By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer
— Kokomo High School students questioned Gov. Mike Pence’s policies and ideas Thursday when he stopped by for a visit.
Pence was in Kokomo for Chrysler’s economic development announcement. After he left the Chrysler Transmission Plant, he headed for the halls of Kokomo High School.
The governor told school officials he wanted to get inside a classroom and talk to a group of students.
Education was a topic of discussion when he met with 75 juniors and seniors.
Pence said he wanted to make sure the state’s schools were working for all kids.
High school should be a place where kids can find their passions, he said.
“You should go to college,” he told the students. “Don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t.”
But not all students will go to college, he said. That’s why the state should make vocational education a priority, he said.
Kokomo High School is a leader in that regard, Pence said.
The governor took a tour of the high school’s career center. He visited the welding program and automotive program.
Before he did that, though, he gave a group of juniors and seniors the opportunity to quiz him on anything.
Senior Morgan Mohr was the first to ask a question.
“You said voters didn’t know enough about your tax cuts,” she said.
She challenged the governor to convince her it’s better to cut taxes than to spend more money on things like education and roads.
Pence told her the state has a large budget surplus, and state government is not in the business of accumulating wealth.
“We need to let Hoosiers keep more of what they earned,” he said. “This is a tough time for families.”
And Indiana is competing with other states for jobs right now, he said. Lowering taxes might encourage businesses to invest here.
If Pence’s tax cuts go through, Indiana would be the lowest-taxed state in the Midwest, he said. Right now, the state ranks third.
Pence said under his plan, the state doesn’t have to choose between lower taxes and funding for state programs.
“You can provide that tax relief and still provide additional funding for roads, for education, for Child Protective Services,” he said.
Mohr was not convinced by his response. He was not aggressive enough, she said.
Her question sparked a related question from senior Donnevin Hatten, who has been reading about the sequestration that takes effect today.
He asked the governor if it’s responsible to lower taxes when automatic federal spending cuts could affect our state.
Pence said he doesn’t expect sequestration to directly affect Indiana in any significant way. There will be cuts to things like education, he said, but the state can weather those cuts.
Indiana is expected to lose $26 million in federal funding for education. Pence said he’s proposing more than $100 million in additional funding for education, which should offset those impacts.
“The greater concern with the sequester is that it will slow down the economy,” he said.
Hatten said the governor has not swayed his opinion about the tax cuts. Maybe taxes don’t need to be raised, but they shouldn’t be lowered, either, he said.
“The state will be losing $700 million in the first two years,” he said. “His own party has showed their dissatisfaction with lowering taxes.”
Pence said the students asked some “very sophisticated” questions, and he was impressed with their knowledge of current events.
Mohr smiled after the governor left.
She said she wants to study political science in college next year, so she asked special permission to be among the students who met Pence.
“I felt honored that he came here,” she said.
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