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In Indiana, and elsewhere, lawmakers play beat the clock to OK budget

June 30, 2009 | 10:04 am

When it comes to the time being a sensitive subject, there’s arguably no one who watches the clock more closely than Indiana Hoosiers.

This is the state where people fought – and ultimately lost – the right to have different counties be on different time zones. (Though there still are a few spots in the northwest corner of the state where, while standing on the shore, you can technically land a fish an hour before you caught it.)

So in some ways, it’s fitting that lawmakers here in the Indianapolis state house are counting down the minutes as they fight over the state budget. As of this morning, there's no budget. Inside the state Assembly chambers, there’s a rumble that lawmakers will have something to vote on when they reconvene just about now, at 1 p.m. EST. By then, legislators will have 10 hours and 59 minutes to get something passed. Otherwise, government services will begin to shut down.

The last time lawmakers in this Rust Belt-meets-agriculture state blew past its June 30 deadline was during the Civil War. Back then, when the state general assembly adjourned without passing a budget, Gov. Oliver Perry Morton simply didn’t recall the legislators – and for a year or so, he ran the state government on his own. (Lawmakers later forgave Morton: There’s a statue of him standing at the entrance of the state house here in Indianapolis.)

Since then, say locals, meeting that midnight budgetary deadline has been a point of Hoosier pride. That’s not to say folks haven’t bent the rules a bit. Inside the state general assembly’s chambers, there is a wooden clock mounted onto the balcony just above the lawmakers' seats. At one point, many years ago, there was a switch, tucked next to the House speaker’s podium, which would turn off the clock.

When the fiscal budget debates dragged a bit too close to midnight, “they’d stop the clock and battle it out,” said Alan January, director of patron services for the Indiana State Archives. “It’d buy them a few minutes, a few hours, maybe longer.”

As legislators race from meeting to meeting today, quite a few have cast a longing glance toward that podium. The switch is gone. It was removed years ago. The clock, though, remains and is still ticking down. To read more about state lawmakers across the country racing to beat the clock, check out this story.

-- P.J. Huffstutter 

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