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November 8, 2012

Pence promises to go forward with education overhaul, tax cut pledge

Governor-elect faces pointed questions on education head result

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Gov.-elect Mike Pence said he’ll make job creation “job one” when he takes office in January and promised to abide by his campaign’s “Roadmap for Indiana” plan, which includes support for education reforms that voters seemed to reject and a tax cut that legislative leaders oppose.

At a Wednesday morning press conference with current Gov. Mitch Daniels, the Republican congressman also said he’ll return to Washington, D.C., for the lame duck session of Congress after he appoints some key members of his gubernatorial transition team.  

Pence opened his remarks to the press by echoing comments he made during his late-night victory speech Tuesday, acknowledging his win over Democrat John Gregg was due in part to the popularity of the Republican Daniels.

“I believe last night’s election was as much a vote of confidence in this administration as it was an affirmation of the vision and plans that we articulated in our candidacy for governor,” Pence said.

Pence pledged to keep up what he said was Daniels’ focus on “excellence, reform and results.”

That quickly lead into questions from reporters who pressed Pence for his opinion about Tuesday’s surprising defeat of Republican Tony Bennett, the high-profile superintendent of public instruction who spearheaded the massive education overhaul that Daniels had championed and the Republican-controlled legislature approved.

Pence dodged some of the more pointed questions about Bennett, saying he’d leave to the press to speculate about the reasons for Bennett’s loss.

But he also rejected the notion that Bennett’s ouster at the hands of Democrat Glenda Ritz was a sign that voters rejected the sweeping changes in education, which include vouchers for private schools, merit pay for teachers and more high-stakes testing for students.

Pence said the more important signal was the super-majority that Republicans won in the Indiana House, taking 69 of the 100 seats.

“We have strong affirmation on the progress of education reform in this state,” Pence said.

Ritz beat Bennett with 52 percent of the vote and winning more votes statewide than Pence won in his election. Ritz ran a distinctly anti-Bennett campaign, and promised she’d do whatever she could to roll back some of the new education policies that the legislature has put into law.

Pence said he’d work with Ritz to find “common ground” but also said he favors the path that Republicans have taken on education, which includes more charter schools and creating the nation’s largest private school voucher program.

Pence and Daniels also reminded reporters that Ritz will have to answer to the State Board of Education, whose members are appointed by the governor. Daniels described the current board as “rock solid” on the education reforms that have been passed.

Daniels also raised the notion that the Republican-controlled legislature may take a look at changing state law to make the superintendent of public instruction position an appointed one rather than an elected one. It’s an idea floated by both Democrats and Republicans in the past, who’ve argued that the state’s education policy should reflect the intent of the governor. Pence said he had “no opinion” on whether the issue should be pushed in the next legislative session.

He did, however, make clear that he intends to keep his campaign pledge to cut Indiana’s personal income tax rate by 10 percent, to make it the lowest rate in the Midwest.

That’s a pledge that Republican legislative leaders have looked upon with skepticism. In October, GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma predicted legislators will be wary of reducing state revenue, after already passing legislation to phase out the state’s inheritance tax and cut the corporate tax rate.

“Any tax cut in addition to those has to be sustainable,” Bosma said at the time. “Our team definitely has a long-term vision, not a campaign-oriented vision, for how we budget.”

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