The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 16, 2016 5:33 pm

Pence surprises in State of the State address

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS - Gov. Mike Pence surprised everyone during his Tuesday night State of the State address with a request to pass a constitutional balanced budget amendment.

And with all eyes on whether he would tip his hat on a possible presidential run, Pence's 30 minute speech also mentioned Washington D.C. twice, the federal government four times and President Ronald Reagan once.

"At a time when public confidence in our federal government is at an all-time low, states have emerged as a source of inspiration on fiscal policy, economic growth, education and health care reform," Pence said. "And Indiana is leading the way."

The balanced budget proposal was puzzling since many legislators have always said Indiana is required to balance its budget, and the state hasn't experienced fiscal difficulties like some other states.

"Remarkably, Indiana is one of the few states in the country that does not have a balanced budget requirement in its constitution. It is a tribute to the public servants in this room that Indiana has adhered to that practice in recent years even though it is not required," Pence said.

He said adding the requirement to the Constitution will assure Hoosiers that Indiana will spend wisely and "unlike Washington, D.C., we won’t bury our children and grandchildren under mountains of debt."

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are three provisions that would count as having a balanced budget requirement. Indiana has one - a statutory provision that it cannot carry over a deficit into a new fiscal year.

A constitutional amendment must pass two separately elected General Assemblies and then win a public vote by Hoosiers. If the legislature passes it in 2015 and 2017 then the public could have its say in 2018.

Pence staffers conceded it hasn't been a problem in recent years, and couldn't specify the last time Indiana didn't have a balanced budget.

The details of how a balanced budget constitutional amendment would work were unclear but it appears likely it would only focus on recurring revenue meeting recurring spending, and not one-time appropriations for capital projects.

States such as Illinois and California have a balanced budget requirement but have been fraught with financial problems in recent years.

"Balanced budgets and the right priorities are the starting point to improving our economy, but the key to unlocking the full potential of our state is not in her factories and her fields. It is in her classrooms," Pence said.

He called again for changes to funding for K12 schools, including more money for charter schools and private school vouchers.

But he did not repeat his proposal to remove Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz as chair of the State Board of Education.

Pence also gave a non-update on his attempt to provide health insurance for more Hoosiers through a partnership with the federal government.

The Healthy Indiana Plan has more than 50,000 Hoosiers enrolled. It is considered a consumer-driven health care plan because participants must pay a small monthly premium and coverage can be taken away.

Pence has sought a waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to expand the HIP program to hundreds of thousands of uninsured Hoosiers, starting in 2015, as an alternative to Medicaid.

It would rely on billions in aid from the federal government, and is called HIP 2.0.

"I will continue to stand firm for the right to expand access to coverage the Indiana way, based on personal responsibility and empowering Hoosiers to take control of their healthcare choices, but we will not accept terms that relegate low-income Hoosiers to substandard healthcare or jeopardize the fiscal health of our state," he said.

Pence also hailed the Indiana Air National Guard's 122nd Fighter Wing out of Fort Wayne after a section of the speech about the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the "global war of civilization against barbarism.

"Tonight, Hoosiers will be proud to know that on the front lines of that war are some 300 airmen with our 122nd Fighter Wing out of Fort Wayne—the largest deployment of the Indiana Air National Guard in the past ten years. To them and their families, some of whom are with us tonight, we thank you for your service. You are in our prayers. Please join with me in showing our gratitude to all those who serve at home and abroad in these uncertain times."

Several members attended the speech, including Erin Donovan, of Ossian - a Staff Sergeant with the 122nd Operations Commander Support Staff. She is also the spouse of deployed airman Technical Sergeant Brian Donovan.

Col. Patrick Renwick - is commander of the Indiana Air National Guard's 122nd Fighter Wing - also attended.

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