MUNCIE (April 9, 2015) - It’s been exactly one week since Governor Mike Pence approved changes to the state’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and Thursday he spoke to the media for the first time since signing those changes into law.
Pence appeared in Muncie on Thursday to announce the addition of more than 300 jobs at ASONS, a locally-based company that plans to expand its corporate headquarters, with the state’s economic development corporation will giving the facilities management provider $2.6 million in conditional tax incentives.
“This is a great news for a great community,” said Pence. “The last two weeks were challenging and difficult for people all across the state of Indiana but I can assure you we’re rolling our sleeves up (and) we’re back to work at the Statehouse.”
Since the RFRA controversy first went nationwide, Indiana's economy has been a big part of the discussion, with the hashtag “Boycott Indiana” trending nationwide.
Thursday lawmakers in the Senate appropriations committee approved a budget plan that would include an additional $1 million for tourism efforts to help Indiana overcome the negative publicity.
The budget plan unveiled in the Senate would also increase K-12 funding by $466 million over the next two years, but Pence wasn’t entirely pleased with budget plan presented Thursday.
“While I appreciate the Senate’s focus on school funding, I prefer the House budget's approach to the public school funding formula where the dollars more closely follow the students in growing suburban areas,” said Pence in a written statement. “I also prefer my budget’s approach where more funding is provided to public charter schools serving students in our urban areas. My budget also includes full funding for our regional cities program, and I am hopeful we can work with the House and Senate to achieve the full potential of this innovative approach to economic development. “
The focus on economic development has been a constant for Pence since taking office, but the RFRA controversy and concerns about the potential for discrimination led some businesses to question their investment in Indiana. And earlier this week, Illinois’ governor said he was hoping to ‘rip Indiana’s economic guts out’ in the competition over jobs and businesses.
“I know trash talk when I hear it,” said Pence at Thursday’s jobs announcement. “Indiana is competing every day with states around us like Illinois and I like our chances.”
IndyStar political analyst Tom LoBianco says it's still too soon to know what kind of lasting impact all this will have.
“Last week was a terrible week for Gov. Pence, there’s no doubt about that. The question is what does it do for his re-election chances?” said LoBianco. “It was pretty clear before that he wasn’t running for President. Now this makes it almost certain.”
Infact, the Center for Politics’ 2016 ‘crystal ball’ has now officially dropped Pence off its list of potential 2016 presidential candidates.
“The national name ID (for Pence) is higher than it’s ever been. This is sort of the sad irony of all this,” said LoBianco. “You always want to build your name recognition well the name recognition is high right now, but for all the wrong reasons.”
Still, Pence says his focus remains centered on the state’s economy.
“I think days like today prove that Indiana is on the move,” said Pence. “Despite the difficulty of the past few weeks, Hoosiers are on the move, Indiana’s economy is on the move, and I couldn’t be more excited.”