Protecting Indiana's state government surplus and completing some big-ticket transportation projects are among the items Republican gubernatorial candidate Eric Holcomb said Tuesday were keys for spurring business growth.
Holcomb outlined an economic development plan in his first policy announcement since replacing Gov. Mike Pence as the GOP nominee eight weeks ago—and a day after Democratic candidate John Gregg criticized Holcomb for offering few proposals seven weeks from Election Day.
Holcomb said he wanted to continue the fiscal policies of the past 12 years of Republican governors and maintain the state's $2.2 billion in cash reserves.
He also wants to build a new I-69 bridge over the Ohio River near Evansville and add a second rail line for much of northwestern Indiana's South Shore commuter railroad. He declined, however, to specify funding sources.
Gregg, who released economic and infrastructure plans over the summer, said the Indiana economy is still being hurt by last year's religious-objections law uproar. But Holcomb said he wouldn't push for expanding state civil rights laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity, which Gregg maintains is necessary to better the state's reputation.
Some highlights of the candidates' proposals:
Holcomb, whom Pence appointed as lieutenant governor in March, said the state's balanced budgets and strong reserves help attract business investment to Indiana, calling that "priority No. 1." He touted those policies for helping drop the state's unemployment rate to 4.5 percent in August, which is below the national mark of 4.9 percent.
The Republican-dominated Legislature has backed cuts in recent years to Indiana's personal income, corporate and inheritance taxes, but Holcomb said he didn't plan to seek additional cuts. "I'm good with where they are right now," Holcomb said.
Gregg, a former Indiana House speaker, proposes ending state tax subsidies for businesses providing lower-wage jobs, saying the state needs to reverse its slide to 38th in national rankings of personal income.
"I want to focus on the quality of jobs created, not the quantity of jobs," Gregg said.
Holcomb said he would work with legislators to find ways to pay for major transportation projects, including the I-69 Ohio River bridge estimated to cost $850 million and the South Shore rail expansion projected at some $200 million.
He didn't rule out increases in the gasoline and cigarette taxes that some legislative Republicans proposed this year to pay for road projects but was rejected by Pence. "Everything should remain on the table," Holcomb said.
Gregg proposes borrowing up to $3 billion for new local and state transportation projects and repaying the loans with future federal highway funding. He also proposes using $500 million from a state road trust fund for immediate projects because that money is drawing low interest rates.
Holcomb says he opposes additional state borrowing.
Gregg calls for a repeal of the state religious freedom law, which opponents said sanctioned discrimination against gays before GOP legislators approved revisions. Gregg said the state needed to extend state civil rights protections to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to help businesses recruit top employees to Indiana.
"We have to be a welcoming state," Gregg said. "We've got to keep away from the social issues. We've got to focus on keeping talent and attracting talent here."
Holcomb said few people have raised the topic to him around the state and that lawmakers are unlikely to find a compromise after an attempt failed during this year's legislative session.
"I tend to spend very little time where I view zero percent probability making progress," Holcomb said.