In his State of the State address Jan. 11, Gov. Eric Holcomb touted Indiana’s economy and workforce development, as well as the impact of COVID-19 on the state’s health care system.
“When it comes to our strong economy, we’ve earned it,” Holcomb said. “Sound fiscal management over time has become our state’s reputation.”
Among the highlights Holcomb reported: nine straight balanced budgets since 2005, and a debt reduction of 24% between 2017 to 2021. The 2021 fiscal year closed with $3.1 billion in reserves, an extra $1.1 billion of which will go toward teachers’ pension fund.
Quoting Winston Churchill, Holcomb said he’s optimistic about the future of Indiana. However, he’s aware of the work that lies ahead. Citing public health concerns including Indiana’s high rates of obesity, smoking and substance abuse disorders, Holcomb said the state is working to “tackle” addiction in the community by helping those in need get into recovery programs and back to their families, work and school. Further, he touted Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch’s work to promote strategies to support mental health throughout the state, including expanding access to mental health care services and the roll out of the new federal 988 suicide prevention hotline.
In his speech, Holcomb also touted Indiana’s recent investment — $350 million — in broadband access as the largest in state history. The need for connectivity was made clear throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as many workers and students relied on the internet to work and learn from home. The governor said the state would continue to partner on public safety efforts, which he said includes “supporting and appropriately funding” law enforcement officers. The state will invest $70 million in the state’s law enforcement academy.
“To Indiana’s law enforcement community, I say, ‘Thank you, and we’ve got your back,” Holcomb said, garnering a standing ovation from the chamber.
Closing out his speech, Holcomb used the opportunity to encourage Hoosiers to get vaccinated and thank vaccinated Hoosiers for keeping others safe.
“To date, more than 19,000 Hoosier lives have been lost — more than live in Huntington, or Crawfordsville or Jasper. … I want to thank over 3.5 million Hoosiers who are vaccinated and those getting boosted. You are a big reason our hospital network hasn’t collapsed. … If you haven’t been vaccinated, I encourage — I plead — I even beg you to speak to your doctor and do so. I say this, even if you’ve disagreed with every position I’ve taken. I just want us both to be around to continue to have those disagreements. And a special thank you to all of those who are putting others above themselves to continue the battle against COVID-19.”
Despite Holcomb’s optimism about the direction Indiana is headed, state Democrats have concerns about what they deem as a lack of direction for 2022. Following Holcomb’s address, State Democratic Party House Leader Rep. Phil GiaQuinta and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Greg Taylor gave their response.
“Once again, we’ve heard the rosy picture being painted by our governor,” Taylor said. “We all know at home, Hoosiers are struggling with the pandemic, with sick children or not being able to have their children in school due to the pandemic. The governor’s address was alarmingly silent on [these] realities.”
GiaQuinta said Holcomb is “sounding more like House Democrats with some of the things he’s been talking about” but said he doesn’t seem to have a clear roadmap for the year. Both GiaQuinta and Taylor argue there’s a “cultural war” between state Democrats and Republicans, citing several bills presented by Republican lawmakers, including House Bill 1077, which passed the House on Jan. 11. The bill would repeal the law requiring a person to obtain a license to carry a handgun in Indiana. GiaQuinta and Taylor said that “flies in the face” of Holcomb’s goal of supporting law enforcement, as more guns on the street endangers officers, they said.
GiaQuinta said Holcomb has sway in the General Assembly and needs to use his position to keep members of his party from making gaffes that put them in national headlines.
“He has to say, ‘Hey look, do we want to be on Colbert like we were the other night?,’” GiaQuinta said, referencing Sen. Scott Baldwin’s statement that teachers ought to be impartial when teaching students about Nazis making national headlines, as well as making him the butt of a joke during a segment on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
However, as far as state Republicans are concerned, the governor is aligned with his party. Following Holcomb’s speech, Sen. Rodric Bray and Rep. Todd Huston said they look forward to building upon the ideas outlined in Holcomb’s speech during the session.
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.