State lawmakers are gearing up for the January start of the 2013 legislative session. It’s a budget session, meaning the Indiana General Assembly will draft a comprehensive two-year proposal to fund essential government services, ranging from public safety and infrastructure needs to our state’s education system.
The budget determines exactly where and how taxpayer dollars will be spent and, consequently, affects every Hoosier in every corner of the state.
As we head in to this budget year, continuing Indiana’s tradition of fiscal responsibility remains one of my top priorities. To date, Indiana has passed four consecutive balanced budgets. While other states and our federal government have operated deep in the red, Indiana has spent within its means and maintained prudent reserves that have helped us weather the recent recession better than most.
On top of our responsible fiscal standing, Indiana continues to be a national leader in job creation. Since July 2009 – our state’s low point of employment during the recession – Indiana’s private-sector job growth has outpaced the nation nearly two-fold, 6.8 percent to 3.5 percent. In 2012 alone, the Hoosier state has added more than 69,000 private-sector jobs at a faster rate than the national average.
Southern Indiana – Clark and Floyd counties in particular – has contributed a great deal to this growth. Unemployment rates in our community remain below the national average at 6.9 percent compared to 7.9 percent. I expect this trend to continue as the Ohio River Bridges Project increases access to Kentucky, bringing more business to our area, and as globally successful companies, such as Amazon, continue to set up shop here.
It should come as no surprise that Indiana and our region, specifically, are attracting this caliber of company and receiving high levels of investment. Employers look for predictable tax environments supported by a government that doesn’t depend on raising revenue to cover its expenses. Meeting these expectations has certainly been a priority among state and local leaders.
While other states have raised taxes to fill budget gaps, Indiana has capped property taxes, reduced the corporate income tax rate and eliminated the inheritance tax. As of this October, Indiana ranks best in the Midwest and 8th overall in Area Development magazine’s “Top States for Doing Business” study. As we write the budget this year, lawmakers must continue to support the tax environment, regulatory conditions and economic development policies that allow entrepreneurs to succeed and bring more jobs to Hoosier neighborhoods.
Of course, the economic vitality of our state depends on more than a sound tax environment. Indiana’s workforce and infrastructure must match its growing, changing economy. State spending should be focused on areas like education and road maintenance to provide Hoosiers with a framework for success.
One of the most important functions of government is to make sure young Hoosiers have access to the training and education they need to obtain meaningful, high-paying jobs. Indiana must continue its push to make college affordable, while also working to expand high-quality options to ensure we don’t take a ‘one size fits all’ approach to higher education.
This could include expanding vocational and technical education within Indiana’s post-secondary and high schools. Some of these institutions already strive to provide these programs. Community colleges, such as Ivy Tech, are partnering with industry executives and regional employers to combine academic curriculum with on-the-job experience. High schools are following suit by introducing interested students to in-demand fields such as engineering and computer programming.
The jobs of tomorrow increasingly demand a highly-specialized set of skills. Broadening options and making sure students have a clear path toward employment is the only way Indiana will remain competitive in this global, 21st-century economy. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the General Assembly to find innovative solutions that will take Indiana’s education system to the next level.
During the past few years, Indiana has proven itself as a truly stand-out state. But our work is far from over. As we draft the next budget, lawmakers must focus on keeping Indiana fiscally responsible, supporting a tax climate that invites job creation and pursuing excellent educational opportunities if we hope to stay on our current track.
As always, I am interested in any ideas you might have to better our state and community. Please contact me at Senator.Grooms@iga.in.gov
or visit my virtual office at www.in.gov/Senator.Grooms.