Political Notebook

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Gregg, GOP trade barbs

Both point blame at other for state budget errors

Did the Indiana Republican Party just figure out there’s a governor’s race, or is Democratic gubnatorial hopeful John Gregg’s criticism of Gov. Mitch Daniels’ fiscal errors just getting to them?

Gregg has been hitting the administration hard since it was revealed this month that the state mistakenly held $206 million in revenue that belonged to local government. That was on top of a $320 million corporate tax error found in December – bringing the financial miscues to half a billion.

Gregg conducted a news conference offering accounting workbooks and textbooks to the Daniels administration and eventually forced his Republican gubernatorial opponent U.S. Rep. Mike Pence to comment.

So on Monday the state GOP started hitting back.

First it sent out a statememt trying to tie Gregg to a nearly $300 million homestead tax credit goof discovered in 2003. State officials essentially miscalculated the credit for 17 years – starting back in 1985 when Republican Gov. Bob Orr was in charge – and extending into two other governor’s administrations.

Gregg wasn’t even in the Indiana House until 1987 and left in 2002 before the error was discovered – by Democratic fiscal analysts, we might add.

Yet Indiana Republican Party Chairman Eric Holcomb said “now we know why Speaker Gregg bought a copy of ‘Accounting for Dummies’ – he needed it so he doesn’t make the same mistakes again. We’ll be sure to send him a highlighter.”

Then on Tuesday the state party sent out a “flashback” release criticizing Gregg for voting for hundreds of millions in delayed payments for schools and local governments when he was speaker of the Indiana House.

And the state party points out accurately that Gov. Frank O’Bannon refused to sign the budget (which was also approved by the Republican-controlled Senate.)

Delayed payments are a bookkeeping tactic that pushes those costs into the next budget cycle in order to meet the constitutional requirement of a balanced budget at the end of a fiscal year. The maneuver – which was widely used before Daniels took over – added short-term borrowing costs for schools and governments. But in the end they got the money.

“Speaker Gregg is trying to gloss over the facts with a wink and a smile, but his record is one we won’t forget. He is responsible for some of Indiana’s biggest fiscal blunders including the days of delayed payments to schools and local governments,” Holcomb said. “Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

By comparison, Daniels cut $300 million in school funding in 2010 and continued the cut in 2011, resulting in a total loss of $450 million in the last biennium.

Wonder which schools would prefer – late money or no money at all?

Seeking outrage

While Mayor Tom Henry is pleased the city will get $8.5 million in unexpected income tax revenue this year, he is surprised there hasn’t been more turmoil over the error that led to the newfound money.

State officials this month said that a programming error cost local units of government $206 million in local option income tax revenue in 2011 and early 2012. This comes months after the state found $320 million that had been collected but not tracked and about a year after state officials said they had overpaid local governments $610 million over the previous three years.

Errors of that proportion would have led to numerous firings in his office, Henry said, “and deservedly so.”

The recent error may have meant more money for local governments, but Henry said they also prompted numerous damaging decisions by local leaders last year. Fort Wayne may have been immune from massive layoffs, but Henry said leaders in other communities were forced to cut police and fire protection, turn off street lights and make other tough budget decisions.

Had this newfound money been available when it should have been, some of those decisions could have been averted, he said. Because many of these budget cuts were made in a municipal election year, Henry said some mayors and other officials lost their jobs because of the error.

“I feel bad for my colleagues,” he said.

Group weighs in

Conservative Allen County residents should rest assured that their surveyor is anti-abortion.

At least that can be one of the inferences made by the release of the endorsements by the Allen County Right to Life’s political action committee last week.

The group supported candidates in races including U.S. Senate, picking Richard Mourdock over Richard Lugar, and county commissioner, picking Nelson Peters over John McGauley.

It even endorsed more than one candidate in a race if multiple candidates met their anti-abortion rights criteria. All of these endorsements by the group were Republicans.

While it could be argued that federal, state and local legislators could have some influence over abortion, it would be difficult to make that case for the county treasurer and surveyor. Yet the group endorsed both Republican incumbents for the positions, even though Surveyor Al Frisinger has no competition.

Popular vote

Gov. Mitch Daniels ranked as the nation’s third most popular governor in a recent Washington Post blog item.

Chris Cillizza’s The Fix put only New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie higher.

As for Daniels, the item points out that a recent bipartisan poll showed the governor – who is in his final year in office – with a 63 percent approval rating.

Cillizza posits that Daniels did the difficult things early on – restricting public employee unions’ collective bargaining rights with an executive order and leasing the Indiana Toll Road – and has seen his approval rating rise as the years pass.

Other governors on the list are from New Hampshire, Arkansas, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Montana and Virginia.

To reach Political Notebook by email, contact Benjamin Lanka at blanka@jg.net or Niki Kelly at nkelly@jg.net. An expanded Political Notebook can also be found as a daily blog at www.journalgazette.net/politicalnotebook.

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