We’re guessing most Hoosiers didn’t listen to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s State of the State address on TV earlier this month.
Maybe you haven’t even heard about it. Maybe that’s because, in Holcomb’s style, the speech did not raise anyone’s eyebrows or blood pressure.
New polls show most Hoosiers like the way Holcomb has run Indiana for his first three years in the governor’s office — a smooth ride with little drama, controversy or unexpected crises.
One of Holcomb’s top goals for 2020 is to outlaw driving with a cellphone in your hand. It may be a modest ambition, but it’s hard to argue with it.
The main issue driving any passion in state government this year has been teacher pay. Thousands of teachers flocked to the Statehouse last fall for a “Red for Ed” rally supporting education.
Holcomb is asking teachers to be patient, while his blue-ribbon Teacher Compensation Committee works on what he calls “a sustainable plan to make our teacher salaries competitive with other Midwestern states.”
The committee is due to report this spring, too late for the Legislature to take action before 2021.
However, Holcomb is promoting a creative way to get more money to teachers immediately.
For this year, Holcomb wants legislators to spend $250 million from Indiana’s budget surplus toward teacher retirement funds. If the state pays local school districts’ retirement contributions, it would give those school districts $50 million to spend on teacher pay in 2020.
Holcomb used a similar strategy last year to free up $65 million for teacher salaries.
His plan for this year still would leave a healthy sum of just over $2 billion in the state’s surplus. That puts Indiana in an enviable position among the 50 states.
It’s worth noting that Indiana’s teacher retirement fund is in sound financial condition — also a contrast with many states.
Indiana teachers deserve to catch up with other states’ pay scales. At the same time, they should feel good that their retirement funds are much more secure than in some of those states where salaries are higher.
Holcomb is setting additional goals to make Indiana look good.
To list one, Holcomb called for better education of state prison inmates, making them ready to find jobs when they’re released.
He said, “By 2022, I want 500 returning citizens annually to have validated job opportunities waiting for them before they walk out of prison, and 3,000 more formerly incarcerated individuals in jobs within five months of their release. ... So they can reenter our communities as engaged neighbors, forever removed from the criminal justice system.”
Indiana’s management of state forests has raised complaints from environmentalists. While not directly acknowledging the criticism, Holcomb announced he is directing the state Department of Natural Resources to plant 1 million trees over the next five years.
He also called for making Indiana “the most trail-friendly state in the nation.”
In his speech, Holcomb pointed proudly to a Dec. 30. 2019, editorial in the Chicago Tribune, which looked enviously at neighboring Indiana.
“What does Indiana offer that Illinois doesn’t? Lower taxes, more stable home values, balanced state budgets and funded pension systems,” Holcomb said, quoting the Chicago newspaper.
And one more difference from Illinois ... when an Indiana governor endorses prison reforms, it’s not because he’s likely to end up as an inmate.
OUR VIEW is written on a rotating basis by Dave Kurtz, Grace Housholder, Michael Marturello and Steve Garbacz. Publisher Terry Housholder is also a member of the editorial board. We welcome readers’ comments.