INDIANAPOLIS | House Republicans stood up for a controversial new state agency last week, voting down a proposal by House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, to defund Gov. Mike Pence's Center for Education and Career Innovation.
Pelath said CECI, established by a Pence executive order in August, is an unnecessary $14 million layer of state government bureaucracy whose main purpose is to undermine the work of Democrat Glenda Ritz, the state superintendent of public instruction, and her Department of Education.
"I do not see why we should be spending taxpayer dollars for what appear to be duplicated services and a concerted effort to muddy up education policy," Pelath said. "I don't think we need to be creating more bureaucracy just because our state superintendent is a Democrat."
One of CECI's primary tasks is to provide staff to the Pence-appointed State Board of Education, which has clashed mightily with Ritz since she took over as board chairwoman last year after defeating Republican Tony Bennett.
State Rep. Shelli VanDenburgh, D-Crown Point, said CECI's very existence should make Hoosiers question Pence's commitment to responsible spending.
She pointed out that the 18 CECI staffers earn more than $1.4 million in total salary — none of which was directly approved by the Legislature — with several CECI paychecks topping even the Republican governor's $111,000 in annual pay.
"I don't believe our state's surplus is the governor's piggy bank to use for what he likes," VanDenburgh said.
Pelath's proposed amendment to House Bill 1319, barring the Office of Management and Budget from spending any more money on CECI, failed 63-26 Wednesday on a party-line vote.
"I am disappointed to see that this effort was rejected by a majority that used to pride itself on criticizing redundancy and bureaucratic bloat in government," Pelath said.
Pence has said he created CECI to integrate education and workforce training in Indiana by uniting various school and employment boards and agencies under a single umbrella.
"I realized that no one agency has the responsibility for promoting innovation across the entire spectrum of education and career preparation, from the earliest school days through new training for adults," Pence said. "It became apparent to me that we needed new ways of thinking about how to align all of the partners across the entire spectrum."
CECI spokeswoman Lou Ann Baker noted the entire 2013 General Assembly, including Pelath and VanDenburgh, voted to create the Indiana Career Council and regional Works Councils that CECI now oversees.
"It's important that legislators and the general public alike understand the depth and breadth of the agency and our mission," Baker said. "We're not solely focused on one small part or one small entity; we have a broad area of collaborative responsibility."