wagering for horse racing to Indiana; and helped create the Hoosier Lottery.
Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar, who worked nine years as a fiscal analyst for the Senate Finance Committee chaired by Borst, said that he "studied legislation intently and knew the details and intricacies of every bill that came before his committee—often more so than the authors and proponents."
"I learned so much from him in regard to state government and the importance of being prepared," Brinegar said. "It was a privilege and an honor to work for and with him.”
Many lobbyists feared Borst, who was known for his tough questions and searing jabs when he believed those who were testifying in his committee were not providing full answers.
“There’s no doubt he enjoyed grilling many of those who came to testify before his committee,” said John Ketzenberger, president of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute and a former Statehouse reporter. “It gave rise to a verb, ‘Borsted,’ that meant he’d pierced some group’s hopes for state funding. But Borst commanded the respect even of those who felt the sting of being ‘Borsted.’”
Ketzenberger said Borst played a “critical role” in the state’s budget process for decades.
“It’s a role that invites criticism and he got his fair share, but he’s also responsible for many of the fiscal policies that have put Indiana on a sound financial footing,”
Mike Smith, who covered the Statehouse for the Associated Press, said veteran journalists told him when he came to Indianapolis that Borst was the first person he should get to know because "nobody could steer the politics and emotions and debates of a session into the results he wanted like Borst."
""He was truly the Silver Fox. He could see the end game of every session before it began, move the chess pieces around, never give away his strategy and in the end, watch from the gallery as the House was forced to swallow his wishes," Smith said. "He was the most brilliant politician I've ever covered, but he used that skill to serve his greater purpose—that of a statesman. He truly did things for Indiana's benefit, not just until the next election, but for the next decade."
Borst was a veterinarian who practiced for decades at the Shelby Street Animal Clinic on the south side. He and his wife, Eldoris, had three children, including Phil Borst, who served on the City-County Council and followed his footsteps into the veterinarian practice.
Borst was elected to the Indiana House in 1966 and served one term. He then was elected to the Senate, where he served from 1968 to 2004, when he was defeated in the Republican primary by Brent Waltz.
A recount found Waltz won by 38 votes, making it one of the closest and most shocking losses in recent election history.