THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence spent Thursday touting two of his top priorities — new money for preschools and roads -— at ceremonial bill signings across the state.
Pence opened his day at the DayStar Childcare Ministry in Indianapolis, where he signed into law a preschool pilot program for low-income children. Surrounded by young children from the program and a bipartisan group of lawmakers, Pence rattled down a list of many supporters who helped push the plan into law.
He ended with praise for the broad generosity of Indiana residents.
“Thank you to the generations in Indiana for believing that we ought to be a people that don’t suffer the little ones to come unto us. All who have cherished for so many years, for such is the kingdom of heaven,” Pence said, paraphrasing the Bible. “It is to the heart and the compassion of the people of Indiana that this day truly belongs.”
The program is a sliver of what the governor asked for when he opened the legislative session earlier this year, but marked a turn from just last month, when it appeared fiscal concerns could push lawmakers to study the issue for another year instead of taking action.
The preschool pilot would pay for children in five counties to attend early learning programs. Up to $15 million would be used in the first year — with $10 million coming in budget cuts from the Family and Social Services Administration and $5 million being raised through private matching funds. The FSSA will determine which five counties are picked for the test run.
Pence later drove to Valparaiso, where he signed the measure releasing up to $400 million from a transportation trust fund established just last year for major road projects. Half the $400 million will be released to the Department of Transportation immediately to pay for major roads expansions and the other half will be held pending a review of the state’s finances this December by the State Budget Committee.
In both cases, Pence walked away with more than it appeared he may get coming out of final negotiations during the 2014 session. To that end, he extensively thanked the General Assembly’s leaders, including those gathered with him at the Indianapolis child care facility.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley urged the Pence administration to stick by its promise to spend the money on major road upgrades, including proposed additional lanes for Interstates 65, 69 and 70.
“It’s important that we focus on supporting major improvements to major infrastructure across Indiana. This will ensure our communities get the resources they need in a way that’s fiscally responsible and beneficial to our state as a whole,” said Kenley, R-Noblesville.
Kenley stood as the clearest obstacle to Pence’s agenda throughout the session. Kenley, who keeps a close eye on budget numbers and tax collections, suggested regularly that issues including the preschool program should be studied first before lawmakers committed to any programs.
The state has struggled recently through a new downturn in both actual tax collections and anticipated tax collections. Lawmakers will not meet until next year to craft their next biennial budget.
Pence had until midnight Thursday to decide what to do with the final batch of bills to reach his desk. If Pence does not sign or veto a bill, it automatically becomes law.