Teacher pay, hate crimes at top of governor’s list

Michael Conroy/The Associated Press
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature Jan. 15 at the Statehouse in Indianapolis.

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb shared in last week’s State of State address several plans he would pursue in the near future.

The most surprising plan to many is how he will encourage school corporations to increase teachers’ salaries.

The governor’s plan is to allocate $140 million from the state’s projected $2.2 billion budget reserve to the teacher pension account. That would reduce what districts pay in pension contributions for most teachers from 7.5 percent to 5.5 percent of teachers’ salary. Holcomb said that entire savings should be used to increase teachers’ paychecks.

The governor also announced that he is creating the Next Level Teacher Pay Commission that will create a long-term plan to make Indiana teachers’ salaries more competitive with neighboring states.

“A strong economy depends on a world-class workforce. That workforce depends on a great education. A great education depends on great teachers,” he said. “And one way to attract and retain more of those teachers is to make teacher pay more competitive.”

Dubois County Republican Party Chair Mark Messmer, who is also a state senator, was impressed with Holcomb’s idea.

“I thought it was a great idea for using some our state’s surplus,” he said. “We don’t dictate to the schools what to do with state revenue. But in this case, how we free up that money, we may have some criteria attached to it.

“It’s a pretty significant idea. Now we have to hash out the details. But I like the proposal.”

Dubois County Democratic Party Chair Mike Kendall said the amount was not enough.

“If you took that $140 million and gave it to every single teacher in the public school system, it would only raise their pay 1 percent. So it’s an insignificant amount,” he said. “That is a drop in the bucket.”

Holcomb said that he will again encourage the Indiana General Assembly to enact legislation that allows judges to enhance a criminal’s penalty during sentencing if it is found that a motivation for the crime is a hate bias.

“Standing strong against targeted violence motivated to instill fear against an entire group is the right thing to do,” Holcomb said. He added that that change would put Indiana in a better position for attracting more companies to the state, and Messmer agrees.

“That is something that we want to find a resolution to,” he said “It’s not a 100 percent guarantee that the membership will move that forward.”

Currently, Indiana is one of five states that does not have this hate crime legislation

“His point is, and it’s a valid point, is that companies in the high-tech industries, won’t come to Indiana because of that,” Messmer said. “The hardest part companies face is access to people to fill their job needs. If everybody is trying to compete for workers, that comes into play.”

In addition, he said, companies that are looking to expand have said they would not come to Indiana because the state does not have this law in place.

Not only does the law need to exist, but there is a need for a hate speech law, Kendall said.

“There has been a lot of animosity and reaction throughout the state and you can see it anytime you get on the internet and see the things that people are posting,” he said. “Hate speech is so prevalent that people are intimidated from speaking up. And there is a lot more of this going on than it was 10 or 20 years ago.”

Holcomb said he will again push for exempting military pensions from state income tax. He also wants to implement consultant recommendations to improve the Department of Child Services, launch an assistance program for high-risk pregnant women, expand job training programs at the Department of Correction and improve access to drug treatment programs throughout the state.

Messmer said he liked the governor’s plan to release some revenue collected from the toll and use that to improve broadband access for rural areas, something that was announced previously and hinted at during Holcomb’s address.

Overall, Messmer was impressed with the governor’s speech.

“Most of what he said in his State of State is issues that are front-burner issues that we are going to try to tackle,” Messmer said. “I was pretty pleased with the speech.

Kendall said it is important to note what the governor did not say, like the problem of low wages in the many open and unfilled jobs available in the state. Holcomb did not talk about education’s voucher program, which Kendall said is taking needed money away from public schools. And Holcomb said nothing about environmental concerns, including the coal-to-diesel plant that is being planned for Spencer County.

“That’s an issue. That’s a problem,” Kendall said. “When you give a State of the State address that does not address the fact that the fifth largest polluter is about to go to Southwestern Indiana, that is the governor not addressing a problem, an imminent problem for a fourth of the state.”

Overall, “this was a very typical State of the State address,” Kendall said.




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