Governor Mike Pence Tuesday used his State of the State address to re-emphasize the legislative priorities he has been talking about for weeks, including tax reduction and a pre-kindergarten voucher program.
The governor been touring the state since early December pitching his legislative agenda to Hoosiers.
The centerpiece of that agenda is his call for a phase out of the business personal property tax, a levy on business equipment that brings in about $1 billion a year to local governments. Pence says it’s the one remaining significant impediment to business investment.
“But one word of caution,” he said. “As we work through this process, let’s make sure we do it in a way that protects our local governments and doesn’t shift the burden of this business tax onto the backs of hardworking Hoosiers.”
The Governor’s Education Agenda
Pence also renewed his call for a voluntary pre-k program to help low-income Hoosier children.
“It’s important that this program be available in the form of a voucher as well,” he says. “I want parents to be able to choose to send their child to a church-based program, a private program, or a public pre-k program that they think would best meet their needs.”
The governor’s education agenda also includes a teacher innovation fund, which would provide money to educators exploring innovative ideas and methods, and Pence says he wants to provide financial help to teachers that seek out jobs in low-performing schools.
Another part of the governor’s speech addressed Indiana’s decision regarding a set of nationally-crafted education standards known as Common Core.
Indiana legislators decided last year to halt implementation of the standards.
In his address, Governor Mike Pence said that decision was made because Hoosiers have high expectations when it comes to its schools.
“Indiana’s standards will be uncommonly high and they will be written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers and be among the best in the nation,” he said.
After the speech, Senate President Pro Tem David Long said if the State Board of Education and Superintendent Glenda Ritz don’t show they can work together to develop those new standards, the General Assembly will create legislation to do so.
“We don’t want to do that though because really this is the area where the Board, the Superintendent and the Department of Education ought to be doing it themselves,” Long says. “But if there continues to be an inability to find a path together, then we may have to describe that blueprint for them.”
Long says lawmakers will be keeping a close eye on Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting for signs of cooperation.
Debate Over Gay Marriage Amendment
Pence spent very little of his nearly-30 minute speech talking about the state’s proposed same-sex marriage ban known as HJR-3. The governor reiterated his support for traditional marriage and called for civility and respect as the debate plays out.
He also says he believes the people, not unelected judges, should decide the definition of marriage.
“Let’s have a debate worthy of our people with civility and respect,” he said. “Let’s protect the rights of Hoosier employers to hire who they want and provide them with benefits that they deserve. And then let’s resolve this issue this year once and for all.”
Lawmakers have been weighing the option of altering the amendment’s language, which would restart the amendment ratification process, potentially putting the amendment on the ballot for voters’ approval in 2016, when Pence would be running for reelection. Republican legislative leaders say, despite Pence’s remarks, that option is still on the table.
Democratic and Republican Responses
Shortly after Pence completed his speech, Democratic and Republican legislative leaders both responded.
House Minority Leader Scott Pelath said the governor’s address was tepid, lacked bold ideas and serious solutions to the state’s problems, adding that Pence’s solutions lack a seriousness that the state’s problems demand, calling them small, symbolic measures that create the illusion of addressing issues.
He said if Pence believes a governor should do little, he’s succeeding.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in this state looking around them and thinking about how we can do better, rolls out of bed, said, ‘You know what the secret is? The business personal property tax,’” Pelath said.
The Senate President Pro Tem said the governor painted with broad brushstrokes, setting the right tone for a legislative direction.
“Some of this has to be hashed out in the legislature, and he knows that,” Long said. “I think the governor’s carefully stating his big picture for trying to continue to cut taxes but do it in a way that’s productive for the state. There are different ways to do that. He recognizes there are different plans out there right now.”
Both House and Senate Republican leaders have proposed personal property tax reform plans, both of them falling short of the full phase out Pence is calling for.