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EDITORIAL

A clash of ideas over how big state budget should be

Monday, January 21, 2013 - 8:31 am

Should legislators dig into reserves for one-time projects?

Just because Republicans have a supermajority in both the Indiana House and Senate, that doesn't mean there won't be big fights this session of the General Assembly. There's a doozy of an intramural slugfest shaping up between GOP Gov. Mike Pence and legislative Republicans over the size and scope of the state budget.

The fight is most obviously about Pence's intention to live up to his campaign promise by seeking a 10 percent cut in the income tax. He says it will spur the economy and encourage further fiscal responsibility by the state while still leaving a healthy reserve. Most legislative leaders, including Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, think it's too risky to go for a cut right now when the state is still trying to deal with tax cuts already made. Bosma also thinks education and transportation, after taking severe hits in the past, need more money than the modest increases Pence put in his proposed budget.

But the differences go far beyond the tax cut and involve a fundamental difference in how Pence and the legislators see the budget process. Pence is big on tax relief and thinks the state should never spend more than it takes in. But Bosma says the state can afford to spend money on critical needs that have had to do with less and that the state can afford to dip into reserves for one-time projects.

We agree with Bosma and others who say education and transportation are both vital areas that have suffered severe cuts. But our sympathies are with Pence, even if it means the state has to tighten its belt another notch or two. It's nice to talk about “one-time projects,” but spending more than you take in can be addictive, and the “living beyond our means” habit is a hard one to break. Just look at the mess the state was in when Gov. Mitch Daniels took office eight years ago.

This is a wonderful debate for Republicans to be having and for all voters and taxpayers to pay attention to. Daniels showed us that government doesn't have to do everything it's always done, and even the things important for it to do don't have to be done the way they've always been done. Hoosiers are no longer shocked by the idea that the status quo doesn't have to be a prison.

We have been left in a great position to now question exactly what government we should expect from the state and are willing to pay for. Let's not squander the opportunity.