Indiana Governor Renews Call for Business Tax Cut, Preschool Vouchers in Annual Speech
Gov. Mike Pence pushed lawmakers Tuesday night to settle the divisive debate over banning gay marriage in the state's constitution this year and made it clear he wants Indiana's school standards to be written "by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers."
During his State of the State address, he renewed his calls to push through a broad agenda aimed at improving education and economic development. But he also advocated more forcefully for state rather than national education standards and for movement on a same-sex marriage ban that dominated House debate this week.
"Let's resolve this issue this year once and for all," said Pence, who repeated his support for protection of traditional marriage while calling for a civil and respectful debate.
His roughly 25-minute speech to a statewide television audience, interrupted 25 times by applause, started with recognizing first responders to last week's arctic blast and ended with a touching story about the Michigan City boy rescued from a sand dune collapse by many bystanders.
"That's the Indiana way," he said. "We are a strong and good people, but we are never stronger than when we work together."
He urged lawmakers to pull together behind his plans to phase out a tax on business equipment and to agree on a way to give some low-income children vouchers for preschool -- continuing to advocate for issues he set out during four policy speeches around the state in December.
"Taxing equipment and technology in a state that leads the nation in making and creating things just doesn't make sense," he said.
The House and Senate are considering measures that would reduce that tax, though those proposals are incremental compared with Pence's call for an eventual complete phase-out. House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, panned his speech, particularly Pence's support of the constitutional amendment and the business tax cut.
"It's simply a jobless tax cut," Pelath said. "There is no indication it will bring one more job to Indiana."
Overall, Pelath said Pence's "solutions are not equal to the tasks ahead," including improving Hoosiers' wages and helping them get good health care.
Pence highlighted the successes of his first year in office. "We balanced our budget, created jobs, cut red tape by 55 percent, improved our schools and roads and paid down state debt." In a light moment, the governor quipped: "I even put the state's plane up for sale. If you know anyone looking for a great deal on a Beechcraft King Air, give me a call!"
During his comments on education, the governor made his skepticism of national Common Core standards clear. Last year, Indiana paused on its plan to adopt Common Core."
I can assure you, Indiana's standards will be uncommonly high," Pence said. "They will be written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers, and will be among the best in the nation."
After the speech, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tempore David Long supported the idea of passing Indiana standards but said the legislature would get involved only if the State Board of Education cannot agree on taking action.
The governor also urged lawmakers to pass a pre-K voucher program. So far, though, a measure in the House would create vouchers for only 1,000 children, far fewer than the up-to 40,000 Pence has said he hopes to help.
Pence renewed calls for releasing $400 million in road funding, linking the state's individual and dependent tax exemptions to inflation, and making adoption easier in Indiana.
Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, called Pence's speech "fairly unremarkable." While the state is too poor with a low per capita income and too unhealthy, Lanane said, Pence didn't offer solutions on how to address those issues.
"Those are real problems and we need real solutions," said Lanane.
But Bosma said he thought Pence set the right tone. While some of their plans differ, he said the governor and Republican lawmakers have a lot of the same goals -- smart tax reform, job training, road funding and early childhood education.
GOP leaders cautioned, though, that spending on some of the governor's initiatives may need to wait until next year when the legislature passes a budget.
While some governors use the annual speech to unveil new initiatives or programs, Pence focused largely on reiterating what he has already proposed. And sometimes repetition is a politician's best friend.
"Most people are now exposed to a blizzard of messages every day," said Marjorie Hershey, political science professor at Indiana University Bloomington. "It's hard for a governor, or even a president, to break through the noise.
"It's a real effort for any political leader to gain attention to set the agenda," she said.
Highlights of Gov. Mike Pence's 2014 agenda:
--Phase out business personal property tax to spur new investment.
--Eliminate red tape and unnecessary licensing requirements.
--Invest $400 million in highway expansion to keep freight and people moving.
--Generate billions of dollars in new investment in regional cities to attract jobs, businesses and people, through a study commissioned by the Indiana Economic Development Corp.
--Establish a pre-kindergarten voucher program for families earning up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level, affecting up to 40,000 children.
--Develop a "Choices for Teachers" program to provide a stipend to traditional public school teachers who move to underperforming public schools and charter schools.
--Allow charter school networks that could operate under a single budget and freely move funding from one school to another as school districts do.
--Increase the number of dropout recovery schools for adults who never completed high school.
--Increase the state tax exemption for parents and children in Indiana's tax code by adjusting annually based on inflation.
--Expand and improve adoption in Indiana by offering a credit to offset adoption expenses and by removing barriers to adoption. The state tax credit would be up to 10 percent of the amount claimed in a federal credit.
(c)2014 The Indianapolis Star