When the General Assembly began its work last November, as speaker I pledged a session driven by five main issues: increased road funding, enhanced job training, early childhood education, fair business taxation and cutting government red tape. With the 118th General Assembly behind us, it is clear Republicans accomplished each of these priorities, and much more.
Due to conservative Republican budgeting principles, Indiana is in one of the best fiscal positions of any state in the nation. This fiscal strength gave us the ability in a non-budget year to allocate up to $400 million to new major highway construction projects with many starting yet this year. These state funds could leverage an additional $1.6 billion in federal funding to bring at least $2 billion of new construction to bear on major interstate highway choke points, creating thousands of Hoosier construction jobs and greatly improving the safety and economic benefit of our self-styled “Crossroads of America” and our growing logistics sector.
And while our unemployment rate as a state is the lowest since 2008, we still must continue to attack the “skills gap” between the training Hoosiers are currently receiving and the 21st century jobs available to Hoosier workers. This session, we successfully championed new incentives for employers who partner with schools and universities to encourage on-the-job training internships that result in high-wage, high-demand employment, especially in the high-tech manufacturing sector.
Our three-year effort to provide high-quality preschool opportunities to low-income Hoosier families was successful this year with the adoption of a pilot program combining $15 million in state and private-sector funding to provide thousands of low-income students with an early education opportunity they would not otherwise receive, preparing them for success when they begin kindergarten. Children who aren’t ready for kindergarten are half as likely to read proficiently by third grade, and children who aren’t reading proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. As one of only 10 states that don’t provide some preschool funding, this common-sense program aimed at Indiana’s poorest children has the potential to reap great benefits for the future.