Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb used his first State of the State address Tuesday evening to stress the importance of increasing the skills of Indiana’s workforce in order to strengthen the state's economy.
The newly inaugurated governor, speaking to a joint session of the Indiana General Assembly, largely reiterated priorities he previously sketched out in his legislative agenda—from coming up with a long-term road-funding plan to curbing the state’s opioid problem. But he emphasized need for Indiana's workforce to modernize with its economy.
“For all our growing strength in high tech, too many Hoosier businesses are having trouble finding the skilled workers they need to grow,” Holcomb said. “With our 21st century economic increasingly driven by knowledge and advanced skills, too many Hoosiers are not properly prepared for the jobs of the future—not just potential scientists and engineers but also coders, machinists, mechanics, and welders.”
Holcomb also declared his support for a proposed balanced budget amendment to the Indiana constitution, a measure that passed a legislative committee on Tuesday. If it passes both chambers of the Indiana General Assembly, the measure will go directly to Hoosiers in the November 2018 election.
“This sets us apart from many other states, keeps us in a good position to withstand a future economic downtown, and encourages businesses to locate and stay in Indiana,” Holcomb said.
Afterward, the speech generally garnered praise from both sides of the aisle, with Democrats calling Holcomb refreshingly practical and pragmatic.
But many said it was noticeable that Holcomb again didn’t lay out an exact prescription for a long-term road-funding plan.
He said in the speech that he is “open to a menu of options”—and he did acknowledge the state will likely need to seek new revenue from Hoosiers to meet its road repair and construction needs.
“The fact is, existing sources of revenue are just not keeping up,” Holcomb said. “I’m a believer that every time you ask a taxpayer for a dollar, you better be darn sure you need it and are going to use it effectively for its intended purpose. And here’s a case that if we ask Hoosiers to invest a little more, to meet the need, the return is going to be well worth it…”
House Speaker Brian Bosma, whose caucus has proposed a road-funding plan that includes a gas-tax hike, said he wasn’t concerned yet about Holcomb’s lack of specifics on road funding. Holcomb previously called Bosma’s plan a good start.
“We don’t need political cover,” Bosma said. “We need political courage and we’re showing it. We need political vision and leadership and we’re exercising it. We would love to have him along and I’m sure we will in the end.”
But House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath said he thinks the Legislature will need more than the governor’s tacit support to sell a road-funding plan that includes a tax hike on everyday people.
“If you’re going to propose tax increases, you need a chief executive to go sell that plan,” Pelath said. “It appears to me he is not willing do to that. He is going to send the Republican members of the General Assembly across the minefield, see which of them take some shrapnel and leave the evaluation from there.”