Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s agenda for the 2019 legislative session includes a big focus on workforce development, growing the economy and improving public health.
His list of priorities, which he announced Thursday afternoon at Traders Point Creamery in Zionsville, also includes passing a bias-crimes bill, increasing teacher pay, implementing some of the recommendations from the report on the Department of Child Services and making the position of state superintendent of public instruction an appointed position in 2021 instead of 2025.
As for the budget, Holcomb wants a balanced budget (which is constitutionally required now) that keeps reserves at $1.8 billion—or about 11 percent of annual state spending.
“That will be job number one—to make sure we’re living within our means,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb started calling on lawmakers to draft a hate-crimes bill in July after a synagogue in Carmel was vandalized.
His agenda says he would sign a bill that mirrors language from the state’s personnel handbook, which includes protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
That wording is expected to be a sticking point in the legislative session as some lawmakers are opposed to including gender identity. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, has suggested passing a bill without that language for now and returning to the issue later.
As part of his strategy to grow the economy, Holcomb wants to make several changes to various tax credits and incentives, including making Indiana a market-based sourcing state. That move would require companies to pay taxes on income only from services sold in the state instead of services sold outside of the state, as they are currently taxed.
The administration believes the state has missed out on economic development opportunities because of the existing tax structure. Another tax proposal Holcomb is pursuing would make the venture capital investment tax credit transferable. Twenty states already allow this.
Holcomb would also like to change the Industrial Recovery Tax Credit to a Redevelopment Tax Credit that would expand what projects could qualify, and require all credits higher than $5 million be repaid.
Other tax credit and incentive changes include:
- Updating the Hoosier Business Investment tax credit, which has not been updated since 2003;
- Providing innovation grants for small businesses to pay for research services from higher education institutions;
- Updating the headquarters relocation tax credit;
- Exempting military pensions from state income tax as a way to attract and retain more veterans.
All of the tax credit and incentive items proposed by Holcomb would require legislation in the upcoming session.
Funding for some of his agenda, including teacher pay, remains unknown, as the administration waits for the official budget forecast expected to be released Dec. 17.
And his administration acknowledges that even if teacher pay discussions move forward in the session, teachers won’t see an immediate impact. That’s because school districts are responsible for paying teachers—the state government is not directly involved.
The administration is working with lawmakers and stakeholders to determine how they could allocate funding for teacher pay and what the pay increases might be. The issue is likely to be studied this session and return in the next budget session in 2021.
“I’m just thankful that we’re all sitting at the same table with the same goal in mind,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb’s agenda also includes his infrastructure plan that he announced in September. That plan calls for spending $1 billion from an increase in fees on the Indiana Toll Road on projects including accelerating Interstate 69 construction, expanding broadband internet access, adding more trails and multi-use paths, and attracting more international flights.
The $90 million grant program established to expand trails launched Thursday. It is divided into two components—$70 million for regional projects and $20 million for local projects. The first round of grants will allocate $20 million for regional projects and $5 million for local projects. The application period for the first round ends Feb. 15.
Other goals from Holcomb’s agenda include:
- Creating a grant to bring together local employers, educators and community leaders to help with career development;
- Expanding the use of the Workforce Ready Grant;
- Doubling the funding for the Employer Training Grant from $10 million to $20 million annually and requiring that the training include a credential attainment;
- Move the HIRE Program from the Department of Workforce Development to the Department of Corrections and make it a pre-release program for offenders;
- Using $3 million to establish a medication assistance program for jail inmates.
Democrats applauded the governor for wanting to tackle hate crimes legislation, but criticized his agenda overall for being too “light.”
“It’s a little-risk, little-reward approach befitting of a shrewd politician but leadership, it is not,” Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said in a prepared statement. “It’s a privilege to lead our state. If you’re unwilling or unable to tackle our state’s biggest problems, what are you getting up to do every day? Measuring the curtains isn’t enough.”
Bosma said Holcomb’s agenda mirrors the House priorities on the issues of the economy, teacher pay, school safety and workforce development.
“We appreciate the governor’s leadership and vision for 2019, and look forward to working with him and our Senate colleagues next session to meet the state’s needs and build on Indiana’s success story,” Bosma said in a prepared statement.
Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray did not comment on any of the specific agenda items, but released a statement saying he’s looking forward to working with Holcomb.
“I value the sound working relationship that I and my fellow caucus members have with Gov. Holcomb, and I applaud his ongoing efforts to improve the Hoosier state,” Bray said. “My colleagues and I look forward to a productive session as we collaborate with the governor to help make Indiana a better place to live, work and raise a family.”
The legislative session starts Jan. 3.