PHIL WIELAND: Indiana could afford to be less enviable

2012-10-26T00:00:00Z PHIL WIELAND: Indiana could afford to be less enviableBy Phil Wieland phil.wieland@nwi.com, (219) 548-4352 nwitimes.com

Apparently, it doesn't take much for Indiana to be the envy of other states.

During last week's candidate forum at the Valpo chamber of commerce, state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, said the state's fiscal situation is the envy of the nation. That sounded pretty good on top of other comments that evening about the state having a fairly sizable surplus that the candidate were looking forward to spending.

The next day the big news out of Indianapolis was Gov. Mitch Daniels burning the mortgage after paying off $147 million in long-term debt early, partially through refinancing, so several state-owned prisons, parking garages and government buildings would not be repo-ed or sold at tax auction or something. (In Lake County they can't tell the difference between prisons and government buildings.)

More good news, right? I mean, it would be a little embarrassing if someone bought up a used prison and turned it into another fireworks store. Before I could get too excited by all this warm fuzzy news, the rest of the story said the state still owes $1.7 billion to somebody. And there's another $1.8 billion Indiana owes the federal government for loans to pay unemployment benefits since 2008.

Daniels crowed how the state has reduced its debt from $3.6 billion to a mere $1.7 billion since 2005, which just happens to be his first year in office. That makes us the envy of the nation because that's the third lowest state debt per person -- roughly $340 for every man, woman, child and governor in the state.

That might be chump change for Gov. Munchkin and fellow millionaires, but some of us would have a hard time ponying up our portion of that deficit, including my 4-year-old granddaughter, who would rather play her SpongeBob video game than get a job. But that calculation of our individual debt uses Gov. Munchkin's math.

Where I went to school, if you owe $1.7 billion here and $1.8 billion there, that means the debt is really $3.5 billion, or a reduction of only $100 million since 2005. I suppose that's better than increasing it by $100 million, and that apparently is what makes us the envy of the nation. I guess "red" states refers to the color of the budgetary ink.

I realize government finances are totally different from the finances we all face in the real world, where being a few hundred dollars behind on a loan or your credit cards can ruin your credit rating or result in foreclosure. When that happens, nobody considers you the envy of the neighborhood.

I guess you have to owe billions instead of hundreds or thousands to be enviable.

The opinions are those of the writer. He can be reached at phil.wieland@nwi.com or (219) 548-4352.

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