By Tony Cook
Gov. Mike Pence proposed a balanced budget amendment to Indiana's constitution during his State of the State address Tuesday night.
Pence also used his annual speech before the Indiana General Assembly to renew calls for increased education funding and to tout the state's record on job creation.
But the surprise of the night was his call for a balanced budget amendment.
"A balanced budget requirement in the constitution of the state of Indiana will assure Hoosiers that today and tomorrow, Indiana will spend wisely, protect our state from an economic downturn, and unlike Washington, D.C., we won't bury our children and grandchildren under mountains of debt," Pence said.
He said Indiana is "remarkably" one of just a few states without a balanced budget requirement in its state constitution.
But the constitution already prohibits the state from taking on debt except in limited circumstances. As a result, some organizations such as the National Conference of State Legislatures have for years included Indiana among states that must balance their budgets.
The proposal drew criticism from Democrats, who suggested the governor was more focused on his 2016 presidential prospects than on problems Hoosiers are facing.
House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, called the balanced budget amendment a "parlor trick" and "a garden variety Republican primary voter speech."
Even among Pence's fellow Republicans in the legislature, the idea failed to garner much enthusiasm.
House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tempore David Long said they thought the idea was worthy of discussion, but they would take a "minimalist approach" on the issue.
"I don't think it was the most important thing I heard tonight," said Bosma, R-Indianapolis. "I considered it more of a footnote, really."
Two separately elected General Assemblies would have to pass any proposed amendment before the issue could go to voters for final approval.
Pence's third State of the State address took on added significance because he is weighing a 2016 presidential bid. But beyond the call for a balanced budget amendment, the speech largely stuck to themes already presented during previous speeches.
The governor again called for an additional $200 million in funding for K-12 education, which would include $41 million to boost charter school funding by $1,500 per student.
That increase represents increases of just 2 percent next year and 1 percent the following year -- less than what Bosma has said he'll seek in the two-year budget that lawmakers are crafting.
Pence said it is his aim "to have 100,000 more students enrolled in high-quality schools by the year 2020."
"To achieve this goal," he said, "we must fund excellence, expand choices and ensure that education in Indiana works at the highest levels."
He also again proposed spending $63 million for teacher performance bonuses.
"I think you get good teachers in the classroom by paying good teachers more," Pence said.
The governor also asked lawmakers to approve $300 million to fund new highway construction and again called on the Obama administration to allow the state to use federal Medicaid funds to expand the state's Healthy Indiana Plan, which provides health insurance for low-income Hoosiers and requires participants to contribute to the costs.
(c)2015 The Indianapolis Star