State of the State

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature Tuesday at the Statehouse in Indianapolis.

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Gov. Eric Holcomb asked Hoosier teachers to be patient with their demands for state-funded pay hikes, even as he repeatedly boasted of Indiana's superior financial condition and overall greatness in his annual State of the State address to the General Assembly on Tuesday.

The Republican chief executive said it continues to be his goal to "make our teacher salaries competitive with neighboring states." But he cautioned that educators will have to wait until the next two-year state budget is crafted in 2021 before possibly seeing dedicated funds to that end.

"I created the Teacher Compensation Commission and asked them to once and for all come up with a sustainable plan," Holcomb said. "Their report is due this spring."

In the meantime, Holcomb touted the $763 million in additional education spending approved last year by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, his plan to eliminate "unfunded mandates and unnecessary paperwork," and his other initiatives for Indiana elementary and high schools.

"We'll see to it that last year's ILEARN proficiency test scores don't adversely affect teacher evaluations and school letter grades," Holcomb said. 

"We'll make sure every school in the state has a relationship with a mental health provider. And we'll financially support educators who are working on the requirements to teach dual credit courses come 2022."

Following the address, the Democratic leaders of the Indiana House and Senate said the governor's "wait until next year" approach is an insufficient response to the 15,000 teachers who rallied at the Statehouse in November.

"I was waiting and waiting and waiting for the big surprise, which I thought for sure was going to be that he found a way to give teachers a pay increase this year. But no surprise, and they still have to wait," said state Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson.

State Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, likewise said he was "hoping for something a little bit more" from the governor.

"We are here, we still have time to accomplish some things that I think need to be done for the good people of Indiana, and we need to get to work," he said.

Even Jennifer McCormick, the Republican state superintendent of public instruction, said while she appreciated Holcomb including "the teacher compensation crisis" in his address, she was "disappointed Indiana continues to delay necessary action."

"Insufficient school funding, resulting in inadequate teacher compensation, impacts 1.1 million students, 78,000 Hoosier educators and the future of our great state," McCormick said. "Students cannot afford to lose more great educators while Indiana decides if we can afford them."

Besides education, Holcomb's 33-minute speech to a packed House chamber at the Statehouse in Indianapolis emphasized accomplishments the governor is likely to bring up over and over again this year as he runs for a second four-year term.

He said the state's 3.2% unemployment rate is at a 19-year low, less than both the national rate and all of Indiana's neighbors, and likely to continue dropping with some 88,000 new jobs in the pipeline — including a $400 million investment by Fiat-Chrysler in its Kokomo transmission plant.

Holcomb also celebrated Indiana's top rankings for business, infrastructure and long-term financial stability, as well as the fact that some 36,000 people moved last year to the Hoosier State while Illinois saw the greatest population loss in the country.

In addition, the governor declared Indiana "has the cleanest air and water" since the 1970s, massive participation in job training initiatives, innovative prison education programs, and steadily declining drug addiction rates.

"Thanks to the energy, ingenuity and hard work of Hoosiers all over our state — the state of our state is stronger than ever," Holcomb proclaimed.

At the same time, Holcomb called on legislators to improve road safety in the "Crossroads of America" by mandating motorists only use hands-free devices while driving.

Though he did not mention his previously announced goal of deploying speed cameras in highway work zones after both Republican and Democratic lawmakers bristled at the idea.

Holcomb also asked the General Assembly to increase penalties on retailers who sell smoking or vaping products to anyone under age 21, to enact policies aimed at preventing surprise medical bills, and to support his efforts to promote adoption in the Hoosier State.

"Tonight, I am creating the first adoption unit within the Department of Child Services," Holcomb said. "This unit will bring additional staff into each region whose sole focus will be assisting family case managers with finding permanent homes for children when parental rights are terminated."

In addition, the governor pledged to attract more foreign investment to Indiana, bring more military spending to the state, secure federal funding for South Shore Line expansion projects, plant 1 million trees over the next five years, and reduce the state's infant mortality rate all in hope of helping Indiana to become known as "a state that works for all."

"Where every citizen — no matter their background or age or who they love or whether they grew up here or arrived last week — has equal access and opportunity to go as far as they wish and are willing to work to get there," Holcomb said.

House Speaker-elect Todd Huston, R-Fishers, said after the speech that Holcomb showed great leadership and Huston pledged to work with the governor to support all Hoosiers.

"Our state continues to earn the spotlight with our fiscal stability and top-ranked economic environment, which attracts businesses large and small that support families across our state," Huston said. "With a structurally balanced budget and healthy reserves, we are on the right track to continue funding our state's priorities and building on our momentum."

This article originally ran on nwitimes.com.

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