Indiana’s most recent budget forecast shows that our state surplus is on track to reach a stunning $6 billion by the end of the fiscal year in July. At a time when Hoosiers are facing rising costs on everything from fuel to food, it’s common sense for the General Assembly to help Hoosiers with rising costs. We also know that this special session will likely include efforts to limit a woman’s right to choose, an important topic that deserves its own article to fully address. If we want to be productive rather than restrict that choice, we have an opportunity to help Hoosiers offset some of those high costs and still be in a position to make important investments in the next state budget and during this special session.
I’m glad that Governor Holcomb has responded to the Democratic Caucus’ calls to provide direct relief for Hoosiers, whether it be in the form of suspending the gas tax or a second tax rebate check, as he has proposed. While this relief will help Hoosiers make some ends meet, I still believe that we ought to look at pausing the state’s gas tax which is one of the highest in the nation. Many small businesses, trucking companies and nonprofits like Meals on Wheels won’t directly benefit from these rebate checks and are getting hit hard by skyrocketing gas prices. Additionally, I share the concerns of many Hoosier economists about the increase in inflation that is projected following the direct rebates. We must stop being so reactionary to these economic issues and instead proactively invest in our future.
Looking ahead, Hoosier economists and business leaders continue to tell us that one of Indiana’s biggest economic weaknesses is our workforce’s low level of educational attainment. Addressing this issue has been a bipartisan goal. Former Governor Daniels set the goal of having 60% of Hoosier adults with a post-secondary credential or degree and Governor Holcomb has often spoken about the importance of workforce development. The problem is that state leaders haven’t taken the actions needed to address the issue.
In K-12 education, we spent 17.5% less per student in the 2019-20 school year than in the 2009-10 school year. We shouldn’t be surprised that even before the pandemic, Hoosier kids were going to college at lower rates as Indiana also cut higher education funding. Not everyone needs a four-year degree, but there’s no doubt we need to help more Hoosiers learn a trade, earn a credential, associate’s or bachelor’s degree if we expect to have a thriving workforce that will attract better-paying jobs. The General Assembly cannot delay in addressing this issue. Just recently, the Commission for Higher Education shared their 2022 report, which demonstrated that only 53% of 2020 high school graduates went into these programs. We can start to address this issue by boosting K-12 funding to get us closer to 2010 per student levels, expanding the Next Level Jobs program to make associate degrees tuition-free for in-demand fields, looking at expanding the 21st Century Scholars Program, and making in-state tuition more affordable for all Hoosiers. More Hoosiers with a post-secondary degree or credential will improve our state’s productivity and create more lucrative jobs.
We should also be looking for ways to lower costs for Hoosier families. A recent study shows that Hoosiers pay the 7th highest hospital costs in the country. High healthcare costs impact Hoosiers not only when they get hurt or sick, but with higher insurance costs that impact family budgets. Those higher costs also hold back our businesses because of the money they spend on health insurance. Republican leaders in the General Assembly have also taken notice of this issue, giving us an opportunity to take bipartisan steps to lower costs and save folks money on healthcare.
There are plenty of good ideas for how to best use our surplus funds, which is why I’m looking forward to the discussions during the upcoming special session and next year’s budget session. Our guiding principles for these sessions must focus on providing relief to citizens and investing in our future so that our kids will be better off than we are now. Let’s aim to meet those principles and deliver for Hoosiers.