INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Mike Pence used his second State of the State speech Tuesday night to re-emphasize a legislative agenda that includes a key business tax break and a call for a civil end – this year – to the statewide discussion about gay marriage.
Much of the 30-minute address was not new. In fact, it was a melding of speeches he gave in December throughout the state.
But he did tackle the ongoing controversy over a constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriage, saying he supports traditional marriage between one man and one woman.
And he stressed that people – not unelected judges – should decide matters of such great consequence to society.
“Reasonable people can differ, and there are good people on both sides of the debate,” he said. “No one, on either side, deserves to be disparaged or maligned because of who they are or what they believe. So let’s have a debate worthy of our people with civility and respect.”
Pence added, “Let’s resolve this issue this year, once and for all.”
If the amendment is changed, it would push the public vote to 2016 – the same year that Pence would run for re-election.
“If I were him, I wouldn’t want it on the ballot,” said Rep. David Ober, R-Albion. “It’s a very sensitive issue.”
But he appreciated guidance from Pence, who has remained quiet on the issue. And Ober also prefers moving past the issue in 2014.
But Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said lots of new legislators in the House haven’t considered the amendment before, and he will continue to let the democratic process work.
Pence continued to propose a phase-out of the business personal property tax assessed on equipment. It brings in about $1 billion annually to local governments.
“Taxing equipment and technology in a state that leads the nation in making and creating things just doesn’t make sense,” he said.
GOP legislative leaders have been less than receptive – proposing much smaller business personal property tax cuts.
“I was wholly underwhelmed,” Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane said of the speech.
Lanane said he continues to look for the details and specifics. For instance, getting rid of the business personal property tax sounds great, but the question is how, he said.
Fort Wayne Senate President David Long said the address was a broad-brush picture of where Pence wants to see the state go – something not untypical of annual State of the State speeches.
“I applaud the governor for continuing to push the idea that we can’t stand the status quo. We need to push the envelope. He’s doing that,” he said.
In one area, Pence did make a bit of news. He made clear his position on the controversial Common Core standards.
“When it comes to setting standards for schools, I assure you Indiana’s will be uncommonly high,” he said. “They will be written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers and will be among the best in the nation.”
Legislators last year paused implementation of the national curriculum standards that were created by governors and school chiefs around the nation.
Bosma and Long said Tuesday that if the State Board of Education doesn’t act soon, they will introduce legislation for Indiana to prepare its own college and career-ready standards.
Pence also reiterated his call for Indiana to start funding pre-kindergarten education through a voucher program for Indiana’s neediest families.
He initially had suggested a program covering up to 40,000 children, but now he seems to be accepting a much smaller pilot program that House Republicans are proposing for just a few thousand children.
“It’s important that the program be voluntary. It’s important that the program is available in the form of a voucher,” Pence said. “I want parents to be able to choose to send their child to a church-based program, a private program or a public program that they think would best meet their needs.”
The governor also took time to criticize the federal government and the Affordable Care Act, pointing out that he has resisted expanding Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers.
“The sad truth is that traditional Medicaid is not just broke, it is broken,” he said, adding that the state should use its own consumer-driven health care program to serve more Hoosiers with federal dollars.