Language continues to matter. So let me point to two terms relating to the state surplus and the shepherding of it by our beloved super-majority.
The first term is “excess revenues.” Republican Sen. Rodric Bray, the leader of our Senate, has begun to use the felicitous phrase “excess revenues” to describe the billions of dollars in tax revenue sitting in our state coffers. The more accurate terms for these unused funds would be either “excess taxes collected” or “missed opportunities.” Indiana persists in deliberately withholding public funds from its residents.
The second term, which should be used to describe our current fiscal policy, is “millennialist.” This is not to suggest that our not-so-youthful Senate is made up of millennials. Rather, I suggest that the Republican fiscal leaders of our state look forward to an uncertain future date when opportunities to invest or to give taxpayers their money back will arrive. All this reminds me of the 19th century preachers who predicted the world would end in 1844. Bray has not told us a precise date for his millennial event, but it looks like it will be 2030 or even a year or two earlier. Let me explain.
The General Assembly did two things in our “special session.” The most stunning and most visible was to use Senate Bill 1 to turn the clock back on women’s rights. The public can deal with that on Nov. 8. Given the reactions of women voters and women donors, that appears likely.
The Senate also brought us back to town in August to hand us Senate Bill 2. It does two things. First, it doles out a fraction of our $5 billion to $7 billion surplus in refunds to taxpayers. As to this, I hear more rumbling and questioning than I hear shouts of joy. The second use of our “excess revenues” is to send yet another billion dollars to a relatively obscure fund called the “Pre-1996 Teachers’ Retirement Fund.” The fund is designed to pay down future (not present) retirement obligations to those teachers who are under a plan that ended decades ago. The fund is obscure because we have been handling this well for decades. All pension obligations are fully in control.
And here comes the point: While bragging about the rushed and unnecessary transfer of a billion dollars, Bray assured us that, once the fund in question is “fully financially self-sustaining, we can explore other uses for this state General Fund support like cutting taxes, additional resources for Hoosiers or transformational projects.” This is Bray as a millennialist—we can be transformed, just not now. Bray did not give us a date, but I can come up with one.
The Indiana Public Retirement System has just predicted that the retirement fund in question will no longer need annual appropriations from the state commencing in 2030. With any luck, this might be achieved a year or two earlier. So how does Bray describe this happy day? He justifies the $1 billion transfer as follows: “Making this historic investment today paves the way for tremendous opportunities in the future, and I look forward to a time when we can explore those possibilities.”
In other words, Indiana will neither return the “excess revenues” nor explore new investments for another eight years. So, no support for affordable housing, no modernized public health system, no building up of our teacher corps, no modern park system, no improved passenger rail. Tellingly, we will rant about student debt while restricting state support for our public colleges. Why lower tuition while we wait for the day of transformation?
The wrong millennials are leading our state.•
DeLaney, an Indianapolis attorney, is a Democrat representing the 86th District in the Indiana House of Representatives. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here for more Forefront columns.