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New governor targets job creation, more education reform

Updated: February 24, 2013 6:29AM



INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Mike Pence laid out his priorities to the state Wednesday, saying that the budget proposed by his team can both fund the priorities of the state and return tax dollars to Hoosiers.

The governor started his first State of the State address by saying the state continues to grow strong, but he also pointed to areas that need improvement, such as job growth and education.

He highlighted the 250,000 people who are out of work in Indiana, some schools struggling to provide an education, and one in five children living in poverty.

“With so many families and businesses struggling just to get by, we have no choice but to remain bold,” Pence said, “We have to do better.”

Government’s role is not to create the jobs, he said, but to develop the environment for businesses to offer employment. By offering a balanced budget, he added, the state can build a solid foundation for economic growth.

“I believe the government budget should never grow faster than the family budget,” he said. “By holding the line on spending, Indiana can continue to stand out as a beacon of fiscal restraint — a state that knows how to fund its priorities in a responsible way.”

The budget focuses on a 1 percent increase in K-12 school funding, providing funding for full-day kindergarten and funding teacher pensions over the next two years, which takes 64 percent of the state’s expenditures.

About $18 million in the budget is designated to helping the unemployed receive training and finding jobs, and will use extra revenues estimated at $347 million on Indiana’s roads and infrastructure.

Pence also points to new partnerships planned to spur food and agriculture, life sciences, and equipping the Economic Development Corp. to attract businesses and investments to Indiana.

Pence made a commitment to Indiana veterans, stating that 3 percent of state contracts will be with veteran-owned businesses.

“They stepped forward for us,” he said. “Now it’s our turn.”

He pointed to veteran Tim Wysong, a graduate of Hagerstown High School, who served in the U.S. Army and was injured in an attack in 2009. Pence noted that his budget would put more funds into job training for veterans and certifying Veterans Service Officers.

He recommitted his campaign promise of cutting the state’s income tax by 10 percent, saying Hoosiers need the money in tough economic times. Nine out of 10 small businesses file their taxes under individual income, and a tax break will free more funds to reinvest in the economy.

“By lowering taxes, small businesses will have more money to hire new employees, purchase new equipment and grow.”

Education funding to reward successful public schools was highlighted, where the second-year 1 percent increase in school funding will be based on the performance of the school.

“When most people tell you about their favorite teacher, they tell you about the one who pushed them the hardest,” he said, “who challenged them to grow — the teacher who held them to a high standard. Those teachers know that setting high expectations works. We believe that, too.”

Funding for charters will continue to expand, Pence said.

“We’ve made progress in expanding choices, but we can do more. Expanding tuition tax deductions, removing the prior year requirement and lifting means testing for foster, adopted, special needs and military families would be a good start.”

The governor also touched on the importance of vocational education, telling the story of Bill Beach, who went to vocational school and now runs a small business in New Albany.

“Career and technical education can provide our students with a pathway to success,” he said, “just as it did for Bill. It can launch entrepreneurs, give kids a reason to finish high school and create a well-qualified workforce that will encourage business to build here and grow here.”

His executive order that will require certain state agencies to develop family impact statements will also insure that “new rules and regulations will not impact married, two-parent families.”

Pence ended his speech by calling for Indiana to embrace difficult challenges.

“The road ahead of us will not be easy. But we know that Hoosiers are willing to do hard things, to embrace change, to demand a government as good as our people, to build schools of promise and policies that will ensure jobs and opportunities for this generation and the next.”

Minority leaders supported the governor’s efforts to support Child Services, transparency in the Economic Development Corp., and trying to lower unemployment for the state’s veterans.

“We have different approaches to how to solve that,” House Minority leader Scott Pelath said. “But I’m very grateful that he brought that up.”

When it comes to expanding vouchers, Pelath said Glenda Ritz’s election as superintendent of public instruction is a sign to slow down on charter vouchers and other education reforms and evaluate.

Pence will have to convince not only Democrats, Pelath said, but Republicans that the tax cut will be the best thing for Indiana.

“We’re not the ones that have to tell him no,” Pelath said, “We’re willing to work with him for things that benefit the middle class. But Governor Pence has a case to make.”

Republican leaders said they were supportive of a number of Pence’s proposals, especially working to match unemployed workers with the skills needed in a new workforce.

“There are so many programs that he mentioned that we’re going to work with him on to work on the details,” House Speaker Brian Bosma said, “things like budget integrity, workforce development and positive education experience for every Hoosier child.”

But starting the voucher program was a delicate balance, Bosma said, so a sudden expansion may be difficult.

He stressed the importance of having a sustainable budget model that will last longer than the election cycle.

Leaving the funding for infrastructure in the extra state revenue, Bosma said, would leave it up to the whim of the economy.

“We have larger needs than just to rely on an excessive surplus,” he said.



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