Greg Porter: It’s time for GOP to loosen grip on surplus

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DEBATE QHow important is it that Indiana maintain a surplus?

Plain common sense would dictate the need for maintaining a savings account, whether it be for a family or the state of Indiana. None of us want to be caught short during an emergency, be it a family crisis or an economic downturn.

That is why states maintain rainy day funds and budget reserves and surpluses—to protect the interests of their citizens. Many states—including our neighbors Ohio and Michigan—choose to maintain a reserve of around 10%. In Indiana, the stated preference by our Republican fiscal leaders is up to 12%. As our House speaker has said, “More than 12% is not, I don’t think, responsible. I think that’s holding taxpayer money that should be expended.”

As I write this, Indiana has a reserve of $2.27 billion, which translates to 14%. Because Republicans were proclaiming until the end of this year’s legislative session that our state might have shortfalls in revenue, this hefty figure should give cause for relief, clearing the way for many ideas that had fallen by the wayside to now get the support they deserve.

We can give teachers a 5% pay raise. We can fund programs to extend pre-K statewide and keep all our students safer in schools. We can make sure thousands of Hoosiers who stand to suffer if the Trump administration demolishes the Affordable Care Act can still get the health care they deserve. We can fully protect at-risk children. Heck, we can even provide the $20,000 needed to fund a doula program to support pregnant mothers.

We are doing none of these things. Instead, we are using $300 million to pay for projects that already are funded through the state budget. We are told we cannot fund a teacher pay increase because the matter is still being debated by a governor’s commission that just happens not to include any teachers.

This is where we start to hear things like the need not to be too hasty in case we have an economic downturn. That seems like an odd hedge from a party loyal to the work being done by their president in Washington.

We’ve heard this refrain before over the past several administrations. We cannot spend funds for a critical need because we need to study it more or because we are concerned about what could happen.

You hear it enough, and you start to wonder whether it’s not so much a matter of being careful as it is that they simply don’t want to spend our reserves, and they don’t care enough to spend it on things like teacher pay or safe schools or health care. Their urge to spend taxpayer dollars comes only when they want to cut corporate and business taxes.

This is the kind of commitment that might win them plaudits from business magazines.

However, Indiana is failing miserably when it comes to meeting the demands of human infrastructure. Until we reach the point where our state’s greatest priority is not hoarding taxpayer dollars, we will continue to fall short where it counts. That makes no sense at all.•

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Porter represents District 96 in the Indiana House. He is senior vice president of external affairs for the Health and Hospital Corp. of Marion County.Send comments to [email protected]

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