Q&A: GOP candidates for governor on the economy

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From left: U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, former Indiana Secretary of Commerce Brad Chambers, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Fort Wayne businessman Eric Doden, former Attorney General Curtis Hill and political newcomer Jamie Reitenour (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

With less than 50 days before polls close on the Hoosier State’s most competitive primary in decades, the Indiana Capital Chronicle will publish four issue-based question and answers with the six Republican candidates. The following four questions on the economy were distributed to: U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, Brad Chambers, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Eric Doden, former Attorney General Curtis Hill and Jamie Reitenour.

Each candidate was asked to limit their responses to 150 words and answers were printed as submitted with only minor edits, like spacing or full names, for clarity.

There is only one Democrat on the primary ballot for governor — former Superintendent for Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick — and one Libertarian, Donald Rainwater, who was selected in a private convention process.

Q. On paper, the “soft landing” economy is doing well as inflation falls and unemployment remains low. But some sectors of the economy, such as groceries, remain costly and consumer outlook is pessimistic. What will you specifically do to turn that sentiment around?

Braun: If you travel every one of our 92 counties every year like I do, you know Hoosier families don’t think the economy is doing well. (President) Joe Biden’s radical spending agenda has cost the average Hoosier family $20,000 in the last three years from inflation I warned against from day one. I’m proud to have voted against every bit of the Biden spending spree, because the best way to reduce inflation is through less spending from the federal government. I am proud to have supported the Balanced Budget Amendment and will fight for a Convention of States to add it to the Constitution as Governor because the best way to reduce inflation is to force Washington to spend less of your money.Note: Read the Republican-produced inflation report here and pushback from the Biden administration here.

Chambers: The spending policies of President Biden and career politicians in Washington, D.C. sent inflation to levels not seen in four decades. While prices are coming down, Hoosiers have long memories and are still unnecessarily struggling to afford the basics.

We can lessen these struggles by creating more opportunities for Hoosiers to become financially secure through careers with higher wages. I fundamentally believe that when Hoosiers are economically secure and have more money in their pocket, all aspects of their lives are better — their housing, their health, their education and their family.

As secretary of commerce, I brought in record committed capital investment paying wages 30% higher than at any time in state history, proving that Indiana can win, can raise wages and can create more opportunities for Hoosiers.

We need a leader who is unapologetic in what Indiana can be and do, and that’s the type of leader I’ll be.

Note: The 2023 year-end report from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, which Chambers led until last August.

Crouch: I am the only candidate for governor who has a plan to do just this: it’s called “Axe the Tax.”  Under my initiative, I will work with the leaders of the General Assembly to gradually eliminate Indiana’s individual income tax. If implemented, “Axe the Tax” will leave an extra $2,000 in the average Hoosier’s pocket.

My plan will help Indiana be a national standout generating bullish business formation, attracting individuals, and boosting business dynamism.
Hoosiers want to be homeowners; they want to invest in their future and in Indiana—but they are being crushed by the high costs of Bidenomics.  I trust Hoosiers to spend their money more wisely than the government.

Note: Indiana is already cutting the income tax down to a nationwide low of 2.9% (for states that implement income taxes). But cutting such a tax completely would cost the state roughly $8 billion and is less popular than property tax reform.

Doden: Washington has failed Hoosiers with reckless spending driving record price and cost of living increases. Now, we’re all facing the consequences. We can’t stop the failed policies coming out of D.C., but we can control how we as a state respond to them.

Our economic plan for Indiana is a 92-county strategy that leaves no Hoosier behind, raises wages, and creates the conditions for prosperity by investing in Main Streets and small towns across the state. We also need to continue the success of programs like Regional Cities and READI, while returning control of these programs to the local level where they belong.

Taken together, along with keeping our taxes low, investing in education, and working to lower increasing costs of energy and healthcare, we’re ready to put these plans to work to make Indiana a top-5 state in the country to live, work, and do business in.

Note: READI, or the Regional Economic Acceleration & Development Initiative, was seeded by $500M from the federal government and a second $500M round was paid for by the state.

Hill: Hardworking Hoosiers are struggling to make ends meet. An immediate solution to let Hoosiers keep more of their hard-earned money is to cut the gas tax that lawmakers in Indianapolis have continued to raise annually. By reducing this tax back to pre-2018 levels, we will deliver immediate relief to Hoosiers who are just trying to drive to work or drop their kids off at school.

For a long-term solution to pessimistic consumer sentiment, Indianapolis needs to start focusing on market-driven solutions such as reducing regulatory barriers, promoting competition among suppliers, and getting the government off of Main Street. Encouraging entrepreneurship and small business growth within the sector may also lead to increased competition and potentially lower prices for consumers while promoting entrepreneurship.

In our Pathway to Prosperity Plan, we will cut corporate taxes to promote smart economic growth, and we ease the tax burden on young entrepreneurs and workers who are investing in our state.

Note: The gas tax, which funds road improvements, brings in a couple hundred million into the state’s coffers but is shrinking as cars become more fuel efficient and Hoosiers adopt electric or hybrid vehicles. State leaders intend to revisit road funding next year to tackle this issue.

Reitenour: The cost of energy has an extraordinary impact on prices of everyday goods for families, and we will look for creative opportunities to impact that market. Based on the resources in our state, Indiana needs to be a leader in coal, and that requires a focus on our next-generation coal miners and cutting-edge technology.

We’re also looking at nuclear energy, not necessarily on our own soil, considering the abundant nuclear energy available from Michigan, but in partnership with those states who are producers. An exchange, for example, where Indiana provides financial investment, another state gets job creation benefit, and we benefit from low-cost energy and export revenue-sharing.

We’ll challenge our universities to lead meaningful research to determine which sources are legitimately best for our economy based on its resources. Forcing the adoption of non-productive energy sources at the expense of our state’s rich farmland is a losing proposition that drives inflation.

Q. Indiana has lower average wages than the rest of the country — hampered, in part, by our overall low educational attainment. How do we not only get more Hoosier high school students to seek a secondary education but also convince adult Hoosiers when both are turned off by the high price tag? (Would you continue some of the same initiatives as Gov. Eric Holcomb?)

Braun: Over 50% of our budget is spent on K-12 education and far too many of our graduates are not prepared to enter the workforce or pursue a degree. As a former school board member, I know parents are the primary stakeholders in their children’s education and every family, regardless of income or zip code, should be able to enroll in a school of their choice and pursue a curriculum that prepares them for a career, college or the military.

Chambers: Over the years, there have been many worthy efforts to prepare Hoosier students for a pathway to a four-year college. However, we know that type of degree doesn’t fit every student’s individual needs.

While we should still promote that pathway, we should also create and communicate clear career pathways for students to help them understand the many ways they can earn a good living and build a great life here in Indiana, along with the type of post-secondary education required. For some careers, that’ll be a four-year degree. But for many others, that’ll be a two-year degree, a credential or a certificate. And to help those students pursing the latter, we should expand the scope of Indiana’s financial aid programs.

No matter the type of post-secondary education pursued, we must clearly communicate its benefits and how when students learn more, they earn more.

Crouch: We need a “Cradle to Career” education system and strategy for Indiana, and I will implement one as governor.  We will revamp our education system and concentrate on results: enlistment, enrollment, employment, or apprenticeship.  If current initiatives are working, we will do our best to improve them; if they aren’t, I will eliminate them.

We will focus on the four Rs: reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic, and reasoning.  I will encourage parental involvement in school programs and curriculum decisions.  A Crouch Administration will continue our successful choice and voucher programs.

Additionally, my workforce development plan will be tailored to Indiana’s specific economic context, addressing current gaps in workforce skills and education. This alignment ensures that the interventions are not just theoretical but are grounded in the state’s economic reality. By focusing on sectors critical to Indiana’s economy and aligning educational curricula with market demands, my plan will set the foundation for a more robust economic future.

Doden: We have a moral and constitutional obligation to educate our kids. We can’t afford to ignore any step in our children’s education, from Pre-K to college, to improve outcomes and raise wages.

As I’ve said before, a great education shouldn’t be determined by your zip code. We need to continue Indiana’s leadership in school choice, while increasing accountability and transparency in education so parents can make the best decisions possible for their kids.

At the same time, we have a teacher shortage crisis. Our Teacher Investment Program would attract and retain teaching talent by lowering tax liability for Hoosier educators, putting more money directly back in their pockets. We should also give more opportunities to Hoosier kids by creating a universal pre-K program and allow high school seniors flexibility to get college credit, work experience, and professional credentials before graduation.

Hill: Protecting our students must be a top priority. We must enhance post-K-12 continuing development by investing in programs that promote vocational, collegiate, and military training. Not every student wants to attend college, and we should do everything we can to ensure that they have the same tools, resources, and opportunities as students who wish to continue their academic journey. By investing in vocation programs and career preparedness programs, we give Hoosier students access to explore and determine their own path to success. We need to get back to the basics in our schools and equip future generations with financial literacy and resources to live a successful life after high school. For our college-bound students, we must encourage them to engage in programs that propel them to success after college. We should not encourage our children to go hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt for a degree that has zero return on their investment.

Reitenour: We need to expand our view and be better prepared for the reality that not all Hoosiers are headed to college. We will better equip students who have an aptitude for non-collegiate paths to be successful. We’re going to bring the trades back into our 7thand 8th grade classes. We’re going to ask our trades experts to offer apprenticeships to high school seniors. Indiana can also do a better job having second chance employment opportunities lined up for people coming out of prison who need a place to land. There are incredible, high-earning job opportunities in Indiana in plumbing, electrical, contracting, coal mining, etc., where no college degree is necessary. The private sector is going to get more involved to direct the right part of the workforce to these industries. Universities will continue recruiting well-prepared students, which is good and healthy, but we need to provide opportunities for everybody.

Q. National polls have identified health care costs as voters’ main economic concern and want more discussion from their leaders on the exorbitant costs and the lack of consumer protections. What will you do to reduce health care costs and reassure Hoosiers that one medical emergency won’t derail their finances?

Braun: I took on Big Healthcare in my own business, and I’ve been the loudest voice on reforming health care in the U.S. Senate because I know that injecting transparency and competition into that industry is the way to lower prices for Hoosiers. The CEOs of IU Health and Eli Lilly are supporting my opponent because they know nobody has worked harder to reduce the cost of health care through price transparency than myself. As Governor, I will work on solutions such as transparency, innovation, competition, and empowering consumers, which is not hard to figure out, but will take bold leadership to implement in the face of the powerful healthcare lobby.Note: IU Health CEO Dennis Murphy asked his peers to donate to Chambers in a letter sent to several industry leaders.

Chambers: It’s time for a new approach to finally reduce the unacceptable health care costs Hoosiers have to pay. As a businessman, problem solver and career negotiator, I’ll bring all stakeholders to the table — the hospitals, the insurers, the pharmacy benefit managers and the independent practices — to take a holistic approach to increase access to high-quality care at affordable prices with an overall focus on improving health outcomes. No industry or sector will be exempt from doing their part to get this done.

Additionally, we need more competition in the market and increased price transparency, along with a paradigm shift that moves our health care system to one that incentivizes providers to keep Hoosiers healthy, not just provide care once they’re sick.

Crouch: The status quo is not acceptable – this is a complex issue, but we can’t fall into the trap of attempting to solve it with more government. I stand ready to support employers and providers in implementing tailored solutions that deliver the best care at the best value for all involved.  We also must reduce the tax burden on Hoosiers so that they have more money to use to find the best healthcare solution for them.

As governor, I will personally lead an effort to lower costs working with organizations like the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the Indiana Manufacturers Association, and other employers to propose and implement real reductions in health care costs while maintaining quality.

Note: All six candidate appeared in a forum co-hosted by the National Federation of Independent Businesses last week.

Doden: The Doden campaign opted to combine its answers for this question and the following so please scroll to see his response.

Hill: Hoosiers deserve to be informed about their health options and free to make their own medical decisions. I have long been a defender of medical liberty. As Attorney General, I opposed government-mandated medical procedures and protected Hoosiers’ rights to make their own medical decisions. As Governor, I will ensure that all government health medical agencies operate under complete transparency. By implementing strict consumer protections, we will ensure every Hoosier has full access to necessary medical and health information that will allow them to make an informed decision.

Reitenour: Attorney General Todd Rokita has the right idea, looking into pharmaceutical pricing. We’ve got a monopoly in our healthcare system, and the legislature would be wise to enact law that drives change. We must eliminate non-compete clauses from physicians’ and specialists’ contracts with health networks. They make it nearly impossible for great providers to separate from the networks, because they’d lose their fundamentally-important patient relationships. Competition in a capitalistic health market would impact pricing and provide better options for patients to find providers whose medical philosophies better align with theirs. In addition to better pricing, medical professionals could practice with autonomy to better treat each patient’s individual case. Indiana is also a business-friendly state with a wonderful manufacturing environment for pharmaceutical companies who are looking to start up or grow. Indiana’s ready to bring balance into the free market for healthcare and pharmaceutical industries.Note: The General Assembly heard about the impact of health care monopolies on Indiana’s health care costs last fall and implemented a notification process earlier this year. A bill to strike non-compete clauses for many physicians last year was later amended to apply only to primary care doctors.

Q. Business owners in Indiana have so many concerns about health care costs that they’ve formed several lobbying coalitions but the needle has barely budged and legislators have remained focused on transparency. Some stakeholders warn this will hurt our economic development and attractiveness compared to other states. Federal policy plays some role, but how do we turn that tide to help businesses? And is transparency enough to change things?

Braun: With the CEO of IU Health and Eli Lilly supporting my opponent, it’s clear they know nobody will work harder to reduce the cost of healthcare than myself. I am not afraid to go up against the health care industry: I did it in my business, in the Senate, and I’ll do it as your Governor. If you’re a business owner in Indiana and you like how dysfunctional our health care system is, then one of my opponents would be a better choice, but if you want change and an outsider who has a proven track record of working to reduce health care costs, nobody will work harder to achieve this than me.

Chambers: In a system as complex as our health care system, there isn’t one simple solution to reducing costs. Increased price transparency is certainly needed, because in no other industry would it be acceptable to be made aware of a cost after a service is provided or product is purchased. There are currently gaps in price transparency throughout the process. More transparency is still needed, but increased competition and a systematic paradigm shift are also needed.

We also need to find ways to encourage or incentivize recruitment and training of health care industry workers to address the shortages that have sent already high labor costs even higher. To do this, we’ve proposed a health and life sciences career pathway to prepare more Hoosier high school students to enter the field.

More than anything, we need an outsider to bring all of the stakeholders to the table to get this right for Hoosiers and Hoosier businessowners.

Crouch: Transparency is important, but it alone won’t reduce health care costs.  Employers, employees, and entrepreneurs must be armed with the maximum number of choices possible when it comes to health care plans and providers.

We must also increase our treatment of mental illness as depression, dependency, and addiction keep Indiana from reaching its full potential.
Since Covid we’ve seen a 20% rise in depression and anxiety (including 60% among young people).  Tragically, suicide is now the second leading cause of death young people.

If I am elected governor, I will ensure that families suffering from mental health issues and substance dependency will always receive the care they need.

Note: Some recent numbers on youth mental health.

Doden: Indiana’s healthcare costs are out of control. The bottom line is we need to solve this problem, and we need to start working now. Healthcare transparency is a key starting point to this debate. People simply need to know in advance what their care will cost.

As it currently stands, our state’s hospital healthcare system is a monopoly, and we need more competition. Our non-for-profit hospitals have over $35 billion of cash profits on Wall Street and their CEO’s make millions of dollars a year, all tax-free by state law.

To start, we are calling on them to reinvest 30% of that $35 billion into an Indiana Main Street Fund to reinvest in communities across Indiana. But we know more needs to be done.

This isn’t a simple problem. But as governor, on day one, I promise to work with everyone – including the hospital CEO’s – with plans and ideas to make healthcare transparent and affordable for Hoosier families and businesses.

Note: The claim about non-profit hospitals funneling money into Wall Street investments has prompted pointed legislative criticism but the powerful hospital lobby has pushed back on bills. A 2023 law would require the state to analyze prices at such entities compared to Medicare costs.

Hill: Transparency is the necessary first step in addressing healthcare costs in Indiana. The Indiana status quo is not working for small business owners or consumers. By engaging in strict consumer protections requiring hospitals and insurance companies to be transparent in their costs and services, we can begin to address the root cause of rising healthcare costs. If entrepreneurs do not believe that our state government is working in their best interest, they will invest in neighboring states that actively seek their investment. We must take a smart and calculated approach to these issues and fully understand what it is that is driving these companies out. Indianapolis must put Hoosier taxpayers first. Transparency will hold lawmakers accountable for their inaction on these issues.

Reitenour: It’s not just transparency, it’s transparency with accountability. We’re showing our approach with the way we’re reacting to the candidate debates; we don’t just see what’s wrong, we call it out and demand accountability from those who could change it. I’m going to work together with the legislature to develop policies that are good for healthcare, and then we’re going to get everyone on the record of voting for or against good policy. The people need to know how their representation is voting to know when a change is needed. My administration has announced that we’ll hold a press conference every Tuesday – local press in the front, national press in the back. We’re going to give the press and the people a play-by-play of what’s happening in the Statehouse, because that’s what it takes to get the government working for the people. Not just transparency, but transparency with accountability.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.

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4 thoughts on “Q&A: GOP candidates for governor on the economy

  1. I don’t see anything in the article as to why you did not include responses from ALL candidates. As an independent “news” organization, wouldn’t it be in the public interest to hear from all the candidates? Did the Democrat and Libertarian choose not to participate, or were they not invited?

    1. The first paragraph talked about how it’s around the lead up to the Republican primary. There will be plenty of time to show the platforms of the other candidates, even though neither of them stands a chance of winning the general election.

    1. These guys talk like they are running for senate….. I am concerned none of them actually understand what the governor does…

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