Yesterday, the Indiana Budget Committee met to receive the updated revenue estimates provided in December of 2016 by the Revenue Technical Forecast Committee. These projected revenues are used to determine the revenue available to fund the state’s biennial budget.
The state’s combined balances act as a safety net in the case of an economic downturn, and are generally maintained at an amount between 11-13 percent of the current year’s expenditures. The April 2017 forecast update showed an increase in expected general fund revenues of $200 million over the biennium.
I recognize that having a surplus is essential for the state to prepare for future economic emergencies. By no means do I think we should spend down the excess projected revenues that have been forecasted. That being said, $200 million is a large enough excess that we could use a small portion of that money to fund some critical projects and needs in the State of Indiana.
For instance, with the large road funding bill the General Assembly has worked on this year there is a great opportunity for job creation and occupational training to get Hoosiers to work. Transportation and infrastructure jobs are well paying. This should funnel more money to local units of government and ensure that Hoosiers are hired for these jobs.
Secondly, we need to invest in our schools and children where several areas have experienced major cuts in funding due to property tax caps. These areas include the Gary Community School Corporation which saw a levy reduction of 42.6 percent in 2016 due to property tax caps. The Muncie Community School Corporation lost 42 percent, the Cannelton City School Corporation lost 38.1 percent and the Beech Grove City School Corporation lost 33.1 percent. I suggest that we provide property tax replacement grants totaling less than $19 million, out of the $200 million in excess revenues, for these school corporations so they can focus on educating our children.
Finally, prekindergarten education has not been thoroughly invested in Indiana. The legislature wants to increase pre-K from the five pilot counties to all 92 counties in Indiana with an investment of only $16 million. That is not enough. An additional $200 million means we have room to invest in our children, in our future. An investment that will provide huge dividends for our children and communities.