Commentary

Finding an unexpected $1.5 billion could mean an avalanche of investment

April 25, 2023 7:00 am

The April revenue forecast came with an unexpected surprise - $1.5 billion. (Getty Images)

In his 2012 comedy special, “In This Economy?”, Gary Gulman discusses the thrill of finding a twenty-dollar bill in an old coat when he was dead broke. He remembers the find being such a big deal, it caused him to change his weekend plans. He even added the guacamole to his bowl at Chipotle the next day.

The funny part was wondering out loud what it would take for Bill Gates to have a similar thrill. At the time, Gates was only worth a paltry $69 billion. 

Thanks to the April revenue forecast, Indiana just found an extra $1.5 billion. That could buy an avalanche of guac, without a fiscal care in the world. 

Of course, that would be silly. Especially for a state government that seems to find itself with extra money so often, so routinely, that the thrill is entirely gone. When the state’s books were closed at the end of the fiscal year last summer, our total surplus was $6.1 billion. The number was celebrated, that’s right, celebrated, as evidence of great Republican leadership. 

Great economy? Thank the GOP. Fiscal restraint? Thank the GOP. A complete void of any creative and meaningful idea to use our fortuitous fortune? Without question, thank the GOP.   

As the 2023 legislative session ends in the coming days, I want to try and inspire the Indiana General Assembly to think big. As a teacher, this exercise is becoming a general operating procedure at the end of every semester. My young college students often think big but spend too much energy trying to restrain their dreams. Part of my job, according to me, is to get them to stop doing that. 

So, legislature, I will now turn my eyes on you. 

Thinking big

Rory Appleton of the Indianapolis Star has a brilliant idea: a central Indiana amusement park. He wrote beautifully last week about what a shrine of roller coasters and massive water slides could do for our dreary souls. He didn’t give any cost estimates of his vision, but I’m sure a cool billion could get it started.

I know, I know, it’s not the same as the Indiana State Fairgrounds’ brand new swine barn, but it’s close. Besides, that pig castle only cost $50 million. As big as it seemed at the time, that cash actually may have come from Gulman’s old coat. 

But there are real things the money could fund. 

Education could always use more money, especially in a state that whines about how much it spends on schools, while steadily ranking in the bottom quarter of all states’ spending. Maybe it would help if we spent it on a specific product instead of pesky teacher salaries. 

There was $1.5 billion dollars found. We have 1.12 million K-12 students in Indiana. That gives us $1339 per student. Instead of training teachers to arm themselves, I suggest we purchase every child a Safe Life Defense, Hyperline, Body Armor protective vest. It’s what we used to call “bullet proof.” ]

Retail pricing comes in just under that price per student, though I am not impressed with the color selections. Maybe if Indiana placed an order of this size, we could get the vests in customizable school colors. That seems reasonable to me. 

I passed a crew of a few dozen people from Keep Indianapolis Beautiful on Sunday cleaning up the Mass Avenue corridor. KIB planted a tree in front of my old house about a decade ago, helping to mitigate damage caused by the sinister emerald ash borer. I marvel at how much the new tree has already grown.

Right in front of that beautiful red maple, is a crumbling curb overlooking a scenic busy city street that is well on its way to returning to its original dirt road ancestry. I’m sure what is now Central Avenue was smooth for the carriages during the Governor Oliver Morton era. He was our famous Civil War governor and seemed to be the type to keep the roads pothole free. 

Senate Bill 283 had language in it about declaring Indianapolis infrastructure “distressed.” The motivation was couched as an attempt for state government to take over the city. Here’s a better idea for state government: Give Indy the money it is owed to fix the streets. HTNB released a study saying the city needs a measly $635 million to catch up. 

Without movement, those Morton-era horses could be useful again soon. 

With a simple goal of helping people, choices should abound. How miserable it must be to have all the power of a supermajority, more cash than one could ever dream of having, and absolutely no ideas. That’s apparently something money just can’t buy. 

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Michael Leppert
Michael Leppert

Michael Leppert is an author, educator and a communication consultant in Indianapolis. He writes about government, politics and culture at MichaelLeppert.com.

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