Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels unveiled a budget blueprint Tuesday that was immediately assailed by Democrats because it set aside almost no new money for public education or jobs creation.
While Reuters reports that nationally
Private employers shed 693,000 jobs in December, up sharply from the revised 476,000 jobs lost in November and far more than economists estimatedthe Governor continues claiming that "Indiana is facing the global economic crisis in better shape than most states, but only if tough choices continue to be made."
The tough choices the Governor is making include cutting funds for education and Medicaid health care for those most in need, and ending other programs entirely. At the time of greatest need, the Governor's response is to continue his ideological attack on State provided services.
Today when people face a disappearing job market and reeducation is a pressing need, the Governor should be making education free as part of stimulating the Indiana economy. However, the rationale behind cutting education funds is really to attack the union teachers and other union workers in the school system under the guise of lowering costs.
Cutting health care funds for Medicaid is unconscionable. With many working families going without health insurance, and many underinsured, to cut support for the Medicaid/Medicare system sends the message that our disabled and our elderly don't matter.
The Governor did propose raising the funding for K-12 education by $80 million, but that is an almost insignificant fraction of the aproximately $6 billion Indiana spends on K-12 education annually.
Education funding has been shifted to the State budget rather than local budgets, which makes it appear the State budget grew. The state raised the sales tax to 7% in response to the shift in education funding, an increase which disproportionately impacts working families struggling in the current financial crisis.
While raising the sales tax and eliminating funding for public broadcasting, the arts, the Purdue life sciences initiative, tourism programs, education, health care, and other programs, the Governor is sitting on a surplus of $1.3 billion dollars that Daniels claims will be needed if the financial crisis is long. While December state revenues have fallen $33 million, spending now is the only way to help people survive the financial crisis and to contribute to stimulating the economy by keeping people working.
Democratic House Speaker Bauer said
"There's no question there's going to be pain in the next year or two," he said, "(but) you don't get out of this hole without filling up what made the hole, and that's the loss of 80,000 jobs. There's really no jobs program in the budget he presented."
Republican State Senator Kenley, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, does not see a jobs program as needed due to the Indiana Economic Development Corp., which looks to the private sector to create new jobs. Clearly that is not working today.
The budget priorities as relate to education are expected to be an arena of struggle in the upcoming period. Essentially, Daniels is using the financial crisis to attack public higher education and unions, claiming that
schools need to do a better job of spending their money, cutting the 40 cents of each dollar that he said is spent in "the back office" rather than the classroom.
"Put bluntly, the education system of this state, or any state, must be a learning system for children, and not an employment bureau for adults," Daniels said.
"That's a pretty callous statement," said Frank Bush, executive director of the Indiana School Superintendents Association. Teachers and administrators are licensed professionals, operating more efficiently than they are given credit for, he said.
School officials also disputed Daniels' claim that costs are going down.
"I don't think our utilities are going down. Health insurance definitely is not going down," said Dennis Costerison, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials. "We'll be paying more for Elmer's glue next year than we are this year."
And, he and Bush both said, schools must pay teachers more as they gain experience -- incremental jumps required by state law.
Using the financial crisis as a pretext for anti-union activity, as in the attack on education which is an attack on unionized teachers and other education workers, cutting support for those most in need of health care, and not providing for a jobs program while unemployment runs rampant shows how much Mitch Daniels and the Republicans are out of touch with the times.
Protect and expand education and health care funding. Protect union jobs. Indiana needs a jobs programs that puts people to work meeting the State's human services and infrastructure needs. Its time for the Governor to stop pretending that the private sector is the answer and respond to the needs of the working people of Indiana.