and Kiara Calloway
INDIANAPOLIS—As Republicans applauded Gov. Eric Holcomb as a strong leader with a vision for Indiana following his State of the State address Tuesday evening, Democrats assailed him for failing to act this year to find a way to raise teacher pay.
In his speech, Holcomb touted education increases passed in the 2019 two-year budget, and proposed freeing up another $50 million for teacher pay in 2021 by using $250 million of the state’s surpluses to make early payments into a teacher retirement fund.
A similar move in the last budget freed up $65 million that could be used by school districts to boost teacher pay. And Holcomb said the state should wait until next year’s budget-writing session to act.
House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, criticized the governor for failing to propose raising teacher pay this year in his State of the State. Photo by Haley Carney, TheStatehouseFile.com
Democrats were not impressed.
“There is no law that says we can’t open the budget. We can do what we want to, and we have in the past,” said House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne. “We can do exactly what we need to do to give teachers the pay increase this year.”
And Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, doubted that teachers’ reaction to the delay would be positive.
“If he was politically concerned about what the teachers were saying, I would’ve thought he would’ve said I’ll do something right away,” Lanane said. “Instead he says, ‘sorry you’ll have to wait.’ ”
Democrats have tried through amendments, without success, to give teachers a one-time bonus this year, and Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, has filed a measure, Senate Bill 306, which, like Holcomb, uses the teacher retirement fund as a vehicle to free up money for teacher pay. Unlike Holcomb, who proposes using surplus funds to pay down the fund’s annual appropriation, Tallian proposes simply reducing the pension fund appropriation to make money available.
Tallian said she’s glad Holcomb saw merit in her proposal, which she said she’s been pursuing for about a year, but was disappointed he was proposing making less money available and waiting a year to do so.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, however, applauded Holcomb’s speech, and said “you have to be really careful what you do with our pensions and that it is properly funded.”
“It’s good for the governor to get that out there on the table, so that those elected in the next election can lead on that issue,” he said of Holcomb’s proposal.
Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, said in a statement that Holcomb “laid out a compelling vision for improving the lives of Hoosiers all across our state.”
One issue Bray highlighted was Holcomb’s proposal to improve health care cost transparency, including by creating a database so Hoosiers can know the cost of services at hospitals and insurance reimbursements.
That also got a thumbs up from Brian Tabor, president of the Indiana Hospital Association. In a statement, Tabor said the group supports the call for a “healthier Indiana.”
“His proposals will put Indiana on a path to lower costs for Hoosiers and better physical and mental health outcomes,” he said.
Two Democrats are seeking the nomination to run against Holcomb in the November election – businessman Josh Owens and former state health commissioner Dr. Woody Myers – both panned the address.
Hoosiers deserved “big bold ideas” from Holcomb and instead got “more of the same incrementalism,” Owens said in a statement.
He said under his campaign for governor, he would raise teacher pay to a $50,000 minimum for every Hoosier teacher, and create a Public Education Endowment add another $300 million annually for public education without having to raise taxes.
Owens also said Holcomb “has a history of making promises under pressure in his State of the State address, only to underdeliver. Just last year he promised a comprehensive hate crimes bill that would protect all Hoosiers, including all LGBTQ Hoosiers. He didn’t do it.”
Myers said in a statement that “the state of our state presented tonight was a lot rosier than the one I’ve heard about from Hoosiers who struggle to make a living wage, access affordable health care and ensure their children receive a quality education.
“There are real problems in our state and the Hoosiers I talk to say it is beyond time for real leadership.”
One area Democrats did applaud: Holcomb’s plan to eliminate hands-on use of cell phones. They said they attempted to pass a similar law about a dozen years ago.
The Republicans, on the other end, were noncommittal on whether they supported requiring motorists only use hands-free phones and other devices.
“I encourage the governor to reach out directly to both of our transportation committees and make a case for it,” Bosma said.
Haley Pritchett and Kiara Calloway are reporters for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalists.