With less than a month remaining in the 2017 General Assembly, Governor Eric Holcomb is updating the progress on his legislative agenda. His "Next Level" plans emphasize increased funding for transportation infrastructure and expanding the statewide pre-kindergarten pilot.
The plan also features education goals like transforming the Indiana superintendent of public instruction position from elected to governor-appointed. Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its amended version of the two-year budget bill, addressing much of what Holcomb has been pushing for since taking office in January.
Holcomb is supportive of the level of funding legislators are proposing for a long-term road maintenance package and said road tolling, if selected, could be about seven years away from being implemented as a means to pay for road and bridge work. A higher cigarette tax, which has been discussed as a potential funding source, has been removed from funding roads in the Senate proposal. Holcomb agrees, saying an increase to cigarette taxes is more of a public health matter.
During a news conference Friday at the Governor’s Residence in Indianapolis, he said he was encouraged by much of the work completed so far by the legislature. The amended budget bill heading to the full Senate did not reach the $20 million per year mark the governor was pushing for pre-k expansion, but he said his focus in on numbers of students, not necessarily how much is allocated. "I just want to stress that most importantly for me is that we double the number of students that have access to pre-k. And so how we get there, I’m willing to be open-minded about it, but I think that doubling the pilot program that we have in terms of the number of students who will receive pre-k instruction is of paramount importance and we can do it and I believe we will." He says, despite difference between what the House and Senate are proposing, "three weeks are an eternity in this business" and he is pleased with where it stands at the moment.
Another pillar of his legislative agenda involved better connection between the work force and the education. Holcomb says he is "very pleased that our work force ready agreements are alive and well and moving forward. As we know what’s happened because, if we are to bridge the skills gap, every company I meet with that are job creator or job growers, there are two questions that always pop up: one is about our work force, one is about our infrastructure. So, we have to make sure that we are getting Hoosiers the skills that they need in order to compete and thrive in the new economy ahead of us."
View Holcomb’s presentation: