Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

October 8, 2013

TOM LoBIANCO: Federal shutdown raises Ind. brush with closure

Federal shutdown raises Indiana brush with closure in 1993.

After spending years walking up to the brink of a shutdown, the federal government finally shuttered over the ongoing health care budget battle.

Federal workers have been furloughed. Passport applications and tax help are on hold. And federal services that often go overlooked, from NASA research to high-profile national parks operations, have become the centerpieces of floor speeches from the U.S. House and Senate.

Even in Indiana, state government has been pulled into dealing with the shutdown. The state Department of Workforce Development issued guidelines last week for federal employees seeking unemployment assistance.

But states largely have escaped the fray, and many leaders have gone out of their way to emphasize state governments pass budgets and get their work done.

That’s not to say it hasn’t been a close call at times.

Through the early 1990s, then-Democratic Gov. Evan Bayh’s budget battles with lawmakers occasionally sparked talk of a possible state government shutdown. In 1993, Bayh called lawmakers back for a special session to pass the budget.

Services that usually operate smoothly with little attention, from state parks to social welfare assistance, were suddenly pulled into the debate. While the special session dragged on through June 1993, then-Auditor Ann Devore made the case that services would end if lawmakers and the governor couldn’t reach an agreement.

“The purpose of state government is to provide services to its citizens,” she said at the time. “As of July 1, 1993, the purpose of this state government may cease to exist.”

The shutdown didn’t happen, and lawmakers have generally passed a budget within their allotted budget-writing sessions every two years since.

But Washington-style partisan gridlock has crept into the Indiana Statehouse in recent years. House Democrats led a five-week walkout in 2011 over a package of education bills and right-to-work legislation. They followed again in 2012 with periodic boycotts of the House floor that stalled passage of the right-to-work ban on union fees for a few weeks.

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