INDIANAPOLIS | Gov. Mike Pence focused on familiar themes Tuesday in his second State of the State address, asking the General Assembly to lower taxes on businesses and families, fund prekindergarten for low-income children and promote charter schools.
Declaring Indiana "strong and growing stronger every day," the Republican governor said the time is right to phase out the business personal property tax and index to inflation the personal income tax exemption for individuals and children.
"Taxing equipment and technology in a state that leads the nation in making and creating things just doesn't make sense," Pence said.
The governor somewhat acknowledged that lawmakers have shown no interest in fully eliminating the business personal property tax, which would take from schools and local governments more than $1 billion a year — a greater annual impact than property tax caps.
Still, he urged the Republican-controlled legislature to do all it can "to ensure that Indiana has the best tax climate possible" as it competes with other states for jobs and workers.
The bulk of Pence's 28-minute speech to a joint meeting of representatives and senators seated in a packed House chamber centered on education.
He repeated his call for Indiana to make its elementary and high schools the training grounds for future employees of Hoosier companies, starting with providing state vouchers for some children to attend prekindergarten classes.
"Let's open the doors of opportunity to low-income families for preschool education, for their future and ours," Pence said.
The governor recommended a bevy of changes intended to make charter schools more attractive to operate and work at, including a proposal allowing public school teachers to maintain their salaries if they quit to teach in charter schools, which typically pay less.
Pence slammed the door on Indiana's continued use of the Common Core educational standards — adopted by more than 40 states. He proclaimed Indiana's standards "will be written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers and will be among the best in the nation."
He also ruled out Indiana's participation in a federally funded expanded Medicaid program for low-income Hoosiers lacking health insurance.
Concerning the proposed marriage amendment, Pence gave it his strongest endorsement to date. He told lawmakers Indiana should — this year — add its existing ban on gay marriage and a new prohibition on civil unions to the Indiana Constitution.
Though moments later Pence insisted Indiana is strongest when all Hoosiers work together, referencing the 2013 rescue of a boy trapped in a Mount Baldy sand dune.
House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said he was underwhelmed by the governor's speech.
He said Pence's "tepid" solutions to the state's very serious problems — among them low-wage jobs, income inequality and poor overall health — won't come close to improving the lives of Hoosiers.
"I don't think there's anybody in this state looking around them and thinking about how we can do better who rolls out of bed and says, 'You know what the secret is: the business personal property tax,'" Pelath said.
Pelath sarcastically credited Pence for living up to Pence's belief that a governor should do very little, though Pelath said Indiana right now needs a governor who knows how to lead.
"Mike Pence clearly looks like a governor, he has the soaring rhetoric of a governor, but on a night like this I wonder if he really likes (being) governor," Pelath said.