The two Republicans set to run both chambers of the Indiana General Assembly said Wednesday they agree on the need to change public schools so they can train students better to compete globally and create jobs in the state.
Rep. Brian Bosma of Indianapolis, who's due to become the new Indiana House speaker, and returning Senate President Pro Tem David Long of Fort Wayne said that task and writing a new state budget without raising taxes will be easier now that their party controls both chambers and the governor's office.
Indiana Republicans won at least 58 of 100 state House seats Tuesday and led in one of two undecided races. Senate Republicans strengthened their majority and now hold 37 of 50 seats, giving them the power to conduct business without any Democrats present.
Bosma, who will have the strongest House majority since a 58-seat GOP edge in 1995-96, said he would use that advantage to help the state adopt a balanced, two-year state budget without raising taxes and to create jobs and aggressively improve schools.
The school plan that House Republicans presented during the campaign calls for giving parents more options in choosing schools for their children, holding teachers accountable for the performance of their students, and putting more education dollars in classrooms rather than administration and overhead.
"It's a tough agenda," Bosma said, but one that's needed to overhaul an education system that he said is holding Indiana back and turn it into one of the finest in the nation.
Long, speaking separately, agreed with Bosma that better schools were critical to creating jobs and improving the state's economy.
"We all feel we have to do a better job of educating our children because that is the key not only to their future, but to the future health of this state as well. They have to be able to fill the jobs that we want to bring here. They need to be able to compete globally," Long said.
That task is complicated by the budget cutting Gov. Mitch Daniels has ordered to keep the state's books balanced. He's cut spending by hundreds of millions of dollars, including $300 million from public schools and $150 million from higher education.
Bosma and Long said they hoped their Republican majorities and the backing of Daniels would allow them to pass laws that had been blocked in a House controlled by Democrats the past four years. Those measures include changes in redistricting law to follow U.S. Supreme Court guidelines, getting a ban on same-sex marriage written into the state constitution, and streamlining local government.
Bosma's selection as the new House speaker won't become official until the Legislature's organization day on Nov. 16. Once lawmakers return in January, the two GOP-controlled chambers will take up a new state budget amid continued declines in tax revenues and redraw the boundaries of congressional and legislative districts.
Despite House Democrats' loss of at least 10 seats and possibly as many as 12, the caucus selected outgoing Speaker Patrick Bauer of South Bend to remain their leader.
Bauer said he knew it would be a bad year because so much of voters' attention was focused on national issues such as the health care overhaul and the performance of President Barack Obama.
"Our races are supposed to be local. We had great local issues and great local candidates, but our Republican colleagues had a national wind at their back," Bauer said.
Bauer said Democrats have held as few as 27 seats during his legislative tenure.
"We've been down before, and we've come back," he said.