Gov. Mike Pence on Tuesday delivered a decidedly safe State of the State address. If only it had been courageous.
With a full year of executive experience in hand, Pence should have produced a bolder and better-informed agenda, one that didn’t seek to appease so many interests that it was rendered practically meaningless. He should have pitched reality over political expediency.
Instead of a half-hearted case for phasing out the business personal property tax, for example, we would have liked to have heard the governor explain that now is not the time to cut more revenue from local governments and schools.
“As much as I would like to remove all impediments to business investment, I’ve been unable to identify a source of replacement revenue for the billion dollars-plus that would be shifted to individual taxpayers,” he should have said. “We have spent a decade cutting taxes on businesses to make the state more attractive to employers, but there is a balance to maintain to ensure our communities are places where businesses and their employees want to locate.”
Likewise, his muddled message on the proposed marriage amendment should have been replaced with a clear call to legislators. Instead of calling for “a debate worthy of our people with civility and respect,” Pence could have urged the General Assembly to end the debate immediately.
“Don’t ask voters to consider taking rights away from their neighbors,” Pence should have said. “Instead of engaging in a costly and futile battle, let’s put the state’s efforts into improving Indiana for all residents.”
He should have gone further and called for an end to the similar, worthless effort to pass special “rights” bills to protect canned hunting and controlled animal feeding operations.
“The rights of farmers, anglers and hunters already are protected,” Pence should have said. “There is no sound reason to give extra protection to a favored few.”
On education, the governor could have done more than recognize state Superintendent Glenda Ritz and members of the Indiana State Board of Education. He could have called out lawmakers intent on shifting public tax dollars to private interests in the name of so-called reform.
“You’ve made vouchers available to as many parents as possible,” he could have said. “Let’s hold the line until we see the effects on public schools and until we have complete and objective data on the performance of non-public schools.”
In calling for preschool investment, Pence should not have tied the proposal to vouchers and to faith-based programs exempt from the rules placed on other programs.
“The effort to bring Indiana in line with 41 other states in early childhood education should not be a back-door method to expand school voucher eligibility or encourage the growth of church-based child care programs exempt from common-sense regulations on safety and staffing,” the governor should have said.
If Pence truly wants Indiana to be the “most pro-adoption state in America,” he would have called for reinstatement of state adoption subsidies – support that every other state in the nation offers to parents adopting children out of foster care.
Instead of criticizing the federal Medicaid program as broken and accusing Washington of “intruding on our health care,” the former congressman could have taken the lead of many of his Republican colleagues in other states and pledged to help improve the Affordable Care Act.
“I won’t accept substandard care for Hoosiers, but neither will I allow for some to be left with no health care,” Pence should have said. “Let’s expand Medicaid coverage and work with the federal government to make its program more effective and efficient.”
The governor rightly noted that public safety workers responded last week “without regard for their own health and safety.” If only he had responded to Indiana’s challenges without regard for his and others’ political well-being.