Indiana budget: Not much for rural areas

The governor signed into law Indiana’s new biennial state budget, totaling more than $32 billion, which will take effect July 1.

That’s a lot of money, $32 billion, and Hoosiers (as we can now officially call ourselves), at least a good many of us anyway, expect much in return for all those taxes we’re going to be paying to fund that budget.

And we’re going to be paying more in taxes and fees, as the governor also signed that controversial road-funding bill that includes an increase in the fuel tax as well as an additional vehicle-registration fee.

That the state needs more money to invest in transportation infrastructure is widely-accepted, although not universally acknowledged.

Some lawmakers didn’t believe any tax or fee increases were warranted for road spending, that if money were needed it should come from corresponding cuts to other state funds or by dipping into the state surplus.

But no new taxes, which is why the Republicans leadership was insisting on calling the new taxes “user fees” instead.

There’s some concern whether the bill the governor signed into law will actually raise the amount of new money needed for Indiana to catch-up on its road-maintenance program, which is lagging decades behind.

Studies say the state needs to invest as much as $1.4 billion annually for the next 20 years, while it looks like this law won’t provide even half that much per year.

The worst action a Legislature can take is to raise taxes but not be able to provide the promised return on that payment.

We fear that here in rural Indiana, we’re going to be paying more and in return end up driving on more chip-and-seal state highways.

The new state budget also provides for a small increase in state funding for public schools, on average a 1.7 percent boost per corporation.

But, again, rural schools rarely enjoy even that average increase — and in some cases they actually take a cut in support.

“You have to have roads and schools; that was all there was to that,” E.B. White wrote in his account of attending his first Maine town meeting. Not much has changed in 80 years.

So perhaps we here in rural Indiana should just keep our mouths shut and be thankful for what little we do get, the crumbs brushed off the table as the politicians head back home to glory in their accomplishments, what they managed to do for the special interests who keep them in power.

Some of their successes in service to their masters got slipped into the budget and became law, “bills” that were never introduced, heard in committee or debated.

That’s not the way bills are suppose to become laws; it’s like getting a black eye while watching your first Major League Baseball game, equally discouraging to the spirit.

We held out some hope that the governor would take a stand and veto the budget on principle, telling these recalcitrant Republicans to remove their offending measures and bring him back a clean budget, one worthy of the Hoosier spirit, not one perpetuating partisan spite.

But, alas, one of those addenda was included at the request of the governor himself.

We don’t want to be too hard on the governor, though.

In the first exercise of his veto power he quite properly drew a red line through that blockheaded bill that would have allowed counties to charge taxpayers for public-record requests.

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This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association.