Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Indiana budget hearings to begin

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — Members of the Indiana State Budget Committee expect to grill representatives of state agencies and public universities during a series of hearings that begin next week.

The hearings will lay the groundwork for the next two-year state budget to be written by the Republican-controlled General Assembly during the upcoming legislative session.

The last budget was about $27 billion, but Gov. Mitch Daniels has ordered hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts amid the economic downturn. Even with those cuts, The Journal Gazette reported Friday, the state still spends more than it receives in tax revenues and other income.

Republican state Sen. Luke Kenley of Noblesville, the budget committee chairman, believes that structural deficit is about $1 billion and that lawmakers will have to cut that amount to avoid raising taxes.

Indiana has kept its books balanced with federal stimulus grants and by spending down a surplus that was once as high as $1.3 billion but will be nearly gone by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, the newspaper reported.

Kenley said programs will come under more scrutiny from the panel consisting of four lawmakers and State Budget Agency Director Adam Horst.

“I think the difference is going to be there is going to be a lot of probing on specific programs and cuts. It may be a little more intense in that regard,” Kenley said.

Rep. Jeff Espich of Uniondale, the House Republican budget expert who sits on the Budget Committee, said he cares less about individual requests for money than the opportunity to ask officials about their agencies.

“What they want is the last thing I need to hear, frankly,” he said. “I want to tell them about our financial situation. It’s an opportunity to tell them not to expect much because there isn’t much.”

The annual series of hearings begins Wednesday and Thursday with budget requests from state-supported universities. They will conclude with a revenue forecast on Dec. 15.

Horst sent letters to university representatives asking them to rank their institution’s funding priorities. He also asked them to list salary increases they have given to their employees.

Espich said those raises are troubling.

“It’s inappropriate to be giving raises when they are increasing tuition and the state is having trouble meeting obligations,” he said. “State employees haven’t had an increase in two years.”

Posted 11/12/2010




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