Tax option state isn’t considering

(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

Who needs Democrats when Republicans in the General Assembly can stage a big fight all by themselves?

The current rumble is over the $31.7 billion, two-year state budget. The just-just-passed House version includes a $1 cigarette tax hike and a significant rerouting of sales tax revenue to pay for infrastructure improvements. Sales taxes on fuel are now distributed however lawmakers want, but the House GOP wants to dedicate that money solely to infrastructure. The cigarette tax increase — projected to bring in $287 million a year — would be used to fill the gap left by that move.

But Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, the Senate’s powerful lead budget writer, says he is worried that this could lead to a general tax increase. If, as expected, a higher cigarette tax reduced smoking, there would be less money coming into the general fund, and that deficiency would have to be made up somehow.

Alas, he is undoubtedly right.

Lawmakers this year are also talking about an increase in the gasoline tax of 10 cents a gallon, and making some interstate highways toll roads. If we count tolls as a tax — and we really should — that makes three different tax increases in the same year by a legislature generally thought of as conservative.

All things considered, we would prefer whichever option involves the fewest tax hikes, thank you very much.

And we will continue to point out that there is one option for “absorbing” a declining revenue stream that seldom gets proposed, let alone enacted: Cut spending.

When you think about it, $287 billion is an extraordinary amount of money. It’s impossible to believe that legislators couldn’t figure out how to live without a fraction of that. It is estimated the state needs $1 to $1.2 billion a year for its infrastructure needs. That’s less than one half of 1 percent of the overall budget. Come on!

It’s also hard for a lot of people to understand why the state is so desperate for a bigger cash flow when it is sitting on a $2 billion budget surplus. Certainly the state needs a rainy day fund, but does it have to be that high?

Mitch Daniels as governor developed a justified nationwide reputation for budget austerity and spending restraint. Let’s bring a little of his attitude back into state government.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association.