By: Casey Smith
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb is prioritizing education, health care and the Hoosier workforce in the upcoming legislative session.
He previewed his priorities for the 2023 session — which will include the crafting of a new state budget — during a legislative conference in downtown Indianapolis on Friday.
The Republican governor is expected to outline his full legislative agenda for the next session on Jan. 4. That’s less than a week before Indiana lawmakers reconvene at the statehouse.
Here are some key takeaways from Holcomb’s remarks:
“All about development”
The governor said he’s focused on helping Hoosiers “grab the next rung of the ladder.” His goal is tethered to five “fronts” of development for the economy, education, workforce, healthcare and local communities.
“We have to make sure the state, along with local leaders — our partners, again — are aligned in our mission to create thriving communities that act as magnets for investment,” Holcomb said.
Big asks from governor’s health care commission
But Holcomb maintained the increased funding is a “priority” for Indiana, and emphasized that the state will “work up” to the spending goal. The commission is asking for $120 million in 2023, and an additional $240 million in 2024, to be earmarked in the state budget.
“This is not throwing money at something just to throw money and feel better about it. There has to be transparency there, there has to be measurement. It’s not just a compassionate need, it’s also about a competitive need,” he said. “When you look at our health indicators, it is a blinking neon light saying this is a target-rich environment to get healthy and back in the workforce.”
School choice expansions on the horizon?
Echoing GOP lawmakers, Holcomb said education matters are also top-of-list for the upcoming legislative session. Part of that is expected to include more “school choice” options for students to complete their studies outside of their traditional public schools.
“I think, in life, more choices are better,” Holcomb said. “Not just because it leads to competition, raises everybody’s game, but parents deserve to have choices for their child … that will be reflected in our budget.”
Increased spending on public education and post-secondary schooling are also needed, the governor said. That largely includes a focus on the state’s dismal literacy rates.
“We’re looking to double down, triple down, quadruple down — whatever you want to call it — in terms of literacy,” he said, adding when students start off “on the wrong foot” at an early age, the state “ends up paying more later.”
Early childhood programs will be a priority, too, the governor continued. Democrats said Friday they will lobby for the General Assembly to take steps toward universal pre-K — or at least expand eligibility for the state-funded On My Way Pre-K program for low-income families. It’s not yet clear if Republicans lawmakers are on board, however.
Holcomb additionally alluded support for a GOP-backed plan to “rethink” Indiana’s high school curriculum.
“Some of these (Indiana) businesses need 70% of workers to have four-year college degrees. Some of them need 50%,” he said. “You have to know how to stitch this thing together, how to put the curriculum together, how to build it … and have direct pipelines.”
Holcomb’s last budget
Holcomb has repeatedly said he will be laser-focused this session on getting the next state budget passed. It’s the last one he’ll sign-off on as governor.
He hasn’t said specifically what the state should spend on most line items, but he doubled down that “we’re going to put together and submit an honestly balanced budget.”
“We’ll be able to deal with inflation and our obligations and then make some increases in key areas,” Holcomb said Friday, pointing to the latest budget forecast that showed state lawmakers will have additional money to work with when crafting the budget, but not enough to cover requested agency projects and capital needs.
“We don’t want to go back to those days where we lose our competitive advantage, quite frankly, because we’re borrowing and we’re delaying,” he continued. “So, we’ll live within our means, first and foremost.”