> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Fiscal health gives Indiana an edge
Here’s a tale of two states that should make Hoosiers glad they live on the east bank of the Wabash — at least when it comes to paying for state government.
Last week in Indiana, the Daniels administration announced that the state’s budget reserves had topped $2 billion, enough to trigger $100 rebates for individual tax filers and $200 for couples who file jointly. In total, the state will give back about $300 million to taxpayers, and although the individual sums are by no means large, the refunds are enough to provide hard-pressed families with a bit more cushion for a week or two.
In Illinois, meanwhile, the fiscal picture is far less cheery.
Last year, Illinois lawmakers scrambled to close a budget shortfall estimated at $11 billion. Despite substantial tax increases and deep cuts in services, the state ended the 2012 fiscal year, which closed June 30, with a shortfall of more than $8 billion. In fact, Illinois’ auditor general recently released a report describing the state’s deficit as the nation’s worst based on the percentage of revenue.
The point here isn’t to pretend that all is well in Indiana while Illinois falls apart. The important takeaway is in acknowledging that when state leaders have enough discipline to make difficult fiscal decisions, despite political pressures to avoid temporary pain, the long-term benefits are substantial.
Gov. Mitch Daniels and leaders in the Indiana House and Senate deserve credit for the foresight to ride out the fiscal storm without resorting to the budget gimmicks and stopgap measures that some political leaders in this state and elsewhere championed.
As the economy continues to rebound, Indiana is poised to pump more money into education, human services and infrastructure. In contrast, a majority of other states — more than 30 are expected to run budget deficits in fiscal year 2013, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities — will have to cut spending further or raise taxes as they slog through another tough budget cycle. Indiana, in short, now has a competitive advantage, one it needs to press to maximum effect.
— The Indianapolis Star, July 6
Indiana would be wise to temper response to rulings
Last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decisions upholding the federal health care law and overturning most of Arizona’s controversial immigration law will have a direct and significant impact on Indiana government. The state was among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act — derisively called Obamacare by the president’s opponents. And the state’s new immigration law passed in 2011 by the Republican-dominated legislature contained similar provisions to those struck down in the Arizona law.
It was enough to give a dyed-in-the-wool Red State a case of the blues.
It will surely take some time for Indiana’s political and governmental leaders to sort out where they stand in the wake of these landmark court rulings. Gov. Mitch Daniels, who signed the immigration bill and has been an outspoken critic of the health care law, leaves office in six months. Fortunately, his administration has done at least some groundwork in preparation for the health care law, but the next governor, in collaboration with the legislature, will face major decisions on how to proceed.
Likewise with immigration. Attorney General Greg Zoeller is working to assess the damage done by the court to Indiana’s law, and he’ll make recommendations to legislative leaders about steps necessary to bring the state into constitutional compliance.
Repeal of the health care law remains possible, of course, pending the outcome of November’s national election. But it would be irresponsible for the state to count on that. In theory, the Republicans would need to win the White House, retain control of the U.S. House of Representatives and capture a super majority of at least 60 seats in the Senate to repeal the law. Short of that, the GOP may have some success in changing or limiting the law’s scope, but it’s impossible to predict at this point.
So, the state needs to move on and prepare to implement the law in a way that benefits the most people and is fiscally responsible. Anything short of that is unacceptable.
On immigration, legislators would be wise to back off any ideological, partisan approach to repairing its law. After all, that’s what got them into this position. Their disgust with Congress’ inability to reform federal immigration laws is understandable, but the court made it clear that it’s still a federal responsibility.
The next General Assembly can do much to help improve the state’s approach to immigration issues, but taking the type of extreme position the current, unconstitutional law espouses has proved to be unproductive.
We are all entitled to choose and live by a rigid ideology if we so desire. But there comes a time in governance when common sense and public responsibility dictate a less stringent approach to implementing policy for everyone. Now is one of those times.
— Tribune-Star, July 1