by Chaylee N. Brock
On January 14, 2020, Governor Eric Holcomb gave his State of the State address at the Indiana State House. This is Governor Holcomb’s fourth address, and it could be his last, as he is up for reelection in November.
Holcomb gave a wide-ranging address, covering many different areas of concern, but the Governor kept it short and to the point, only speaking for approximately 34 minutes.
Governor Holcomb started his yearly address by describing the state of Indiana as “stronger than ever.” He quickly jumped into lauding Indiana’s economic numbers over the last few years, explaining that 2019 saw the lowest unemployment rate in Indiana (currently at 3.2%) in nineteen years.
He also noted that there are 88,000 new jobs currently in the pipeline, and he underlined the fact that these are quality, high-paying jobs.
The average pay of new jobs created in the last year is approximately $28 per hour, despite the fact that Indiana is one of very few states that have kept the state’s minimum wage at $7.25 per hour (which is also the federal minimum wage).
Governor Holcomb talked about and celebrated the fact that Fiat Chrysler has recently chosen Indiana for a $44 million expansion, which will take place in Kokomo, Indiana.
The state of Indiana also currently is enjoying a $2.3 billion surplus, which makes it number one in the Midwest and within the top five nationally “for business.”
These economic numbers were used to explain the fact that about 36,000 people moved into Indiana within the last year, implying that our jobs, wages, and surplus are what bring people to our state.
In April, Governor Holcomb and Commerce Secretary Jim Schellinger will host the Indiana Global Summit. This summit will include leaders from around the globe, in order to discuss “cybersecurity, the future of mobility, and energy storage solutions.”
Speaking of cyber security, Governor Holcomb mentioned that the state has made a huge investment towards federal defense and commented that we are the best “positioned to develop the future of warfare in areas like radar, sonar, hypersonics and drone technology.”
Another way the Governor believes we can make progress is by passing a new “hands-free” law, similar to what other states have already implements, which makes it illegal to use a mobile device while driving. He cited research that says distracted drivers are more than three times more likely to be involved in a wreck and that distracted driving is a new leading cause of death in teenagers. These accidents, he says, are preventable by implementing these new laws.
According to Holcomb, our environment in Indiana has also improved. In 2019 alone, he says there was over 16 million pounds of trash picked up along our highways.
He also touted the cleanest air and water in the state since the Clean Air and Water Acts were put in place in the 1970s. To continue these impressive records, the Governor says he plans to dedicate $436 million towards creating even better water systems in communities around the state.
To also help improve our environment, Central Indiana Land Trust has vowed to plant one million trees around the state. When he learned of this initiative, Governor Holcomb vowed to plant an additional one million trees, meaning that a total of two million trees will be planted over the next five years.
There has also been $100 million promised to maintain and improve our Indiana State Parks.
These environmental improvements will undoubtedly have an impact on Hoosier lives, but the Governor says he also wants to invest in Hoosier lives by making sure they can realize their goals and aspirations through the completion of some form of higher education or training.
One major hot-button issue that has surfaced in just the last few months involves teacher salary and the need for the state to invest more in K-12 education. Teachers recently rallied at the State House, demanding these changes from our representatives, so that they can better prepare Indiana students for their futures.
While Governor Holcomb says he does not want to address teacher salary until 2022 (a budget year), he says he does want to pay more attention to creating competitive salaries for teachers in Indiana. In order to achieve these conditions, the Governor created the Teacher Compensation Commission, which will be delivering a report to the Governor this spring with recommendations on how to achieve these goals for our teachers and students.
In addition to providing quality education to K-12 students, the Governor also mentioned his goal in making sure that 60% of all Hoosiers receive some form of higher education and training. He says he believes this education will help eliminate the income inequality we are currently experiencing both in Indiana and across the nation.
Employer Training Grants were given to more than 900 businesses, which helped provide training to over 9,000 Hoosiers, helping to prepare them for quality, good-paying jobs.
Another goal mentioned by Governor Holcomb was to make sure imprisoned Hoosiers can access higher education and job training while incarcerated , which will help them find jobs after being released back into society and help prevent recidivism.
The challenge given to the Indiana Department of Corrections is to graduate 1,000 inmates every year from some form of education and/or training. This goal was created two years ago, and in those two years, the Department of Corrections has exceeded expectations, having already graduated more than 3,000 inmates.
By 2022, Governor Holcomb says he wants to create a system where 500 former inmates have jobs waiting for them outside of prison, and he wants 3,000 of those former inmates to have found solid jobs within five months of their release. While the rate of recidivism in Indiana has dropped to only 4% in the state, Holcomb hopes that number will continue to decrease along with these new training and jobs programs.
The economy is always a top concern for any state, but voters also tend to mention healthcare as an issue they want our elected officials to address.
Governor Holcomb talked in his speech about the progress that has been made within the state and Indiana’s healthcare system. The opioid epidemic has become a particularly pressing issue for Hoosiers, but Holcomb touted the fact that he and other state lawmakers have worked to make sure outpatient addiction treatment is more readily available and accessible to those who need it. Because of the strides they’ve made, overdose deaths in Indiana have fallen by 13%, which is a figure twice as high as the national average.
Another addiction problem Indiana faces is that of tobacco, and, more specifically, vaping. We have recently seen an increase in vaping-related illnesses, including here in Indiana, but the governor says he is hopeful that the change in age requirements to purchase tobacco or nicotine products will help curtail the number of teenagers who smoke or vape. It’s important, he says, to stop teenagers from smoking or vaping, because 95% of current smokers started before the age of 21. He also says that the consequences for people selling tobacco and nicotine products to people under the age of 21 need to be severe enough to deter those sales.
High medical bills is something that affects nearly every Hoosier, but Governor Holcomb says he has a plan for that, as well.
The Governor plans on creating an online database where Hoosiers can view both medical and insurance costs they can expect to encounter on their bills. He also wants medical providers to give a “good-faith cost estimate” for medical procedures at least five days prior to that procedure being performed, in order to help stop surprise medical billing.
Finally, Governor Holcomb spoke to the plans he’s put in action to help improve Indiana’s Department of Child Services, which has faced a lot of criticism in recent years.
In 2019 alone, there were approximately 2,500 children adopted in the state, but there are still about 1,400 children waiting for their forever families. However, the Governor has hope and faith in the Department, especially given that there has been less staff turnover in the last year. Those staff members will be involved in a new adoption unit Holcomb plans to create, which includes sending those staff members out into communities to provide aid in adoption efforts and to help to find permanent homes for children currently separated from their biological parents. In order to make sure these children are permanently adopted, the Governor also recognizes the need for improvements to the long, arduous adoption process, with hopes of making adoption possible in under a year’s time.
While Governor Holcomb’s speech covered many topics in a short amount of time, he closed his address by saying Indiana is currently thought of as “A State that Works,” but he wants Indiana to become “A State that Works for All.”
In order to meet his goals, the Governor says we will have to work together to bring the state to the “Next Level.” In his own words, Holcomb defines going to the “Next Level” as improving our infrastructure, keeping a strong economy, and helping Hoosiers live healthier lives. While his speech was wide-ranging, these are the three overall areas Governor Holcomb says he is committed to improving and growing through the rest of his term.
This is not a complete summary of Governor Holcomb’s address, but his speech has been posted online in its entirety, verbatim, and can be found here: https://www.in.gov/gov/2020stateofstate.htm