- Associated Press - Saturday, February 4, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana officials are scrambling to fund several bicentennial construction projects Vice President Mike Pence initiated when he was governor.

Pence sought $53.5 million in new projects last year as part of the state’s 200th birthday celebration, the Indianapolis Star (https://indy.st/2jS6lMS) reported.

The projects included a $2 million plaza at the Indiana Statehouse, a $2.5 million education center at the state library, a $25 million state archives building and a $24 million inn at Potato Creek State Park in St. Joseph County.

Skeptical lawmakers allowed Pence to spend taxpayer money on the projects after he assured them he could pay for projects by leasing space on Indiana’s 340 state-owned cell towers.

Two years after those assurances were made, the state has spent more than $5 million on the projects, but a cell tower deal hasn’t materialized.

Gov. Eric Holcomb is trying to find a way to fill the hole as he grapples with a $378 million revenue shortfall compared to what lawmakers had originally budgeted for this year.

“We did the projects,” said Stephanie Wilson, Holcomb’s spokeswoman. “We have to pay for the projects.”

In the two-year state spending plan Holcomb sent to lawmakers earlier this month, he sought to use money from Indiana’s Tobacco Master Settlement fund to pay for the projects. Holcomb’s proposal raised concerns among public health advocates because of Indiana’s HIV outbreak last year, a sharp uptick in opioid abuse and deaths and the state’s smoking rate as 12th highest in the nation.

“That money was intended for health-related programs and that’s where it should go,” said Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis. “Our governor talks about having an honestly balanced budget with no gimmicks. I think this would be a nice gimmick.”

Holcomb is now asking House lawmakers to change the funding source for the projects to the general fund, according to Wilson.

A Pence spokesman didn’t respond to the newspaper’s request for comment.


Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com

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