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Holcomb makes best sales pitch to lawmakers for ambitious agenda in 2023 State of the State

House Speaker Todd Huston and Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch stand on either side of Governor Eric Holcomb, applauding him during his State of the State address. Huston and Holcomb are both White man. Crouch is a White woman.
Brandon Smith
/
IPB News
House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers), left and Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, right, stand on either side of Gov. Eric Holcomb, applauding during his 2023 State of the State address.

Gov. Eric Holcomb gave his best sales pitch Tuesday as he used his State of the State address to urge lawmakers to support his ambitious, expensive agenda.

Holcomb proposes spending $5.5 billion in new funding in the budget on programs and initiatives that span education, public health and economic development.

In trying to sell that to lawmakers in his speech, he repeatedly emphasized the impact it could have. And he used some of his special guests to do so.

“Mandy Allen, a school counselor in South Vermillion School Corporation. Mandy paid about $630 this year for books for her four children," Holcomb said. "Our state's constitution promises a tuition-free education. Let's cover the full cost of curriculum fees paid for by parents so that folks like Mandy don't have to pay this dreadful bill ever again, starting the next school year.”

READ MORE: Holcomb unveils ambitious agenda for 2023, including more than $5 billion in new spending

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Holcomb also spoke about an urgency to address long-building "disadvantages." Perhaps chief among those is a huge infusion of spending into the state's public health system.

"I hate to remind us, but I will: we rank 45th for smoking, 46th for obesity, 43rd for access to mental health providers and 41st for childhood immunizations, among all states – our competition," Holcomb said.

There was a new announcement – the state will award grants to help build the longest trail in Indiana, more than 60 miles of an old rail line in southern Indiana.

“Another great example of the state helping meet the demand to explore and discover – in Indiana – right in our backyards,” Holcomb said.

Holcomb is asking lawmakers for another $75 million this year for trails and land conservation.

Legislative leaders of both parties were largely supportive of many of the priorities Holcomb laid out.

But he still has a job to do selling some of his agenda to his fellow Republicans.

One of the biggest sticking points seems to be his free textbook plan. During the address, Democrats leapt to their feet and shouted encouragement for that portion – their caucuses have long advocated to eliminate textbook fees. Republicans seemed more reluctant as they stood to applaud.

Afterward, Senate President Pro Tem Leader Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) would only say that K-12 education funding overall will be a top priority.

“Whether or not we can get to that with the textbooks is something we’ll talk about in our caucus – and I’m sure the House will, as well,” Bray said.

Republicans seemed more supportive of an unprecedented infusion of funding for Indiana’s public health system. But House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) cautioned that lawmakers will look not just at dollars, but outcomes.

“You know, we want to make sure we have metrics of success for all that,” Huston said.

Senate Democratic Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) was struck by what he didn’t hear in the governor’s speech.

“We still have people who can’t afford housing and who can’t afford child care costs … it’s time to take a look at households and not just businesses,” Taylor said.

In a statement, House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) rejected what he called Holcomb’s “rosy assessment” of the state and said Democrats stand ready to improve Indiana.

This story has been updated.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

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Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.