Audio No news is… no news. A report from the State Budget Committee meeting

No news is… no news. A report from the State Budget Committee meeting

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No news on state program cuts

The State Budget Committee met on Wednesday, Sept. 8, at the Statehouse. Despite “Fiscal Year 2010 Close-Out” on the agenda, no new information on state program cuts was presented by the State Budget Agency. Instead, committee members were presented with a series of graphs illustrating the overall status of Indiana’s state finances.

No further details on program cuts were available to legislators or the public. The State Budget Agency rests on information provided by agencies in response to Senate Democrat Leader Vi Simpson’s June 1 request. Read more from the June 1 announcement>>.

Only 10 of 62 responses answered all five of Simpson’s requested items. Some agency letters left all of the questions unanswered, including the primary information sought by legislators and the public –  “A list of your agency’s implemented and proposed cuts and withheld distributions for FY 2010 and 2011 by program.” Read the agency responses>>

The call for transparency in state spending continues. Read more about the Indiana Open Government Initiative>>

Timing just right: Move forward on capital projects, create jobs

Also on the agenda were state projects awaiting final funding approval, including a small number of university capital projects. Democrats on the committee pushed to get more capital projects at state universities underway as soon as possible, saying the projects would create as many as 2,000 jobs and push as much as $100 million in personal earnings into local economies.

A motion by Sen. John Broden of South Bend would have allowed five university capital projects to move forward. Broden, along with Rep. Peggy Welch and Sen. Karen Tallian of Portage, argued that capital projects at many state universities were languishing by being withheld from consideration by the Indiana Commission on Higher Education and the State Budget Agency.

I think the timing is just right…

The fact is that we have had over 300,000 Hoosiers unemployed for almost a year and a half now. This is an opportunity to create jobs in the short term while paying money out over the long term.

– Sen. John Broden, South Bend

LISTEN: Sen. Broden told the committee, “Over 300,000 Hoosiers unemployed…”

“I think the timing is just right…”

The Democrats argued that the projects would not require the state to incur immediate costs, as they will be funded through bond issuances. They also pointed out that bond interest rates are at a historic low, making it less expensive to borrow money.

“It’s a great time to get competitive bids for these projects and to lock in the funding at low interest rates,” Sen. Karen Tallian commented. “It’s short-sighted to neglect needed projects and not take advantage of these opportunities to save taxpayer dollars.”

Broden’s motion was defeated by Republicans who hold a majority on the committee. Read the press release>>

The capital projects proposed by the Democrats have already received authorization by the Indiana General Assembly under the state budget signed into law by Governor Daniels in 2009. The final approval needed before work can begin on these projects is by the State Budget Committee.

Indiana misses opportunity to create 10,000 private jobs

Rep. Peggy Welch also addressed in the meeting Indiana’s failure to leverage federal funds for a program to assist businesses in hiring workers. Approved by the General Assembly this spring, the Helping Indiana Restart Employment (H.I.R.E) program, included in SEA 23, could have helped nearly 10,000 unemployed Hoosiers be rehired.

The program called for tapping $100 million available in federal stimulus funds that otherwise will be left on the table. The federal funding – available through the TANF Emergency Fund established under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – is set to expire on September 30. Action by the state to access the funds is unlikely at this point.

Mississipi’s Step Up program, on which Indiana H.I.R.E. was modeled, was recently profiled by PBS in “One step forward: A jobs program provides hope for the unemployed.”

Illinois is moving forward with the “Put Illinois to Work” program, an initiative that leverages federal dollars to fill as many as 15,000 full-time positions at Illinois companies with unemployed workers. Read more from our April post>>

Other agenda items of note

Other agenda items included reports on School and Library Internet Connectivity, Public Mass Transportation Fund allocations, Airport development, Help America Vote Act distributions, an annual report from Dept. of Child Services, and a report on the funding of Indiana’s College Scholarship Programs. See the complete agenda>>