By DANIEL SUDDEATH
NEW ALBANY —
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said he tries to be the state’s biggest cheerleader, and on Friday he detailed why he believes Hoosiers have much to boast about.
“Indiana continues to be the fiscal envy of the country,” Pence said during a One Southern Indiana luncheon at The Grand in New Albany.
The Republican’s latest reasoning for touting Indiana’s economic condition was the $483 million surplus to end fiscal year 2013 -- $93 million higher than the budget bill projected -- which Pence and state officials announced on Thursday.
The state also garnered $86 million more in reserves than anticipated during fiscal year 2013 which concluded last month, bringing total reserves to more than $1.94 billion.
On top of the surplus and reserves, with cuts including the end of the inheritance tax and a reduction to the state income tax, Pence said Indiana will experience a $1.2 billion decrease in levies over the next two years.
“Indiana will be the lowest-taxed state in the Midwest” when all the tax cuts become official, Pence said.
However some state Democratic leaders see the budget surplus and tax cuts differently.
House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, told the Associated Press on Thursday that the surplus was the result of sizable cuts to services during recent years.
“Our unemployment rate still remains around 8 percent,” Pelath told the Associated Press. “Families still are struggling to keep their heads above water. Our local schools still must grapple with doing more with less.”
Pence said during his time touring Indiana, he’s found Hoosiers to be positive and optimistic about the future.
Even so, he conceded that while forecasts call for continued job growth and decreased unemployment, there’s more work to be done.
Pence vowed to “drive policies relentlessly” to get more Hoosiers back into the workforce, laying out four pillars that would help accomplish the task: fiscal responsibility; low taxes; investment in infrastructure, such as roads and bridges; and a better-skilled, better-educated workforce.
One way the administration has sought to promote job growth and aid businesses is through a statewide moratorium on new regulations, he continued.
“We have made regulatory reform a priority in this administration,” Pence said. “We are cutting taxes and cutting red tape in Indiana.”
His administration on Friday launched the website www.in.gov/cutredtape which details the regulatory moratorium, and provides a link for public input on the process.
Beyond lowering taxes, reviewing and reducing regulations and providing $800 million for roads and bridges in Indiana, Pence said training a skilled workforce is vital.
Vocational education has to be a part of building a better workforce, Pence said. He announced that next week, the state will begin rolling out its Regional Works Councils which were approved by the General Assembly in April.
The councils will bring together educators and business leaders to discuss ways high schools can better train students to enter the workforce, Pence said.
It’s a step toward again making career and vocational education a priority in Indiana, as some students might be better suited to seek a job instead of a college degree after high school, he continued.
“Regardless of where you started, and regardless of where you want to start in life, our schools are going to work for you,” Pence said. “Education ought to be about finding where your God-given abilities are, and [where] your passions are.”
Foundations give $50,000 for project
• The Paul W. Ogle Foundation and the Duke Energy Foundation on Friday made a $50,000 contribution toward the construction of a heavy-haul road and rail line, presenting a check at the conclusion of Gov. Mike Pence’s talk at The Grand.
The $22 million-plus road, when completed, will connect the Port of Indiana-Jeffersonville, River Ridge Commerce Center and the under-construction east-end bridge.
Several governmental bodies have already designated money or voiced support for the project.
ON THE WEB
• Visit the website www.in.gov/cutredtape to learn more about Gov. Mike Pence’s moratorium on business regulations, as well as to provide input on the process.