Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said he will try to increase funding for K-12 education in the state’s next two-year budget and, at a minimum, restore previous funding levels for higher education institutions.
Holcomb on Thursday morning announced his 2021 legislative agenda, which largely focuses on continuing projects and programs his administration has already been pursuing.
Holcomb said even though there are not many new items on his agenda, he believes all of the initiatives are important to the growth of the state.
“Every single thing on this agenda is big, whether that has to do with being new and shiny or finishing what we started,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb did not say exactly how much he wants to increase K-12 funding. Higher education institutions were asked earlier this year to take a 7% cut in funding for the current year. Holcomb’s agenda includes restoring that funding level in the next two-year budget, which would begin in July.
According to a revenue forecast shared with budget writers on Wednesday, the state will bring in $34.95 billion in revenue over the next two years, but that’s hardly an increase from the current budget appropriations, and estimated increased costs for Medicaid will more than eat up the difference.
Another agenda item that would require more funding is expanding the Next Level Manufacturing program, which provides up to $200,000 in matching grants to manufacturers implementing hardware or software that produces health care equipment or improves manufacturing capability, capacity, speed and quality.
The grant program has $4 million in funding currently. It’s unclear exactly how much Holcomb would like to increase it.
Holcomb said it’s “very important” that the state receive more federal aid in order to pursue any of these agenda items with increased costs. Earlier this year, the state received $2.4 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid.
“We’re anxiously awaiting the progress that seems to be being made right now in Washington,” Holcomb said.
He said if the state doesn’t receive more financial support from Congress, then some of his agenda items “may not happen.”
“It’s that blunt,” Holcomb said. “Or we may have to wait longer as our economy continues to grow and pull us out of this.”
Among new items on his agenda, Holcomb plans to make COVID-19 liability protection for businesses, schools and nonprofits a priority, permanently expand telemedicine services, expand options for virtual public meetings and remove barriers for Hoosiers to reinstate their driver’s licenses.
Holcomb also wants to move the State Board of Education and the Indiana Charter School Board to the Department of Education.
Other items on the agenda largely centered on continuing work his administration has already started, such as reviewing and considering the recommendations made by the Teacher Pay Commission, which shared nearly 40 suggestions for how to increase funding for teacher compensation last week.
Another priority will be tweaking the eligibility requirements for the Next Level Broadband program to allow applications from more areas struggling to obtain high-speed internet access. His agenda does not include pursuing more funding for the $100 million program, which has about $21 million remaining.
Holcomb also will pursue legislation to require businesses to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers — something that failed to pass through the Indiana General Assembly in the 2020 session.
“Maybe the second time’s the charm,” Holcomb said. “I’m given a little confidence in the fact that there have been other items that the lieutenant governor and I have pushed that haven’t been successful the first time. But, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
Additional ongoing initiatives that are on his agenda include finishing Interstate 69, building more hiking and biking trails across the state, continuing work on the commuter rail West Lake Corridor project and equipping Indiana State Police with body cameras by next spring.
Holcomb’s agenda also calls for a statewide assessment to provide information on housing needs on a county-by-county level and an assessment of local health departments and the state’s delivery of public health services during the pandemic.
Holcomb said his goal with the assessments of local health departments is to understand what they’ve learned during the public health crisis.
“It’s just an honest assessment of where we are right now and how can we be stronger,” Holcomb said.
The 2021 legislative session is scheduled to start Jan. 4.