INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Mike Pence used the forum of his second State of the State address to focus on job creation, education, and healthcare, but also delved into a few other areas.
“One year ago today, we started on a journey together,” Pence began. “I’ve learned a great deal traveling this state over that year, being with Hoosiers in good times and bad. From hiking with kids in Lincoln State Park to walking neighborhoods in Kokomo devastated by tornadoes, I’ve seen the character and spirit of our people firsthand—hardworking, resilient, and generous to those in need.
And from all that I’ve seen, I can say with conviction that the state of our state is strong and growing stronger every day. We have good government, because we serve great people.”
He pointed to last week’s arctic storm as an example of Hoosiers working together to face a common obstacle.
Pence recognized first responders, highway crews, utility workers, churches, guardsmen, and charities for their selflessness.
“To our local police, fire, EMS, to our highway workers, and state police, to every Hoosier who reached out to a neighbor, thank you,” he said.
Pence recalled his inaugural State of the State address, reminding the audience that in that address he vowed to make job creation his number one priority, have the state live within its means, improve schools and cut taxes.
“We did just what we said we would do,” he said. “We balanced our budget, created jobs, cut red tape by 55 percent, improved our schools and roads, and paid down state debt … We did all of that and gave Hoosiers the largest state tax cut in Indiana history.”
Last year, he said, Hoosiers created more than 47,500 new private sector jobs and the state maintained its AAA credit rating.
“In November, one out of every eight jobs created in this country was created right here in Indiana,” Pence said. “Unemployment was 8.6 percent when I stood here last year. Today, while still too high, it’s at a five-year low of 7.3 percent.”
Since 2009, he said, Indiana has the fifth fastest private sector job growth rate in the nation.
From there he went to education, noting that fourth- and eighth-graders here showed the second best improvement in math and reading scores in the country.
Pence touted his plan to phase out the business personal property tax, saying it was essential to attracting investment and well-paying jobs.
“Taxing equipment and technology in a state that leads the nation in making and creating things just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “And it looks like our neighboring states have figured that out. Ohio and Illinois don’t have a business personal property tax, and Michigan lawmakers just voted to phase theirs out.”
Pence said he doesn’t mind “standing up to Washington, D.C., from time to time” and pointed to the Affordable Care Act as an example of one of those times.
“Most Hoosiers didn’t like Washington intruding on our healthcare long before it became a reality,” he said. “Now, more people than ever know why we were right to stand up to the federal government on the Affordable Care Act.”
He promoted the Healthy Indiana Plan, calling it “consumer-driven healthcare that moves people from emergency rooms to primary care and encourages low-income Hoosiers to take more ownership of their own healthcare decisions.”
But it was education that took up the bulk of his speech.
“If we can’t succeed in the classroom, we won’t succeed in the marketplace,” Pence said. “The great news is Indiana schools are succeeding. This year more than 500 public schools improved a full letter grade or more. With nearly 20,000 Choice Scholarships currently in use, Indiana has the fastest growing school choice program in the country.”
He expounded on his proposed voluntary pre-kindergarten program to help Indiana’s low-income children.
“It’s important that the program be voluntary,” Pence said. “It’s important that the program is available in the form of a voucher. I want parents to be able to choose to send their child to a church-based program, a private program, or a public program that they think would best meet their needs.”
Eventually he got around to the elephant in the room: House Joint Resolution 3, the controversial amendment that would ban same-sex marriage.
“We are in the midst of the debate over whether Indiana should join some 30 other states that have enshrined the definition of marriage in their state constitutions,” Pence said. “Each of us has our own perspective on the matter. For my part, I believe in traditional marriage, and I have long held the view that the people, rather than unelected judges, should decide matters of such great consequence to the society. Reasonable people can differ, and there are good people on both sides of this debate. No one, on either side, deserves to be disparaged or maligned because of who they are or what they believe. So let’s have a debate worthy of our people with civility and respect.”
After debating the proposal for years, he said he wanted to see the issue resolved this year “once and for all.”
Following the governor’s speech, political opponents were, not surprisingly, critical.
Chairman John Zody represented the Democrats, calling Pence’s plans “out of touch” and “old fashioned.”
“Tonight, Governor Pence had a chance to lay out a truly thoughtful, positive vision for Hoosiers in his State of the State address,” Zody said. “While he attempted to strike a bipartisan tone, evidence speaks to the contrary. Words must be followed by action.
“He created an additional layer of bureaucracy to undermine the job that Superintendent Glenda Ritz was elected to do. Instead of working with the duly-elected Superintendent, he created a new state agency while at the same time cutting funds to universities and the life sciences.”
He opinioned that Pence’s plan to phase out the business property tax could actually do more harm than good.
Dan Drexler, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Indiana, said Pence’s speech offered “nothing surprising.”
"While we should have expected the speech to be light on details, I was a little disappointed just how little he offered," Drexler said. "What's clear is the GOP has zero interest in treating Hoosiers equally and will continue to press for writing discrimination into our Constitution with the passage of HJR-3. We also question some of the job growth numbers in terms of how we compare with the rest of the nation."
But the speech was not without points that Libertarians embrace, Drexler said.
"I particularly liked his emphasis on school choice,” he said. “That continues to be a policy that Libertarians embrace and this governor has been unwavering in his advocacy of letting families have a greater stake in a child's education. We are also interested to learn more about phasing out the Business Personal Property Tax. While he did not offer a plan to get us there, it is an excellent goal and one that we can certainly work toward."
House Speaker Brian C. Bosma (R-Indianapolis) said the governor’s speech set the right tone for Hoosiers.
“We will continue to work with Gov. Pence and the Senate on our joint effort to address the business personal property tax in a responsible manner,” Bosma said. “I was pleased to hear the Governor’s strong support of preschool education. Developing opportunities to provide low-income Hoosier families with more options remains a continued focus for House Republicans.”