SHEPARD: Federal budget decisions will affect our state government

March 11, 2017

The imminent budget debate in Washington will not be a discussion solely about the “federal government.” It has the potential to affect public services and programs of Indiana state government, and indeed at the local level.

Ask not for whom the national budget bell tolls. It tolls for all of us.

Ever since the Nixon years, the budgets passed by Congress have reflected a broad policy of implementing national priorities by sending federal money to the states for administration and distribution. Thus, hundreds of millions of dollars arrive in Indiana each year to finance services that might look to the casual observer like local endeavors.

For example, various social services, school corporation programs, and even public transportation rely in substantial part on funds that are part of the annual federal appropriation process we are about to experience.

To be sure, some people appreciate that services like Medicaid are state-federal partnerships and watch them like hawks. State budget makers certainly do.

But the list of Indiana institutions that stand to be seriously affected by federal budget changes is longer than we might imagine. I’ll mention here three that have been traditionally, and currently, disfavored by conservative commentators and budget drafters.

Early postings about the upcoming budget mention some of these targets. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, for example, sends substantial sums to public television and public radio. Decisions at National Public Radio to crusade for the Affordable Care Act and to banish Juan Williams are still vivid memories at places like the Heritage Foundation, and they’ve been arguing that CPB isn’t a good place to spend federal tax dollars.

Two cultural institutions—the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities—have been disfavored by budget hawks on grounds that these are not national priorities on par with defense, medical care or housing.

The debate about whether these cultural efforts should be supported by tax dollars has played out differently among Indiana’s elected officials. 

The new budget as adopted by the Indiana House of Representatives, for example, embraces our publicbroadcasting organizations by appropriating more than$7 million, mostly aimed for the state’s eight public television stations.

Similarly, the House has approved $6.6 million over the next two years to support the Indiana Arts Commission. There have not been appropriations for Indiana Humanities, which has largely relied on the federal distribution and private support.

These three pillars of Indiana’s civil society are widely recognized as adding value to our cultural life, our educational experience and our political debate. That’s why Republican-majority legislatures have been willing to commit Indiana tax dollars even as Republicans in Washington have questioned the value of the national entities.

Our legislators have been right to support the Indiana version of arts and broadcasting, and they should consider supporting Indiana Humanities as well. Remarkably inventive initiatives like “Next IN Campfires” by the Humanities have helped us equip ourselves for the future. And for Hoosiers who live close to electronics, the All-IN project promotes community connections ranging all the way from civic literacy to sharing photos of beautiful places of worship or reflection.

We are still several months from knowing how the federal budget will shape up to affect these important Indiana treasures, but we would be wise to focus on how these and other elements of Indiana society might be affected as the final days of the state budget come along.•

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