INDIANAPOLIS | Republican Gov. Mike Pence appears eager to claim victory for his 2014 legislative agenda, which emerged relatively unscathed on its first trip through the Republican-controlled House and Senate.
"I think we are in the midst of a remarkably productive session of the Indiana General Assembly," Pence said. "We're getting things done for Hoosiers in a broad range of areas: economic development, jobs, schools, infrastructure, workforce development."
Speaking with reporters Thursday, Pence especially praised lawmakers for advancing a preschool voucher program for low-income children and for embracing his call to eventually eliminate the business personal property tax, which annually contributes more than $1 billion to schools and local governments statewide.
"I believe the time has come for us to provide a voluntary pre-k voucher to disadvantaged families," Pence said. "I'm grateful for the broad, bipartisan support that initiative received in the Indiana House of Representatives and ... I've been meeting with members of the Senate to talk about that bill."
House Bill 1004 establishes a preschool voucher program for about 1,000 children in five to-be-determined counties. It is nearly identical to a 2013 House-approved preschool pilot program that was scuttled by the Senate due to estimated costs of up to $30 million.
Similar Senate concerns appear likely to derail the preschool effort again this year, though Pence's Center for Education and Career Innovation claims the preschool price tag will be no more than $10.5 million. CECI admits, however, new state funds will be needed.
That could delay implementation of a preschool program, if it gets passed, as House and Senate budget officials repeatedly have said they are not reopening the two-year state budget enacted in 2013.
On the business personal property tax, Pence said he supports both House Bill 1001, which gives counties the option to eliminate the tax on new equipment, and Senate Bill 1, eliminating the tax for businesses with limited taxable equipment and also reducing the state's corporate income tax rate.
"I want to set us on a path to phase out the business personal property tax, but I want to ensure that we do not in any way unduly harm local governments and I want to be sure we don't shift this business tax onto hardworking Hoosiers," Pence said.
Asked to explain what he would consider undue harm to local governments, Pence repeatedly declined to answer — going so far as to gibe a reporter with "nice try" when the question was asked a different way.
Pence also refused to say whether he considers local government spending excessive and in need of reining in.
"I know you all want me to talk about details, I know that, but you know we're involved in discussions and negotiations and there will be compromise," Pence said. "I don't want to negotiate this in public."
Lawmakers return to the Statehouse Monday when the Senate will begin considering House-approved legislation and the House will take up Senate-approved proposals. The Legislature must adjourn for the year by March 14.