The fact that Indiana has billions of dollars available to hand out in tax refunds might seem like a good thing, but is it really?

Few Indiana taxpayers are likely to turn down the $200 refunds that will soon be coming their way, but should we really be happy about the idea that our state has managed to accumulate more than $6 billion it doesn’t need?

And just to be clear, these refunds don’t come without a cost. State officials say the new round of refunds could cost somewhere around $3.4 million to process and around $800,000 to send out.

That’s in addition to the $1 billion or so the state estimates it will spend on the actual refunds.

The windfalls approved last week will come on top of the $125 rebates lawmakers approved during their regular session, refunds the Indiana Department of Revenue is still trying to distribute.

This new round of money was included in a bill that earmarked about $75 million to social services programs for mothers and children in anticipation of the needs prompted by the state’s newly imposed abortion ban.

Speaking to Indianapolis television station WTHR (Channel 13), state Rep. Ed DeLaney, a Democrat from Indianapolis, asked if the repeated tax refunds didn’t just represent a way for lawmakers to avoid investing in programs that might address the state’s real needs.

“Is that what we’re doing here?” he asked. “We’re choosing between dribbling out money and making long-term investments in our schools and the possibility of things like passenger rail or lower tuition? Is that the choice we’re making? We’ll dribble it out rather than have an investment strategy?”

Of course, he wasn’t so offended as to vote against giving Hoosiers a tax break.

“I support the refund but want to move on to real planned investments in universities, passenger rail, public health and local roads,” he said. “We have the resources. As the CEO of Lilly suggested, we are falling behind in attracting people and businesses.”

DeLaney was referring to comments by David Ricks of Eli Lilly in a speech last spring to the Economic Club of Indiana. Ricks, CEO of one of Indiana’s largest employers, noted that Indiana’s workforce was struggling to keep up with the skill set many employers need.

At the same time, he said, health care costs are too high, and Black and brown Hoosiers are the most likely to suffer.

Both Ricks and DeLaney are right. Tax refunds are nice, but programs to address our state’s many needs are far more important.

What could $6 billion do to improve public transportation or public health or public education? What could it do to improve the lives of Hoosiers?

Those are the sorts of questions our state’s leaders really ought to be asking.
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