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July 13, 2012

07/13/12 You might have heard the governor announce that a big state budget surplus means you’re going to be getting a refund from the state of Indiana.

Sounds good. When’s the check coming? After all, a refund means the check is in the mail, right?

Uhh, not exactly.

Even though the governor likes to call it a taxpayer refund, it’s actually a credit that you can declare on your state income tax form next year.

And it doesn’t mean that you’ll be getting a check. You’ll get a little more if you’re already getting a refund, and you’ll pay a little less if you owe the state something.

So you’re not getting a check, and you won’t get anything until next year.

Now that we’re being honest about the “taxpayer refund,” let’s agree that it’s always good when the state can do a little more for our taxpayers.

At the same time, let us be sure that all of us are clear as to how we were able to get to this point.

We do not have a state surplus of more than $2 billion that allows the governor to make these grand pronouncements because Indiana’s economy is booming.

Our employment rate remains at a little over 8 percent, which is an improvement from the double digits of recent times but still a long way from the 5 percent jobless rate we had when this governor first took office.

While the administration’s devotion to creating jobs has been a hit-or-miss proposition, the governor has excelled at ways to hoard your money.

When the federal government gave Indiana more than $750 million in stimulus dollars for public education, this administration chose to keep most of that money to balance the state’s books. Only a portion of that assistance went to its intended location: Hoosier classrooms.

But that decision pales next to the devotion to cutting budgets for schools and state agencies. Here are just two examples of the fiscal “expertise” at work here.

On many occasions, I have discussed the governor’s decision to cut $600 million in state support for Indiana’s public schools in 2010 and 2011. Our schools did get some of that funding back, but not enough to prevent cuts in programs and personnel. The true burdens fall on families, who find themselves paying a rising tide of fees and other charges to provide many services for our children that used to be a normal part of getting an education.

In more recent times, there has been a good deal of attention on the plight of the state’s Department of Child Services (DCS), an agency with a shockingly bad track record in protecting our youngest and most vulnerable Hoosiers. Since 2008, DCS has reverted more than $225 million back to the state treasury, even though the numbers of children who have died while under their protection have gone up. Has this been a wise use of tax dollars?

I also will say that it is entirely fair to raise questions on the quality of this administration’s fiscal record simply because they have managed to mismanage more than $520 million of your tax dollars in recent months through accounting mistakes and revenue that had been “lost.”

I doubt these things will matter much to the governor as he enters his final months in office. He can make his claims loudly and hope that no one takes the time to look at the fine print, both on his “refund” and the means used to achieve it.

But I believe the people of Indiana deserve to know the entire picture behind our state’s fiscal condition and decide for themselves if the price being paid is too high.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns, here’s how you can stay in touch:

Call my office toll-free at 1-800-382-9842;

Write to me in care of the Indiana House of Representatives, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46204; or

E-mail me at