Kudos to *most* of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s budget priorities

January 6, 2023 7:00 am

Gov. Eric Holcomb gestures while unveiling his legislative agenda Monday Jan. 4, 2022, at an Indianapolis school. (Screenshot from livestream)

Some of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s budget priorities will no doubt be controversial — especially to conservatives who focus solely on tax cuts and never see a reason to increase government spending.

But he should get credit for recognizing some long-known needs, as well as acknowledging the state is at a tipping point for other necessary investments.

Sending money back to taxpayers isn’t always the right choice when so much is being ignored or left undone.

The first of those is to finally cover the cost of textbooks and curricular materials for all students in the state. It might seem like an obvious part of the obligation to provide a free public education, but parents have been spending hundreds of dollars on these fees for years.

There are only seven states that don’t cover the costs now.

It does cost money — about $160 million per year — but only $121 million would be new money. Indiana already budgets $39 million per year for textbook reimbursement for the 440,000 Hoosier students who qualify for free or reduced lunches.

With billions in the bank and tax revenues growing it is long overdue for lawmakers to follow Holcomb’s lead on this simple change.

Investing in people

The governor also deserves credit for putting an emphasis on increased wages for all state employees and especially state troopers with the Indiana State Police.

As the economy has changed and workers have begun driving higher pay from the private sector, wages are rising in all areas. And government has to keep pace with that to compete for a shortage of workers.

Indiana State Police recruitment has been abysmal. In the last ISP recruitment class, there were only 23 candidates, making it the smallest class since 1946, the Kokomo Tribune reported.

Some of that is likely due to increased pressure on officers amid a move for social justice reform. But pay is also a factor.

The governor’s administration noted that the current starting salary for state officers is $53,690, which is “significantly below” other law enforcement agencies in the state, according to the Indiana State Police Alliance.


He proposes raising the starting salary of state police troopers to $70,000 at a cost of $36 million per year.

Holcomb is seeking an additional $160 million per year to increase salaries for other state employees. He’s hoping such a move will help attract and retain more state workers.

One other area Holcomb has identified is expanding eligibility to state-subsidized early childhood education. On My Way Pre K was initially created in 2014 to provide access to free high-quality preschool services for children from families with low incomes.

It was initially in only pilot counties but was expanded statewide, though the funding for it has been stagnant at $22 million a year for at least six years. Enrollment in 2019 was 3,500 and it is now 6,200.

Holcomb wants to raise the income eligibility criteria from 127% to 138% of the federal poverty limit, meaning 5,000 more families would be eligible.

Many of Indiana’s education metrics are lagging and the state’s sagging workforce is a major issue for employers. The state spends hundred of millions to entice companies to locate or grow here but if there is no one to fill the jobs it won’t matter.

Starting at the beginning with quality prekindergarten opportunities is an obvious win.

Not perfect

This isn’t to say there aren’t some things I disagree with in Holcomb’s agenda. I think putting another $500 million into READI grants — this time state dollars, not federal — is a stretch. The current round of these quality-of-place projects are still in their infancy. Can local units of government find ways to spend the money? Absolutely. Are there some incredible projects in the works? Yes. But using more and more state dollars to incentivize private investment seems to go against conservative capitalist philosophies.

And lastly, a push to make the tenderloin the state sandwich is just lame. I am not sure if it was said in jest or if there will actually be a bill. Call me a party pooper, but these types of bills have only grown in recent years, and I am tiring of wasting time and resources on them.

A state insect, fossil, rifle and snack have been added in recent years. Let’s leave the tenderloin to dinner debate.


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Niki Kelly
Niki Kelly

Niki has covered the Indiana Statehouse since 1999 – including five governors. She has been honored by the Society of Professional Journalists and Hoosier State Press Association for stories on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, criminal justice issues and more. She also is a regular on Indiana Week in Review, a weekly public television rundown of news. She shifts her career to helm a staff of three and ensure Hoosiers know what’s really happening on the state level.