In his eighth and final State of the State address Tuesday, Gov. Eric Holcomb called for commitments to improving third grade reading levels, expanding the child-care workforce and building greater awareness of the state’s jobs programs.
His speech, delivered to the full body of the Indiana General Assembly, highlighted items outlined in his 2024 agenda released Monday, including requiring a computer science class for high school graduation, working with public universities to expand offerings of two- and three-year degrees and a controversial proposal to hold back third graders who don’t pass the state’s reading assessment.
But the governor did throw in one unexpected twist. He announced that the Lilly Endowment would provide a $250 million grant to the Indiana Economic Development Corp. to fund projects focused on blight reduction, development and arts and cultural initiatives.
The one-time donation to the state’s READI 2.0 program, the Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative launched in 2021, is the single-largest grant in the endowment’s history, Holcomb said. The contribution adds to the $500 million the Legislature already has devoted to the second round of the regional grant program.
To increase the number of child-care workers, Holcomb called on the Legislature to lower the minimum caregiver age to 18 for infant and toddler rooms and 16 for school-age classrooms. To help workers and employers tap into the state’s job-related programs and tools, he said a new website would serve as a navigational guide.
The Republican governor also drew attention to the state’s achievements during his tenure, including $150 billion in GDP growth, $320 million in broadband investments and tens of billions of dollars in committed capital investments from companies looking to expand or locate in Indiana.
“That’s called ‘Indiana Momentum’ and we’ve got a lot more coming,” he said, noting that the state’s moves toward generational change were a team effort.
“The ‘Indiana Model’ seeks excellence, rejecting any notion that a Midwestern ‘vowel state’ would be content with mediocrity and instead takes giant leaps rather than baby steps,” Holcomb said.
“Each will result in millions in new investment, and thousands of good high-paying jobs, and they position Indiana to benefit disproportionately from America’s renewed focus on defense-related manufacturing and our re-shoring strategy,” Holcomb said.
He called attention to two electric vehicle battery factories being built in Kokomo by StarPlus Energy, whose CEO, Yun Jae Kim, was in the audience. Along with Samsung SDI’s similar investment in General Motors in New Carlisle, all three total more than $9 billion in new investment.
“We couldn’t be more humbled by the faith and trust your companies have placed in our Indiana model,” Holcomb said.
Before his term ends, Holcomb pledged to finish building 280 miles of trails across the state, bring high-speed internet to more than 70,000 households and businesses, complete the final mile of I-69 that connects Indianapolis to Evansville and make progress on capital projects including the new archives building, Westville prison, a law enforcement academy and co-locating the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired with the Indiana School for the Deaf.
In his closing remarks, he promised not to be “a ship in port,” instead vowing to “deploy on multiple fronts” until his last day in office.
“We will find constructive answers to any unforeseen challenges that arise when we move from ideas to implementation during these times of great transformation,” Holcomb said.
During his speech, Holcomb pointed to the state’s AAA credit rating as an indicator that the state of Indiana was in a strong economic position.
Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said lawmakers also need to ensure that Hoosiers also have a good credit rating by increasing the minimum wage, a priority of House Democrats.
Sen. Shelli Yoder, D-Bloomington, said Holcomb’s plan to address a shortage of daycare workers by lowering the minimum caregiver age requirement to 18 for infant and toddler rooms and 16 for school-age classrooms failed to address the root causes of the state’s child care crisis.
“Again and again, we are told this is an issue of what we pay the child care workforce,” Yoder said. “This is not an issue of enough facilities. Lowering the age doesn’t address the wages. That’s where we should be tackling this problem.”
Yoder said the state could launch a child care voucher program that would allow employers to offer more competitive wages.
House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, said it was “troubling” that Holcomb failed to mention that the state’s Medicaid program was underfunded by $1 billion due to a budgeting error.
“Before this error was brought to light last month, critical programs such as applied behavioral therapy for kids with autism and pediatric dentistry were underfunded,” GiaQuinta said in a statement. “Now, many providers will likely have to limit the care they’re able to provide or close their doors altogether. It will take hard work and dedication to fix this, but I can assure you tonight that House Democrats are ready and willing to do our part to not just fix the budgeting error, but to protect and expand Medicaid at all costs.”
Holcomb’s fellow Republicans, who control the Indiana House and Senate, were generally supportive of the governor’s remarks, which focused heavily on recent economic investments in the state.
House Speaker Todd Huston rebuffed a suggestion that the Indiana Economic Development Corp. needs more oversight, as some Democratic lawmakers have suggested.
“As the governor outlined today, the first $500 million of READI [grants] is out, and you can see exactly where the projects are,” Huston said.
Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, joined with the governor in praising the state’s economic prowess.
“There’s no question Indiana’s economy is on the move,” Bray said in written remarks, “and I want to join Gov. Holcomb in applauding the business leaders and economic development partners around Indiana for bringing record-breaking investments and high-paying jobs to all corners of our state.”
On the issue of child care, Bray said state government shouldn’t be in the business of subsidizing those facilities.
“If you raise the wages for those employees, you’re going to raise the cost of child care, unless it’s just fully subsidized by the state government,” Bray said. “As I’ve said on a number of occasions, we don’t intend to be in the child care business.”