A robust manufacturing industry and innovative public health and arts initiatives were among the accomplishments Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb cited Tuesday as he delivered his final State of the State address while promoting a new agenda for his last term.
Addressing a joint session of the General Assembly, Holcomb renewed his commitment to work for the state “until the ultimate conclusion of my assigned duty.” He cannot run for reelection because Indiana law restricts governors to two consecutive terms. Holcomb hasn’t announced what his plans are after he leaves office.
His speech came one day after Indiana lawmakers returned to the statehouse in Indianapolis for the start of the 2024 legislative session.
The Republican governor avoided directly speaking about the coronavirus pandemic, which hit the same year as his reelection. His popularity took a hit over some COVID-19 restrictions, such as a statewide mask mandate in the early days of the pandemic.
Instead, he sought to emphasize Indiana’s economy and manufacturing industry, including partnerships with the federal government to fund hydrogen, micro-electronics and biotech manufacturing hubs.
He also highlighted Health First Indiana, a public health initiative he pushed for last year as part of a major budget package. The governor received widespread attention for the program, which allows counties to opt in for state funding for services such as chronic disease prevention; infectious disease prevention and control; and maternal and child health care.
In his remarks, Holcomb announced a $250 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. for regional redevelopment and arts and cultural initiatives throughout the state.
He also laid out his agenda for the final year of his term, focusing mostly on improving child care access and education outcomes.
The outgoing governor said Monday that he wants to lower the minimum caregiver age at child care facilities to include some teenagers, and expand eligibility for free or reduced child care for employees in the field.
On the education front, literacy among elementary school students is what the governor and GOP lawmakers are citing as their chief concern. Holcomb wants lawmakers to require that the state’s reading test be administered to second graders, to provide an indicator of their aptitudes and how they can improve.
According to the Indiana Department of Education, about 18% of third graders did not pass Indiana’s reading test last year. Holcomb also wants to make it harder for students who fail the test to move up to the fourth grade.
“Term-limited though I am, here are my promises to you, for 2024,” Holcomb said during his speech.
Following the address, Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, a Republican, said he looks forward to working with the governor on his new initiatives, particularly on children’s literacy. Republican House Speaker Todd Huston told reporters he supports the governor’s push to hold back more third graders who do not pass reading proficiency standards.
Huston also called the Lily Endowment grant for redevelopment and cultural initiatives “tremendous news.”
Democratic leaders criticized parts of Holcomb’s speech, saying there were topical gaps in his address.
State Senate minority leader Greg Taylor expressed optimism about Indiana’s economic outlook, but touted the Democrats’ leadership in pushing to raise the minimum wage. State House minority leader Phil GiaQuinta criticized Holcomb for not addressing a recent calculation error that leaves the state $1 billion short of its predicted Medicaid needs.
“This unacceptable budgeting error could devastate the one-third of Hoosiers who rely on Medicaid for vital medical care,” GiaQuinta said in a written statement.
Holcomb did not introduce any proposals with fiscal implications because they are only handled in odd years, when lawmakers hold a longer, budget-making session. The 2024 session must adjourn by March 14.
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