By Jon E. Easter
Like a category five hurricane waiting in Lake Michigan, the state's bad budget situation continues to churn, but Governor Pollyanna...whoops...Mitch Daniels still remains somehow chipper about the situation.
The forecast is dire. Indiana closed the books on a budget that found state revenue $1 billion below what was expected. That budget caused mass layoffs at the state level as well as the deepest cuts in years for education. Public school districts and charter schools found themselves in the same boat for the first time arguing for the cuts to hit elsewhere. They didn't.
Schools are closing. Class sizes are rising. Teachers are being laid off. It only figures to get worse. With much else in state government getting cut to the bone, education would seem to be next.
You would think the prospect of losing more teachers and schools might make a guy a little bit upset. According to the Indianapolis Star, you'd never know it if you talk to Daniels. The Star writes:
Daniels, however, took a rosier approach Friday.
In a statement, he touted Indiana's fiscal standing compared with other states, most of which have had no savings to tap. He also pointed to steps the state has taken to reduce property taxes.
"Staying in the black when most states are broke, and cutting taxes while they are raising them is the best way to help Hoosier families through this recession and out-compete other states for the new jobs we need," Daniels said. "Thanks to our agency heads and state employees who are helping us find new ways to stretch tax dollars and do more with less every day."
In fact, 48 percent of the state's $957 million revenue shortfall was covered by spending cuts -- 61 percent of which came from state agencies, despite the fact that those agencies only receive 32 percent of all state funding.
The cuts to agencies, Ketzenberger noted, have spared deeper cuts to K-12 schools and universities. Daniels ordered a 3.5 percent cut for K-12 and a 6 percent cut for universities earlier this year.
Kind of brings up the image of Nero fiddling while Rome burned, doesn't it?
It's the narrative on Mitch Daniels. The mismanagement of the budget by allowing frivolous lawsuits by Richard Mourdock (Chrysler) and Greg Zoeller (health care) as well as phony job numbers have brought down Daniels' image a couple of notches. Still, the Governor is a master at message. He never gets off it unless you tick him off. He's going to stick to this, "It's bad but it's better here than elsewhere," message as he continues to build his record for a potential 2012 run at another higher office.
I get that the Governor has a tough job, but I certainly wouldn't be anything but worried with the way this landscape looks. Also, looking at the facts, the budget situation would have been a lot worse if not for stimulus funds taken by the state.
As the Star rightly points out, this will be a very contentious budget for the General Assembly to put together, and it's in an election year, too.
You just have to hope that all sides do what's best for Indiana in what could be, as Pat Bauer put it to the Star, the toughest budget "since the Great Depression."