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Public question on ballot causes voter confusion

Rumors are swirling about a statewide public question on the ballot this year that would amend the Indiana Constitution to require a balanced budget.

Posted: Oct. 22, 2018 6:32 PM
Updated: Oct. 22, 2018 6:33 PM

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI)- It's the first thing you'll see on the ballot this midterm election but many people don't really know what it means. Tippecanoe County Clerk Christa Coffey is making plans to prepare voters for the public question this year.

"We'll have large print of the question because what we are finding is it may be slowing voters' time in the booth," said Coffey. 

Coffey wants people to go into the booth informed. However, voting line 'chatter' isn't always the most reliable source of information.

"I heard several people coming in saying to vote 'no' because it meant that the state could raid the teachers' pensions and I don't think that's accurate," said Coffey. 

The author of the amendment doesn't think so either. In fact, former State Senator Brandt Hershman said the amendment would do the complete opposite. He said this constitutional change would require lawmakers to fully fund pensions before they spend money on anything else.

"And that's why it's so ironic that there are people that are saying oh, no, this is going to get pensions," said Hershman. 

Hershman said right now, the state doesn't require a balanced budget but prohibits what's known as capitol debt.

"Stuff like buildings or roads and it dates back to the Wabash and Erie Canal which the state invested in and almost bankrupted them," said Hershman. 

However, the state does allow for what Hershman calls casual debts. That's what the state is trying to avoid with this amendment but two- thirds of the House and Senate could vote to suspend the requirement in case of emergencies.

"It just ensures that we will continue the good budgeting practices of today for generations yet to come," said Hershman. 

The amendment has already passed through two General Assembly sessions.

A simple majority vote on this year's ballot would put it in the Indiana Constitution.

Hershman said 48 states have some form of this.

"Current language in the Indiana Constitution is outdated and ineffective due to longstanding court decisions," said Hershman. 
"This ensures continuation of Indiana’s record of fiscal responsibility in recent years, but it hasn’t always been that way."

Hershman said Indiana passed a couple of budgets in the early 2000’s that were unbalanced, requiring the use of rainy day funds to fill the gap.

If you'd like to take a look at the exact wording of the question on the ballot, you can download a preview ballot.

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