5 Takeaways From Indiana Gov. Pence's State of the State Address
Here are five things to know from Republican Gov. Mike Pence's State of the State speech Tuesday night to the Indiana General Assembly:
The governor repeated a goal for Indiana to have 100,000 more students in schools with grades of at least a B on the state's A-F assessment scale. Pence's proposed budget would increase total school spending by $200 million over the next two years. About $50 million of that extra spending would go toward charter schools and vouchers.
The governor proposed adding an amendment to the state constitution requiring a balanced budget. He didn't give details of how the proposal would work. Such an amendment would go before voters for a statewide referendum in 2018 at the earliest. It's unclear what impact the proposal would have since the state constitution currently bans state government from allowing "any debt to be contracted," except in a few circumstances. Democratic leaders say the measure isn't needed and is meant to play to out-of-state Republicans.
Pence said he would continue rejecting the establishment of a state-based health insurance exchange as part of the federal health care overhaul. He said he would keep pushing for federal approval of his proposed expansion of the Healthy Indiana Plan, which is the state's Medicaid-covered health saving accounts for low-income residents.
Pence took some swipes at the Obama administration, saying the state would continue to oppose proposed federal energy regulations in what he called a "war on coal" and that public confidence in the federal government is at an all-time low. Pence alluded to foreign affairs by calling the beheading of Indiana aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig by Islamic State militants in Syria a "stark reminder that we are all part of the global war of civilization against barbarism." He also highlighted a Fort Wayne-based Air National Guard unit that has some 300 member deployed overseas "on the front lines of that war."
Democrats, who are badly outnumbered in the Legislature, maintain Pence's budget proposal shortchanges traditional public schools in favor of the voucher program and charter schools, many of which are run by for-profit companies. They also fault Pence for protecting the state's $2 billion in reserves over needs such as hiring more child welfare case managers in order to meet the state law setting their workload standards. Democratic leaders say Pence offered no solutions in his speech to the state's declining average household wages.