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Pence address set to expand on 1st-year priorities

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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence might be shying from specifics ahead of his first State of the State address, but the details of a first-year agenda that will focus on jobs training, expanded spending on private schools and an across-the-board tax cut are largely known at this point, following interviews with state legislative leaders and the delivery of the governor's first budget.

"Stay tuned," he told reporters when asked for some insight into the speech.

The governor is scheduled to deliver his address Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. at the Statehouse, roughly a week after he was sworn in as Indiana's 50th governor. His inaugural message was brief, and continued much of the vague language he relied on throughout the campaign.

Tuesday's speech, however, is expected to fill in the details of how Pence hopes to achieve the goals envisioned in his lofty rhetoric.

"I really believe that this is an extraordinary time in the life of our state, and the case I will make to the General Assembly on Tuesday will be a case for continuing to be bold, to be optimistic and to be relentless in our effort to promote the kind of policies that will meet the needs of our state, the people of our state, but also will set our state on a pathway to get this economy moving again and create expanded opportunities for every Hoosier, every Hoosier family and every Hoosier community."

Pence has declined requests in the past week to comment on any of the measures, saying he will not upstage his own speech.

Despite his silence, many of the specifics are already floating about the Statehouse, thanks to a General Assembly that began its work a week before the governor and a small window for submitting legislation, which closed last week. And the key proposals deal with the same issues lawmakers of all stripes are talking about this year: education and jobs.

Senate Education Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, is carrying Pence's proposal to create nine regional works councils, which would spend the coming year studying how to align Indiana's job training programs with the advanced manufacturing jobs available throughout the state.

House Education Chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, said last week that he has been tasked by the governor with expanding school vouchers to military and foster families, along with the families of special needs children. Behning also is pushing Pence's goal of putting Indiana children in private preschools through a scholarship program that would match private donors dollar for dollar.

The first Pence budget, delivered to lawmakers last week, includes plans to cut the state's personal income tax by 10 percent, spend $64 million on a program that would reward high-performing schools and clear up some pre-existing issues, such as hiring more workers at the state's embattled Department of Child Services.

Pence also delivered on some campaign promises via a series of executive orders he signed on his first day in office. He placed a moratorium on new state regulations, will require some agencies to begin assessing the impact of state rules on married families by drafting "family impact statements" and established that 3 percent of state contracts be filled by veteran-owned businesses.

Improvements to how the state cares for its military families is an issue that has not garnered much attention in public yet, but expected to be a priority of the new governor's along with the big two: jobs and education.

The Pence agenda also includes a so-called "loser pays" tort reform measure that would force the loser of a lawsuit to pay all legal fees. Sen. Mike Delph, who is shepherding Pence's tax-cut through the Senate, also said he was tasked by the governor's office with carrying the tort reform piece of his agenda.

The proposal was never included in Pence's campaign "roadmap" and quickly sparked the ire of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association. Pence and his staff have refused to comment directly on the tort measure since it was first reported by The Associated Press.

"My attitude is, I've got an open mind, not an empty mind," Pence said on the show "Indiana Lawmakers." ''I want to listen to legislators. I want to have an ongoing dialog with legislators. But what I intend, as I said at our first Cabinet meeting, what I intend to do in our administration, and to encourage to the General Assembly, to advance is policies that will move our state in the direction of making progress in terms of those six goals. And we're going to consider lots of policies to advance that."

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