Republican Gov. Mike Pence held close to a carefully scripted message for 2014 during his second State of the State address, prodding lawmakers for a business tax cut and education items while asking them to take action on a controversial marriage amendment this year.
Pence offered little in the way of new details Tuesday, sticking to what has become a defining hands-off approach with lawmakers and his legislative agenda.
Instead, he asked them for a second year largely focused on continuing the same strategy of cutting taxes and expanding sweeping education changes.
“We’ve made progress in jobs and schools, but with still too many Hoosiers out of work,” Pence said.
“With our state lagging behind in per capita income and health and too many kids in underperforming schools, I believe we must remain relentless, bold and ambitious to keep our state moving forward.”
Although Pence left a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage out of his formal agenda, he asked lawmakers to put the issue to rest in 2014.
“Let’s have a debate worthy of our people with civility and respect. Let’s protect the rights of Hoosier employers to hire who they want and provide them with benefits that they earn. And then let’s resolve this issue this year once and for all,” he said, to applause from the assembled lawmakers, a majority of whom are Republicans.
Pence spoke before a joint session of House and Senate members held in the House chamber. Just one day earlier in the same space, a key House panel delayed a vote on the marriage amendment following hours of emotional testimony on the issue.
Lawmakers first approved the proposed constitutional ban in 2011. It must pass again this year to be put to voters in November. If lawmakers don’t act, the process of amending the constitution would start from scratch.
House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said Pence had a chance to “douse the flames” on the gay marriage debate, but did not.
He also criticized Pence for offering “small, symbolic solutions” to real problems such as low wages and unemployment.
“Mike Pence believes a governor should do very little, and he’s succeeding,” Pelath said after the speech. “His
solutions are simply not equal to the tasks ahead.”
Pence also asked lawmakers to support his plans to phase out the state’s business personal property tax, expand charter schools, launch a new scholarship program allowing low-income children to attend preschool and create a tax credit to promote adoption.
He made no direct mention of the tensions this past fall involving Democratic schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz, his office and the members of the State Board of Education. Instead he thanked Ritz and the board members and led a standing ovation for Ritz.
He emphasized that cooperative spirit again as he closed with the story of Nathan Woessner, a 6-year-old who was pulled safely from a Lake Michigan sand dune last summer after hours of furious digging by about 140 people.
Pence noted that when he called the boy’s father at the hospital, Gary Woessner referred to Nathan’s rescue as “everyone’s miracle.”
“We are strong people and good people, but we are never stronger than when we work together,” he said.
“In November, one out of every eight jobs created in this country was created right here in Indiana. Unemployment was 8.6 percent when I stood here last year. Today, while still too high, it’s at a five-year low of 7.3 percent.”
“Taxing equipment and technology in a state that leads the nation in making and creating things just doesn’t make sense. And it looks like our neighboring states have figured that out. Ohio and Illinois don’t have a business personal property tax, and Michigan lawmakers just voted to phase theirs out. To make Indiana more competitive, let’s find a responsible way to phase out this tax. But let’s do it in a way that protects our local governments and doesn’t shift the burden of a business tax onto the backs of hardworking Hoosiers.”
“Because roads mean jobs, we need to release $400 million for the next era of highway expansion, and put people to work now ... Because Indiana’s regional cities are vital to our state’s economic development, we need public and private investment to improve quality of life.”
FILLING THE SKILLS GAP
“We are busy making career and vocational education an option again for every high school student in Indiana. We are expanding curricula in our high schools and developing new partnerships with local businesses to support career and technical education on a regional basis. While anyone who wants to go to college should be encouraged to go, there are a lot of good jobs in Indiana that don’t require a college degree. These new partnerships will make sure our schools work for all our kids.”
“Because every child deserves to start school ready to learn, I believe the time has come for a voluntary pre-K program to help Indiana’s low-income kids ... It’s important that the program be voluntary. It’s important that the program is available in the form of a voucher. I want parents to be able to choose to send their child to a church-based program, a private program, or a public program that they think would best meet their needs. Let’s open the doors of opportunity to low-income families for preschool education, for their future and ours.”
GAY MARRIAGE DEBATE
“We are in the midst of the debate over whether Indiana should join some 30 other states that have enshrined the definition of marriage in their state constitutions. Each of us has our own perspective on the matter. For my part, I believe in traditional marriage, and I have long held the view that the people, rather than unelected judges, should decide matters of such great consequence to the society ... So let’s have a debate worthy of our people with civility and respect.”