Eight years ago, Mitch Daniels took office facing a $600 million budget deficit, cash-strapped public services and a promise to turn the state around.
He will leave Indiana the fiscal envy of the Midwest, with a sterling AAA credit rating, a more than $500 million budget surplus and $2 billion in reserves.
But such a dramatic turnaround has its costs. While he ushered in reforms, nearly every area of government, including education and child services, faced Daniel’s hefty financial ax. He also cast his cost-cutting gaze to limit the ability of local governments and schools to increase property taxes, thus keeping rates low but leaving communities searching for money to pave roads, hire police officers and keep teachers.
Supporters say Daniels made hard choices to streamline government during the toughest economic meltdown in eight decades. Critics say he cut too deeply and should have done more to protect the most vulnerable.
“The fact that a few years out of a recession … Indiana has a surplus, a balanced budget and has reduced taxes in several areas puts it in an enviable fiscal position,” said John Ketzenberger, director of the nonpartisan Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute.