State auditor Suzanne Crouch proudly reported Monday that Indiana’s cash reserves have grown to slightly more than $2 billion. The state added $106.8 million to its coffers in the fiscal year that ended June 30 despite a $59.8 million drop in tax revenues.

The sizable surplus is earning Indiana accolades from Republicans and national budget watchers. Crouse herself trumpeted the state’s success, celebrating that the state hasn’t had to raise taxes, is living within its means while keeping “prudent” reserves and continues to be “the fiscal envy of the nation.”

Undoubtedly, fiscal solvency is important for a state government. Debt is crippling many states, especially neighboring Illinois and California. Cash reserves can mitigate disaster should an economic crisis like recession hit the state.

But let’s be realistic. If Indiana is taking in $59.8 million less – blamed on declines in revenues from the riverboat gambling tax, inheritance tax and individual income tax – and still is able to save $106.8 million, that extra cash isn’t being plucked from a secret forest of money trees.

It’s being built on the back of spending cuts and reduced funding to the services Hoosiers need most.

Following in the footsteps of former Gov. Mitch Daniels, as he has since taking office, Gov. Mike Pence ordered more than $300 million in spending cuts last year, including $34 million from public universities, $27.8 million from the Family and Social Services Administration and $27.8 million from state prisons. On average, state agencies had to cut 4.5 percent from their budgets.

The shortages have forced at least one state college to turn away students from its nursing program, a profession very much in demand as the baby boomer generation ages. Parents guaranteed support payments for adopting special needs children have been denied those funds. Schools have had to turn to tax referendums for relief. And there’s reportedly no way to fund $10 million in road projects throughout the state.

Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane of Anderson summed up the situation perfectly:

“At a time when we should be investing in Indiana to improve the abysmal state of Hoosier’s incomes and health, we are hoarding hard-earned taxpayers' dollars instead of returning it to them with meaningful programs and services.”

And the state will apparently continue to do so. The Pence administration has already told state agencies to hold back 4.5 percent of their funding for the current fiscal year. Pence Communication Director Christy Denault said the continued austerity measures are necessary to keep the state’s AAA credit rating, which helps lure businesses to Indiana.

We suspect the austerity has another purpose – to pad Pence’s resume as he builds his case for a run at the White House in 2016. That $2 billion (and growing) is a flashy number to wave in front of supporters and, more importantly, donors.

But we can’t help but feel it’s a facade.

Wouldn’t it be more impressive to have such reserves because of innovative revenue-producing measures instead of the old standby of spending cuts? Wouldn’t it win more hearts if Pence could put the fiscal and physical health and happiness of the individual people on Indiana on display?

No, there’s no reason to celebrate here. Hoosiers’ backs, bent by joblessness, poor health and desperate need in a lifetime of struggle, shouldn’t be the steppingstones for Pence’s rise to the presidency.

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