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We are likely to hear a lot of noise in the 2022 legislative session about cultural war issues like critical race theory (even though legislators regularly explain it wrong), making school board elections partisan, copycat abortion vigilante legislation from Texas, anti-vaccine rhetoric, attacking transgender kids, etc. Ask yourself this question. How does this help Indiana get ahead? We know that the reason for these topics is to divide us and pit us against one another. And while I will vote against these attacks on our neighbors, I also am asking you to not buy into this agenda. Instead, demand that lawmakers protect and invest in Hoosiers. All Hoosiers.
Many of the loudest folks in the room will be selling doom and gloom, an Indiana at war with fundamental liberties, parents, workers and freedom. This Indiana isn’t real, but a completely made up place meant to distract the public from what matters most. To be clear, Indiana does have significant challenges that we should address this session. Our labor force needs better access to childcare. We need to do more to enable and expand remote work opportunities that allow parents more flexible careers to balance family time. We do need to listen to parents, students and teachers about how we can make our schools work best for our kids and help them reach their potential and find their passions. We need to ensure that the federal government’s $8.8 billion dollar investment in our infrastructure reaches our communities efficiently.
Issues like those should be our focus and should be a cause for optimism, not despair. This session should be about investing in Hoosier families, our workers and our state. I don’t expect us to come together and fully solve all of these issues, but these are the important discussions we need to be having in the Statehouse. Recently, engineers at Purdue announced the success of a new electric vehicle charging station that can fully charge a vehicle in about five minutes or comparable to how long it takes to fill our gas tanks. This is a remarkable achievement that should keep Indiana at the forefront of this expanding industry. Imagine if we can manufacture these charging stations right here in Indiana and sell them across the nation and the world. Given the billions of dollars from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that will be going to states around the country for electric vehicle charging stations, this innovation is even more timely. Governor Holcomb recently agreed to build our network of charging stations in collaboration with our neighboring states. This is a smart investment that will help Indiana and the Midwest lead the country in this area.
This brings me to the opportunities to invest in our students and our workers. How many young people do you know who are staying in Indiana after college? To keep these folks living and working in Indiana after graduation, our investments in their futures have to start much, much earlier than college. Potential federal investments in pre-k and childcare would be an important step, but not a silver bullet. At the K-12 level, even our best schools can do more to help our kids find their passions and be better positioned for life after high school, at which point we need to encourage innovative young Hoosiers to attend school at Purdue and other public universities. A workforce ready to lead in advanced manufacturing and a new generation of construction will require workers with advanced degrees, bachelor’s degrees, associate’s degrees, and on-the-job training from certifications and other skills programs. Hoosier students should have as much information about all of these opportunities as we can provide them. That will require putting our money where our mouths are by providing real financial incentives to fill these crucial and skilled positions. This should be our educational focus, not inserting more politics into school boards and the classroom.
For most of 2021, we’ve heard about higher than expected tax revenues, and Hoosiers are even getting a tax refund next year. This tax refund will rightfully be welcomed by our citizens. In addition, we just learned that this budget cycle will be $3.2 billion above forecasts with surpluses of $5 billion and $4 billion in the coming years. We are doing a disservice to Hoosiers if we continue to unnecessarily hoard this money in the state coffers. Legislators should invest the additional revenue in innovative research and job training that will grow our economy along with fully funding for READI grants and potentially targeted tax cuts for Hoosier families. We should also be taking concrete steps toward implementing a universal pre-k so parents have quality options for childcare. After all, business leaders tell us that education and the workforce are their biggest concerns. Hoosiers deserve opportunities that will lead to good-paying careers and we can make these investments while still having a surplus and balanced budgets.
Divisive cultural issues may grab the headlines, but Indiana has the opportunity to make 2022 about investments in our future. It’s on us in the Statehouse to take these opportunities.