Monday, July 28, 2014

Palladium-Item Asks Who Benefits from State Surplus

From the Richmond Palladium-Item:

Let’s call word of the state’s cash reserves exceeding the $2 billion mark a case of good news-bad news.

Budget officials should be congratulated for taking fiscally prudent action to build the cash reserves up to such a lofty level, despite a $59.8 million drop in tax revenues over a 12-month period, and a 19 percent decline, that’s $85.3 million, in gambling revenue. Inheritance taxes and individual income tax revenues also fell.

Unfortunately, while the state is sitting on a pile of money, local schools and government units are slowly spending their cash reserves and rainy day funds to pay for normal expenses and operations. In the long term, that does not bode well for the future of many Hoosiers, schools, universities and municipalities.

It’s time the state stop congratulating itself on hoarding cash and share the wealth with Indiana citizens who depend on the state for vital services.

Just last week at the Daleville School board meeting, the board voted to change the way it can dip into its rainy day fund to pay for a wider variety of projects. It’s an appropriately named fund, since the board voted to spend $39,144 to coat part of a roof over the junior-senior high school to keep the rain out.

The board was forced to dip into the rainy day fund to pay for normal maintenance items because funding provided by the state is tight. Daleville is not the only school corporation facing this dilemma. Muncie Community schools has a rainy day fund of about $2 million, but there are plans to use a portion of the funds this year and next to pay for vital bus transportation for students.

Daleville and Muncie are not alone, as many other school corporations across the state — city and county governments, too — are forced to spend down cash reserves, if they have any remaining.

So the question arises: What happens when rainy day funds are depleted? Who will pay the bills to keep roofs leak free, college affordable and low-income Indiana citizens healthy?

Indiana, “the fiscal envy of the nation,” according to state Auditor Suzanne Crouch, is slowly strangling local schools and governments of needed funding.