Entering the last year of his first term as governor, Eric Holcomb still had more items on his to-do list for 2020.
“I want Indiana to become known as ‘A state that works for all,’” Holcomb said in his State of the State address at the Statehouse, adding two words to the Indiana Economic Development Corp.’s motto. “Where every citizen – no matter their background or age or who they love or whether they grew up here or arrived last week – has equal access and opportunity to go as far as they wish and are willing to work to get there.”
Republican leaders have resisted addressing teacher pay in the 2020 short session, pushing the issue to next year’s budget session. Holcomb asked Tuesday that lawmakers use surplus funds in next year’s budget to pay down teacher pensions, freeing up future legislative funding for teacher pay.
Outside of the classroom, Holcomb said he aimed for 60% of adults to have post-secondary education, including technician certificates and two-year degrees.
“This is huge progress and we won’t overlook anyone who is aspiring to be successful,” Holcomb said.
Other educational initiatives included programs for Hoosiers with disabilities and incarcerated Hoosiers.
The annual speech came with several surprise announcements, such as the $400 million Fiat Chrysler Automobiles investment at its Kokomo facility for constructing a new engine.
According to the Indiana Economic Development Corp., the four-cylinder GMET4 engine will require a workforce of 1,000, populated by a combination of current employees and new hires. The company currently employs nearly 8,000 workers in the state.
The state will bring all its services for veterans into one facility in the spring, including the Veterans Administration, Disabled American Veterans, the Indiana Veterans Initiative, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. More details were not immediately released.
Holcomb repeated his push for a hands-free device driving bill, similar to 21 other states, that would limit the types of electronics Hoosiers use on the road.
“Distracted driving increases the risk of a crash by more than three-and-a-half times and is a leading killer of teenagers in our country,” Holcomb said. “This is unacceptable and avoidable.”
Despite the governor’s enthusiasm for the bill, Republican lawmakers don’t seem as keen to pass the bill in the 2020 session.
“We have some folks who are very supportive and some on the more libertarian side,” House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said. “It will be a robust discussion and I don’t know where we’re going to land yet.”
Democratic leaders criticized Holcomb for what he excluded from the speech, including an immediate pay increase for teachers this year.
“I appreciate the plan he’s putting forth next year, not this year,” Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said, noting a similar bill filed by Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, this session. “We said, ‘Let’s do it this year. We can do it this year.’”
“Kids coming out of high school aren’t even going into the (teaching) profession,” Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, said. “Because of, not only the pay, but I think, more importantly, what we’ve done in the state by taking the creativity out of teaching, the fun out of teaching.”
Lanane and GiaQuinta said legislators were running out of time to address redistricting before the 2020 census results and hadn’t proposed any legislation to reduce health care costs, just plans to make costs more transparent.
Democratic opponent for governor Woody Myers expanded beyond the struggles of Indiana’s educators in his criticism.
“Teachers are not the only ones struggling in our state. Like teachers, too many of our lower-income Hoosiers are forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet,” Myers said in an emailed statement. “The state must do more to ensure Hoosiers can make a living wage and stand ready to help those displaced from their careers.”
Another Democratic candidate for governor, Josh Owens, criticized Holcomb’s “incrementalism” in a release, calling for “bolder” action on education issues.
“(Holcomb) is still offering only half measures and a “wait until next year” approach,” Owens said in the email. “I launched my campaign for governor with a play to raise teacher pay to a minimum of $50,000 for every Hoosier teacher and to create a Public Education Endowment … in conversations across the state with thousands of Hoosiers, fully funding public education is the number one issues I am asked about.”