INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Eric Holcomb wants to increase K-12 spending and reverse higher education cuts during the 2021 legislative session – the highlights of a modest agenda unveiled Thursday.
Much of his plan focuses on continuing ongoing programs and studying a host of topics – likely due to the ongoing COVID-19 fight and reduced tax revenue.
“Every single thing on this agenda is big – whether that has to do with being new and shiny or finishing what we started,” Holcomb said.
The governor first wants to ensure 100% funding for K-12 schools for the rest of the school year, regardless of whether the student is attending in-person or virtually. As for the next two-year budget, he wants to increase funding but isn't sure how much would be possible.
In terms of higher education, he hopes to at least restore a 7% funding cut from earlier this year.
A few new items include a permanent expansion of telemedicine that many Hoosiers have relied on during the pandemic and consolidating the State Board of Education and Indiana Charter School Board under the Department of Education and new appointed secretary of education.
Holcomb also said he wants to move to a long-term care system ensuring the best care for Medicaid-eligible citizens who are 65 and older. Specifically, he wants to remove barriers allowing seniors to choose where they age. While there won't be new money, he wants to make it easier to get home-based services rather than unnecessarily sending Hoosiers to a nursing home.
Holcomb also reiterated his plan to spend about $5 million to equip all Indiana State Police troopers with body cameras.
House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta, of Fort Wayne, applauded Holcomb for his commitment to full funding for K-12 schools, and said there are a number of priorities the House Democratic caucus can agree to.
“I'm disappointed to see that he has failed to propose a better plan for the financial recovery of struggling Hoosiers amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” GiaQuinta said. “We're quickly approaching the holidays as well as the end of the national eviction moratorium. I understand the importance of Indiana's ability to maintain a stable economy throughout this pandemic, but it would be irresponsible to continue neglecting Hoosiers who have been unable to work due to illness or have lost jobs because they needed to stay home with their children. This is not the time to drop the ball when it comes to providing financial security to all Hoosiers.”
GOP House Speaker Todd Huston said the legislature and Holcomb have a number of common objectives “including passing a fiscally responsible budget and business liability protections, in addition to supporting our students and educators, and improving our infrastructure. We look forward to having a safe and productive session.”
Holcomb's administration will also be busying studying various topics.
For instance, the agenda includes a statewide assessment of the state's housing inventory; a review of early learning expansion and virtual learning and a comprehensive assessment of local health departments and state delivery of public health resources.
Holcomb also said he would review new recommendations from a teacher pay commission he appointed but didn't commit to making any progress on significantly increasing teacher pay.
Some highlights of the 2021 agenda require legislative actions and others can be done administratively:
• Provide reasonable workplace accommodations for pregnant workers
• Enhance state broadband connections program
• Expand the manufacturing readiness grant, including add new dollars to the program
• Move to a long-term care system that ensures the best care for Medicaid-eligible citizens 65 and older
• Make permanent options for virtual public meetings
• Provide businesses and schools with coronavirus liability protection
• Establish the state's first equity data dashboard
• Complete outside review of state's law enforcement academy and agencies