IN Focus: One-on-one with Gov. Eric Holcomb on 2020 agenda

Politics
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TERRE HAUTE, Ind.-- Governor Eric Holcomb (R-IN) announced his "2020 Next Level Agenda" on Tuesday, outlining what his administration plans to focus on in the upcoming year, including increasing the smoking and vaping age as well as instituting a hands-free driving law.

His agenda includes five pillars for legislative and administrative priorities. The governor's office released the following statements on those pillars:

Economy

To continue strengthening our economy, Gov. Holcomb’s 2020 agenda focuses on transforming how we tell Indiana’s story by elevating Indiana’s profile within and outside the state with joint branding and promotion efforts with the private sector and the new Indiana Destination Development Corporation with the goal of attracting more jobs and more people. The state will also build a 21st century defense innovation ecosystem to triple federal defense investment in Indiana by 2025.

Infrastructure

The 2020 agenda is designed to connect Hoosiers with reliable infrastructure. To accomplish this goal, Gov. Holcomb’s $1 billion Next Level Connections program expands broadband service to unserved areas in Indiana, grows the state’s systems of trails and creates more nonstop international flights. The 2020 agenda also focuses on preserving our highways and decreasing distracted driving by enacting a hands-free device driving law.

Workforce

Gov. Holcomb will continue to make finding long-term sustainable solutions to improve teacher compensation a top priority by supporting the Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission. The 2020 agenda also includes identifying unfunded mandates and unnecessary requirements in K-12 education for elimination in 2021, holding schools harmless for ILEARN scores, changing career-related teacher professional growth points from required to optional, and redesigning our prison education system to better prepare Department of Correction offenders to re-enter society.

Public health and drugs

Gov. Holcomb is calling for raising the age to purchase tobacco and e-cigarettes from 18 to 21 and enhancing enforcement to prevent underage buyers. The 2020 agenda also includes providing healthcare price transparency for consumers via an “All-Payer Claims Database,” protecting consumers from surprise medical bills, improving mental health services at schools and hospitals, and incentivizing more community paramedicine programs. In the fight against the drug epidemic, the Governor wants to add more recovery housing for Hoosiers coping with substance use disorder. The state will continue to work toward becoming the best state in the Midwest for infant mortality by 2024 by protecting pregnant workers by providing more workplace accommodations.

Government service

The 2020 agenda saves Hoosiers more than $125 million in borrowing costs by using $300 million in cash now to fund capital projects. Additionally, Gov. Holcomb will simplify how Hoosiers reach out for health and human services assistance by integrating the 211 helpline into FSSA call centers.

“These aren’t just lofty goals – they are solutions to improve the lives of Hoosiers around Indiana,” Gov. Holcomb said. “We are charting a bold course for our state to become the absolute best place in America to grow as an individual, a family, a business and as a community.

“Because of the hard work of Hoosiers, Indiana has become a destination of certainty and stability, but we can’t stop there. As I travel the state, I hear people concerned about rising health care costs, the increase in youth vaping, and our education system. My goal is to listen to their concerns and find solutions to build a bolder, brighter future.”

The Indiana Chamber released this statement about the governor's agenda:

“The Governor is focused on the policies that will have the greatest impact on Hoosiers and their employers. You can’t ask for more than that.

“We are encouraged by the forward-looking approaches Gov. Holcomb has put forth to keep our economy strong and grow talent.

“We are especially pleased that the Governor has continued to make the health of Hoosiers a priority. Raising the smoking and vaping age to 21 is one important step we can do to combat the recent vaping illnesses and deaths, as well as the state’s high smoking rate. With the Governor championing this policy, in addition to all the other groups, it strengthens the effort and should move us across the finish line.

“The Governor’s push for better broadband connectivity statewide is critical; this is a big issue for businesses and communities wanting to attract talent. We’ve made strides in getting broadband to all corners but in many places the speed of use still needs to greatly improve. The infrastructure focus from Governor Holcomb is a welcome sign that this, as well as our highways, will get more attention.”

Indiana Democrats released a statement in response to the Governor's agenda, Democratic Party Chair John Zody said,

“You didn’t need a crystal ball to know Eric Holcomb would release a bland agenda, devoid of actionable steps to address the slowest-growing teacher salaries in the country. Even after 20,000 Hoosier educators rallied for higher pay on his doorstep, Holcomb demurred for another year. Teachers can’t pay their bills or put food on the table with Holcomb’s flippant future promises. ‘It can wait’ shouldn’t be a governing edict. For this do-nothing governor, it’s a guiding light.”

Indiana Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) said he was disappointed in Holcomb's priorities for 2020 saying,

"He has vowed to continue kicking the can down the road on the issue of teacher salaries and have them wait until 2021 for any sort of answers, good or bad. He boasts of teacher pay raises ignoring that those raises were often due to local referendums, increasing taxes on Hoosiers because the governor didn't act.

Additionally, holding schools harmless from 2018-2019 ILEARN scores merely scratches the surface of the issues surrounding Indiana’s accountability system, without even addressing the problems in that system. We must hold schools harmless as well as decouple teacher evaluations from standardized test scores and ultimately restructure our accountability system for a long-term solution to this continuing issue that monopolizes our students' time at the expense of learning.

The governor announcing that he is going to fund capital projects in a non-budget year just shows that he could address teacher pay immediately if our educators were a priority of his. Statehouse Republicans have no reason not to address low teacher salaries this year. The persistent excuse that this is not a budget year is misleading and a way to deflect the public. This would not be the first time Indiana has made budget changes in a non-budget year.

Over 16,000 Hoosier educators showed up to the Statehouse a few weeks ago to tell the governor and legislators how they feel about the state of education in Indiana. The lackluster agenda released today by Governor Holcomb proves he must have ignored their teacher voices, instead escaping the Statehouse to campaign in Florida.

While unsurprising, I am once again disappointed that the governor's agenda fails to address any of the Senate Democrats' priorities for 2020, especially regarding Indiana's last chance to stop gerrymandering before state maps are redrawn. Governor Holcomb has laid out no strong plan forward for our state or its citizens."

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