INDIANAPOLIS | Gov. Mitch Daniels pledged to boost K-12 school funding for every student in Indiana and offered a $300 million olive branch to legislators Monday night in brief budget speech airing live on statewide television.
In an address lasting about five minutes, the Republican governor relented to spending about a quarter of the $1.3 billion in state reserves he heretofore held as sacrosanct. But he warned Indiana's next two-year budget must guard against take hikes on the table in Illinois and other states.
"If we lose our sense of discipline now, in no time we'll look just like Michigan, or Illinois, or, heaven forbid, California," Daniels said from his Statehouse office. "As always, I am ready to compromise and cooperate with the legislature -- up to a point. I'm willing to see us use about a quarter of our surplus, leaving a billion dollars in reserve, but not a penny less ... If legislators want to spend more on some favorite cause, that's fine as long as they offset it elsewhere."
Daniels will go before the State Budget Committee Tuesday afternoon to deliver spending particulars and lay the groundwork for a budget-writing special session to start later this month.
Sen. Karen Tallian, a member of the House-Senate panel that will receive the budget plan, said the speech gave Daniels a chance to head off legislative criticism.
"I think the Legislature, both the House and Senate, has basically challenged him to say, 'Look, you didn't like our projections. You didn't like our budget. Give us your proposal,'" said Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes. "He wanted center stage on his proposal."
Daniels pledged his biennial budget would ensure "every school would receive more per student that it did this year," though that would provide little consolation to East Chicago, Gary and other districts with falling enrollment.
The governor said his plan would give schools statewide a 2 percent average funding boost through June 2011. The legislative budget that failed in late April offered a roughly 1.5 percent increase in each of the next two years.
Daniels also called for a 3 percent increase in financial aid to Indiana college students, though state universities themselves would face 4 percent funding cuts sure to influence pending tuition hikes. State prisons and police would receive level funding, while cuts elsewhere in state government would range from 4 percent at Indiana's auditing agency to 15 percent at the Indiana State Library
"Total state spending would be reduced by 2.5 percent," Daniels said. "Many good ideas will have to wait. Across state government, nothing, and I mean nothing, goes up. When your (state) income drops by 8 percent (from last year), you can't increase your spending -- on anything."