(INDIANAPOLIS) — The coronavirus pandemic shaped both the content and delivery of Governor Holcomb’s fifth State of the State address.
Instead of appearing in a packed House chamber, Holcomb delivered a speech pretaped in a studio with no audience, in what he acknowledged was a State of the State “unlike any other.” But the governor declared Indiana’s “foundation has held strong” amid the upheaval and grief of a pandemic which has killed more than 9,000 Hoosiers.
Holcomb says the discipline Indiana showed in better times has positioned the state to accelerate into the recovery years ahead of other states. He’s proposing a “Next Level Regional Recovery Program” to assist that effort. The program is similar to former Governor Mike Pence’s Regional Cities Initiative in focusing on regions of the state instead of individual cities or counties. But the scope of the program will be different, addressing any obstacles to economic development, from job training to homelessness.
The plan, and the amount of money invested in it, are contingent on the state budget forecast in April, the final projection before legislators finalize a new two-year budget later that month. Holcomb says the administration is “just at the beginning of developing” the plan in collaboration with legislators, city and county leaders, and other stakeholders, but says the Indiana Economic Development Corporation will oversee the initiative.
Holcomb vows the IEDC will also oversee grants to restaurants, hotels, airlines, and leisure industries hammered by the pandemic.
Holcomb made a pitch for the priorities in the 2021 agenda he outlined last month and the budget proposal his administration presented to legislators last week. He’s asking legislators to set aside $100 million to expand broadband into unserved rural areas, and pay off $300 million in bonds ahead of schedule. He’s also renewing a proposal to pour $400 million into relieving local teacher pension liabilities, to free up more money for teacher pay.
Holcomb didn’t address the other 36 recommendations of a commission he appointed last year to examine the teacher pay dilemma, other than to urge “examining them closely,” and declaring, “When, not if, we do this, we will be one of the best in the Midwest for teacher pay.”
And Holcomb urged legislators to pass a proposal they rejected last year, to require workplace accommodations for pregnant women. Holcomb notes women are more than half of Indiana’s workforce, and says 30 states already have similar laws.