As the General Assembly began its work last November, as speaker of the House, I pledged a renewed spirit of bipartisanship with legislators working together to solve our state’s most pressing challenges. As this year’s legislative session concludes, representatives from throughout the state – Republican and Democratic – have joined together to address those issues at the forefront of Hoosier minds: maintaining our state’s fiscal integrity, spurring job creation and expanding education opportunities for every Hoosier family.
The two-year budget maintains strong fiscal reserves, prioritizes public education and road funding, maintains our state’s position as the fiscal envy of the nation and returns an historic tax cut to virtually every Hoosier. We even successfully championed a conservative principle new to state budgeting: paying cash for capital projects (rather than bonding) and paying off existing state debt.
Having weathered the recession, it was our pledge to craft a budget that restored public education funding to pre-recession levels. We did as promised, adding $345 million to existing funding levels to public schools. The budget also provides $30 million for schools and teachers that are high performing and providing the best quality of education to students. We also placed an additional $300 million in tuition reserves to safeguard education funding against future downturns. Moreover, the budget we crafted funds our state pension obligations, provides a 13th check to retired teachers and makes the state’s retiree health program actuarially sound. These conservative principles will serve taxpayers well.
Our cash-for-projects philosophy significantly reduces taxpayer-funded debt and keeps college tuition down rather than saddling students with expensive bond payments folded into their fees, enhancing our state’s AAA bond rating. Additionally, the budget invests heavily in Indiana’s infrastructure with funding for roads and bridges increased by $215 million per year to keep Indiana’s reputation as the Crossroads of America.
After all of our budgetary goals were met, and having received a positive fiscal forecast, we were also able to provide Hoosiers with the largest tax cut in our state’s history, eliminating our state’s death tax effective this past January and cutting income taxes for every wage earner, business owner, corporation and financial institution. This blend of tax relief will have a positive effect on Hoosiers and will set our state apart significantly from the rest of the nation.
Another focus of this session was addressing the skills gap and Indiana’s stubborn 8 percent unemployment rate. More than 930,000 Hoosiers – a third of Indiana’s workforce – lack the most basic skills for today’s economy. I asked my Democratic counterpart, Scott Pelath, to join me as co-author of HEA 1002, which establishes the Indiana Career Council designed to improve coordination, communication and vision for Indiana’s workforce training and career preparation systems. It will bring the principal stakeholders in the state’s workforce development efforts together to create a strategic plan to move Indiana forward. Young graduates and the underemployed will benefit greatly from their efforts.
As legislators, we face our share of trials, but they are no more difficult than those faced by every Hoosier family – more bills than we like, concerns about tomorrow’s paycheck, worries about our children’s education and safety, and an uncertain economic future. But just like Hoosier families, legislators worked together to carve out the best opportunities for every Hoosier family. Hoosier taxpayers deserved a steady hand at the wheel of state government, and I am pleased to report that is what they received in this General Assembly.