Indiana leaders are patting themselves on the back for keeping the state’s budget surplus at the $2 billion level.

The Hoosier state is the “fiscal envy” of the nation, they say.

Now that our surplus has stabilized at $2 billion, it’s time to ask if we can stop adding cash to the pile.

Critics say state leaders built the surplus by cutting spending on state agencies and universities too deeply. Without cuts to universities, prisons and social services, the state might have finished its past budget year (ended June 30) slightly in the red and just under $2 billion.

The state collected $14.6 billion in taxes and fees during the past year, a drop of nearly 1 percent from the previous year. The decline does not necessarily point to a weak economy. State lawmakers gave up some money by reducing the corporate income tax and phasing out the inheritance tax.

Tax revenue from Indiana’s once-reliable cash cow — casinos — continues on its five-year slide.

A critic of our focus on building a surplus, state Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said Indiana is “hoarding hard-earned taxpayers’ dollars instead of returning it to them with meaningful programs and services.”

We would like to point out that there is another way of returning taxpayers’ money: Instead of returning it through programs and services, how about simply returning it?

Earlier this year, Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker spoke with USA Today about budget surpluses.

“What do you do with a surplus? Give it back to the people who earned it. It’s your money,” Walker said.

Indiana leaders have been following Walker’s advice with recent tax cuts. But the corportate and inheritance tax cuts we mentioned earlier don’t help all Hoosiers. Only our recent, slight reduction in the state income tax rate sends the money back directly to those who paid it.

Even Walker does not support giving back Wisconsin’s entire budget surplus, however. He told USA he wants to use some of it to “invest in our technical colleges, train workers for high-demand jobs, and support employment opportunities for people with disabilities.” Indiana Gov. Mike Pence also has backed the first two items on that list.

State leaders also could provide more help to strained local governments, so they don’t have to raise local taxes, canceling out any savings from state tax cuts.

Holding $2 billion in reserve provides a level of security for Hoosiers, but keeping money idle in a state bank account can be unproductive. If we start accumulating more cash, state leaders can make it more useful by sending it back to taxpayers and spending it on brain power to prepare us for a brighter future.

© 2020 KPCNews, Kendallville, IN.