INDIANAPOLIS | Eager to begin using the Republican legislative majorities he helped elect, Gov. Mitch Daniels on Thursday laid out a legislative agenda bound to affect every Hoosier in some way.
The governor said he wants to base teacher pay on student achievement, expand the availability of charter schools, eliminate township boards, make prison sentencing more cost-effective, draw a "logical" redistricting map, increase the use of public-private partnerships for road and bridge projects, and automatically refund taxpayers when state reserves exceed a set dollar amount.
While short on specifics, Daniels called his proposals "the outlines of, I think it's fair to say, a very ambitious agenda for more positive change in Indiana."
The Republican governor said he will work with lawmakers to finalize the details of his proposals before bringing them to the General Assembly when it convenes in January. He'll likely find a friendlier reception for his plans in the legislature unlike in the previous four years when Democrats controlled the Indiana House and routinely stopped Daniels' agenda.
Republicans now hold a 59-41 majority in the House and a 37-13 margin in the Senate.
State Rep. Chet Dobis, D-Merrillville, said Democrats should be willing to work with the governor, particularly on education issues, to find solutions that benefit students.
"I think everybody in that General Assembly understands that the delivery of the education system is broken; it's not working," Dobis said.
The 21-term representative said he believes teachers could help drive the reform process if they met with their local legislators "with an open mind and some suggestions."
On budget issues, the governor emphatically said no to tax increases of any kind to fix an estimated $1.2 billion shortfall in the state budget, and said he planned to restructure employer-paid premiums and worker benefits to correct a $2 billion deficit in the unemployment insurance program.
State Rep. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, the House Democratic leader, said if the governor can make that happen, he'll be "Magic Mitch."
"To make up that billion without a tax increase, without cutting very deeply, I don't see how he does it," Bauer said. "I think it's magic if he can do it without a tax increase."
Daniels said he is counting on an improving economy and new businesses attracted to Indiana to help bring in new revenue. He said it won't be necessary to cut money from local school budgets again.