Pence spent most of his half-hour speech focusing on economic growth, balanced budgets and Hoosier education.
“Last week I submitted my recommended budget to the General Assembly. It’s an honestly balanced budget that holds the line on spending, maintains strong reserves, funds our priorities with no new debt.”
Pence called for legislation that would amend the constitution to require state budgets to be balanced. However, this move seems superfluous as the state is already operating with balanced budgets and Article 10, Section 5 of the Indiana constitution mandates, “No law shall authorize any debt to be contracted, on behalf of the State, except in the following cases: to meet casual deficits in the revenue; to pay the interest on the State Debt; to repel invasion, suppress insurrection, or, if hostilities be threatened, provide for the public defense.”
“Fiscal discipline has been the hallmark of the last decade in Indiana governments,” Pence said. “Our balanced budgets have led to economic growth, lower tax rates and job creation.”
Indeed, Indiana’s unemployment rate has declined 5.1 percent since 2009, which makes it one of the highest employed states in the country. Additionally, nearly 16,000 private sector jobs were created in November 2014 alone.
Conversely, U.S. Census data shows median Indiana household income is less than $48,000 a year – several thousand dollars below the U.S. average. Additionally, 15 percent of Hoosiers live in poverty.
“Every working Hoosier must benefit from a growing economy,” responded Indiana House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, Michigan City. “We heard nothing about the deepening chasm between the richest and the rest of us. There was nothing said to pay even lip service to the deteriorating wages and salaries paid to so many. Once again, the focus is on hoping the very few will do nice things for the rest of us.”
Perhaps Pence hopes that his stance on education will help narrow said chasm. “The key to unlocking the full potential of our state is not so much going to be found in her factories and in her fields, but in her classrooms,” Pence stated. “Let’s agree, here and now, Republican and Democrat alike, that this will be a education session of the Indiana General Assembly, and we will improve our schools for all of our kids.”
Pence laid out goals to have 100,000 more students enrolled in high-quality schools by the year 2020 and paying teachers more. “You get more good teachers by paying good teachers more,” Pence said. “This year we awarded $30 million in bonuses to teachers in 1300 schools. Building on that success, we will provide another $63 million for performance bonuses and refocus resources on the classroom.”
“Charter schools have been operating in Indiana since 2001 and today nearly 60 percent of them are graded as D or F,” responded Teresa Meredith, Indiana State Teacher’s Association. “ISTA would like to see those funds go toward our traditional community-based public schools. Pence’s $31 billion two-year budget increases school funding by two percent in the first year and one percent in the second year. Indiana has the fourth highest number of enrolled students per teacher and the fourth lowest expenditures per student in the country. ISTA recommends lawmakers increase funding to public schools by 3 percent in each of the next two years.”
Energy and Infrastructure
Pence also touched on increasing funding for road work in Indiana, which should come as good news to residents of Kosciusko County. “To remain the crossroads of America, let’s in this coming budget invest another $300 million in new funding for roads,” he said. “Let’s give our cities and towns new resources to plan regional strategies for growth.”
“Because low-cost energy is vital to our economy, we need an all-of-the-above energy strategy, including energy efficiency,” said Pence. “But know this, Indiana is a pro-coal state, and we must continue to oppose the overreaching schemes of the EPA until we bring this war on coal to an end.”
Road to the White House
Some of Pence’s peers have criticized the state of the state speech, postulating that it was aimed at bolstering support for a presidential campaign in 2016. “Tonight’s State of the State address went the way I expected. It was simply a script for a 2016 Republican presidential primary debate with no new – or clear – vision for how Mike Pence wants to govern. He chose to, once again, use his platform to speak to people like the Koch brothers instead of Hoosiers,” said John Zody, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, in a statement. “He continued to promote the corporatization of public schools instead of understanding Hoosiers need access to Pre–K education, affordable textbooks and college tuition.”
Some, like Mary Beth Schneider, former government and political reporter for Indy Star reporter, felt he balanced Hoosier pride and presidential campaigning. During the speech she tweeted, “Pence walked a fine line in speech. Focus was on Indiana, but a couple times in terms that were national in perspective.”
Pence closed his speech focused on Indiana, saying, “I know the best days for Indiana are yet to come. Let’s get to work.”