Gov. Eric Holcomb

INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Eric Holcomb presented a rosy vision of Indiana in his annual State of the State address delivered before the General Assembly on Tuesday. Despite the economic outlook, Republicans don’t agree on how to move forward, and Democrats decry the lack of substance.

“Color me an optimist, because there has never been a more opportune time to realize our true potential than right now,” Holcomb said.

Holcomb highlighted the state’s finances, including the 2021 budget, which reduced the state’s debt by 24% and delivered nearly $2 billion to K-12 education — thanks to higher-than-expected revenues and federal dollars.

The state’s reserves held $3.9 billion at the end of the 2021 fiscal year, enough to trigger an automatic tax refund of $545 million for Hoosiers, or $125 each in individual payments.

“We share (his) optimism … our efforts in economic development are probably one of the biggest pieces we’ve talked about today,” said Sen Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville. “(We’re) very supportive of his agenda.”

While Indiana has fared well economically through the pandemic, Holcomb spoke of the negative mental health outcomes and learning loss of children. Combined with high obesity, smoking rates and opioid overdoses, he, emphasized the need to invest in public health.

“The task of improving Hoosier health couldn’t be more important and the time to do it never more pressing.”

Holcomb and House Republicans remain split on how best to use excess funds — whether to invest money through regional grants and public health ventures or through tax cuts. House Speaker Todd Huston prefers the latter.

“I think we can do both and do both responsibly,” said Huston, R-Fishers. “(The tax cuts in) House Bill 1002 allow us to return money back to people… and yet continue to make investments in those things the governor outlined.”

Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, the House minority leader, countered that two controversial bills — one striking Indiana’s gun permitting process and another limiting how teachers approach touchy subjects — run contrary to Holcomb’s agenda.

“Many House Republican bills fly in the face of what the governor stated he wants to do — whether it’s putting more work on our already overburdened public educators or putting law enforcement at risk by putting more guns on the street,” said GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne.

Sen. Greg Taylor, the Senate minority leader, said that average Hoosiers didn’t feel the effect of the state’s good economy and needed more action from leadership.

“They’re still trying to find a way to take care of their families during these very trying times,” said Taylor, D-Indianapolis. “The governor is painting a rosy picture financially for the state of Indiana but still has not addressed those issues. There’s nothing to address the unrelenting health crisis we’re in.”

Holcomb acknowledged the death toll of the COVID-19 virus, which has killed more than 19,000 in the state, and ended with a plea for more Hoosiers to get vaccinated. The current wave of the virus, spurred by unvaccinated Hoosiers, has overwhelmed hospitals and exhausted health care providers.

“We know that people who are getting vaccinated and boosted overwhelmingly stay out of the hospital, stay out of the ICU and don’t die,” Holcomb said. “If you haven’t been vaccinated, I encourage — I plead — I even beg — you to speak to your doctor and do so.”

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