INDIANAPOLIS–Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb is urging state lawmakers to take action multiple on areas of need in 2023. He made his pitch during his 2023 State of the State Address Tuesday night while also celebrating what he calls a lot of “wins” for Indiana.
He started off his address by saying he’s focused on three goals: securing Indiana’s place in the economy of the future, transforming the delivery of public health across the state, and making unprecedented investments in the classroom from pre-k through college and adult learning.
The governor’s proposal includes nearly $350 million over the next two years for public health programs and $500 million for a new round of regional economic development grants. Among other items in Holcomb’s plan are a $160 million request for to get raises for state employees and a separate $36 million that would go toward increasing the starting annual salaries of state troopers by 30%, to $70,000.
“I am asking the legislature to support a $184 million increase in higher education funding and support the Commission for Higher Education’s proposal to reward our world-class universities for keeping their graduates in careers in our state. After all, Indiana’s college campuses need to be the epicenters of brain gain and not brain drain,” said Holcomb.
Indiana is one of only seven states that still allows textbook fees, which Holcomb called a “disguised tax” of perhaps hundreds of dollars a year on families depending on the school district. That, Holcomb says, goes against the state constitution’s promise of tuition-free education. But he also wants to make sure that teachers get their due.
“We need to continue what we started by making the state’s largest ever investment in K-12 tuition support. Starting teacher salaries now reach $40,000 and we’re closing in on a goal of achieving an average teacher salary of at least $60,000 per year. We must invest in adult learning and workforce training in a variety of ways,” said Holcomb.
There were some statistics about the state that Holcomb finds disturbing.
“We rank 45th for smoking, 46th for obesity, 43rd for access to mental health providers, and 41st for childhood immunizations. Our life expectancy has also declined in recent years,” Holcomb said.
Which is why he is requesting a significant increase in the state’s public-health appropriation. Holcomb says the money will empower communities to design and implement initiatives that will address their unique needs.
Through the Next Level Trails program, Holcomb also announced the acquisition of the Monon South abandoned rail corridor through Floyd, Clark, Washington, Orange and Lawrence counties to be transformed into a recreational trail. Once completed, the trail will be 62.3 miles long, making it the longest contiguous multi-use trail in the state.
“Also, we plan to have I-69 construction done next year, which will connect Evansville to Indianapolis and beyond, three years ahead of schedule by the way,” said Holcomb.
Holcomb says Indiana is among the top 5 lowest debt states per capita in the nation.
“Our revenues increased. Our taxes and debt decreased. Since 2017, we’ve paid down our state debt by 31%,” said Holcomb.
Reaction from other lawmakers
“After his seventh State of the State Address, it’s encouraging to see Governor Holcomb admit the truth about the reality of Indiana: Republicans have let Hoosiers down. Our state faces a poor quality-of-life assessment, a worsening brain drain crisis, an inadequate education system, and dismal maternal mortality rates and pollution ratings – and it all falls on Republicans’ shoulders,” said Mike Schmuhl, Chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party.
“Governor Holcomb’s agenda for the upcoming session and budget offers several opportunities for bipartisanship on policies that Democrats have championed for over two decades such as public health, free textbooks for Hoosier students, expanding trails and combating climate change. I intend to support the governor and work collaboratively with my colleagues to pass these policies,” said Democrat State Senator Fady Qaddoura.
“Senate Democrats are especially glad to have the Governor’s backing on longstanding priorities like eliminating textbook fees, public health spending, funding mental health initiatives, and bolstering community and economic development programs,” said Democrat Senate Assistant Minority Leader Shelli Yoder.
“This session, the governor and legislature have identified a number of key areas that deserve a thorough discussion, maybe none more important than improving our health care system, specifically mental health care. I am optimistic about the strides we can make in this area,” said Republican State Senator Jack Sandlin of Indianapolis
“The Governor’s address correctly outlined some issues impacting our residents and state, but it still fell short of conveying the full extent of Indiana’s problems. Over the last two decades, our state has been in a downward spiral. When it comes to our K-12 per-pupil spending, high healthcare costs, and our post-secondary opportunities—we are not competing with other states,” said Democrat Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor.