Scott Tibbs
Published by the Hoosier Project, 08-02-2001

Back to opinion page.

Irresponsible budgetary policy falls hard on Indiana nurses

In late June, the Hoosier Project reported on its Web site that Indiana Governor Frank O'Bannon is drastically hiking fees for Indiana outdoorsmen. The HP called for Hoosiers to hold O'Bannon and Lieutenant Governor Kernan accountable before they raise property, sales or income taxes, but closed the article with a prophetic statement - "doing that may be too obvious."

O'Bannon revealed just how prophetic that statement was with yet another drastic fee hike, this time on Indiana nurses. It's common knowledge now that O'Bannon and Indiana House Speaker John Gregg have squandered a budget surplus of two billion dollars and that the Indiana House passed a budget with the largest deficit in Indiana history, over $900 million. The state bureaucracy finds itself in need of more money to continue at the same high level it is accustomed to. A tax increase that would affect everyone would generate considerable political heat, but nickel and diming Hoosiers through fee increases on specific groups would keep the political heat at a simmer.

The Indianapolis Star reported that the O'Bannon administration is looking to set fees for both a new nurses' license and a license renewal at $50 apiece, increases of 67% and 194%, respectively.

The fee increase would bring the fees collected by the Health Professions Bureau to $5.3 million over two years. The HPB is budgeted to spend $5.5 million over the same period, so theoretically the fees would fund operation of the offices. But because the fees go into the general fund before they get to the agency that charges them, Indiana State Nurses Association President Beverly Richards is concerned that there will be a significant temptation to milk the extra money for budgetary shortfalls. The Indianapolis Star quoted Richards as saying "We want to pay our fair share, but we don't want it on the backs of our working nurses to support the general fund."

Even if no budgetary slight of hand is practiced and the fees do go to the operation of the Health Professions Bureau, this will clearly free up money from the state general fund for other things. Jim Billingsley, President of the Monroe County Taxpayers Association, contended to the Bloomington City Council that this type of budgetary policy is simply a way for the city to raise money, because taking the fees off budget does not reduce the overall city budget. Clearly, someone needs to make an identical point to state government (and, more importantly, to all Hoosiers) regarding these fee increases.

In addition to the fee increase for nurses, the state plans fee "adjustments" for sixty-some other professions, meaning the state will be soon liberating more tax dollars to be spent from the general fund.

The news of this fee increase comes at a time when the Associated Press reports that out-of-state doctors are paying lowered fees for Indiana licenses in comparison to the fees they pay in their home states. Because of Indiana's more relaxed standards for licenses and relatively low fees in comparison to other states, doctors are getting Indiana licenses first to make it easier to get licensed in their home states. The Indiana Health Professions Bureau's Web site contains a downloadable license application, and the AP reports that the site "gets hundreds of hits a week from as far away as the United Kingdom, South Africa and Singapore." Such applications greatly increase the workload of the Health Professions Bureau.

Of course, while O'Bannon looks to increase fees for Hoosier professionals, suggestions that spending be reduced are very few and far between. Meanwhile, pork-barrel projects from the Build Indiana Fund continue to be doled out in what effectively amounts to a subsidy for legislators' re-election efforts. Finally, why didn't O'Bannon and the House Democrats propose these fee hikes last year, when they would have been accountable to Hoosier voters? O'Bannon likely will never have to face the voters again, so what recourse do Hoosiers have?

Hiding unpopular proposals from the voters until one is no longer accountable is not leadership, and hiding tax increases in small increments of higher fees isn't leadership either. This is not the type of representation Hoosiers need.