Pence touts school plans in State of State speech

Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN)
Indiana Governor Mike Pence surprised state lawmakers with a call for a balanced budget amendment during his third State of the State Address Tuesday.

Beyond that, the governor stayed on familiar ground: calling for more money for education and talking about job creation.

READ: Full text of the State of the State Address

Pence wasted little time getting to the podium and making his point.

"The state of the state has never been stronger," he told both bodies of the House & Senate and a statewide audience.

He backed that up by citing decreasing unemployment numbers and increasing private sector job numbers, but he really hit his stride on education.

"Indiana now is home to the largest educational voucher program in America," the governor proudly reported.

That drew thunderous applause and a scathing reaction from Democrats afterward.

"This is the easiest State of the State I've had to do. It had nothing to do with Indiana. All the governor did tonight was throw out dripping red meat for Iowa caucus voters," Minority Leader Rep. Scott Pelath (D-Michigan City) told the media following the speech.

But that led to what turned out to be the surprise of the night. A call for a constitutionally-balanced budget amendment.

"A balanced budget requirement in the Constitution will assure Hoosiers that today and tomorrow Indiana will spend wisely," the governor assured his audience.

Republican leaders say they support Pence's request, but Speaker of the House Brian Bosma said, "the balanced budget amendment is a great goal. I would not call if the focal point of the legislative session."

That hallow endorsement could have something to do with the fact that Indiana already does have a law on the books which says it can't take on debt except in certain circumstances.

Governor Pence did take a page from Ronald Reagan's playbook by introducing some guests to the speech, including Jacen and Ben Troxell. The five- and eight-year-old boys raised $20,000 to buy bulletproof vests for IMPD officers after the death of Officer Perry Renn. The two reveled in the moment and captured the night.

"Let's get to work," the governor concluded.

The only thing lawmakers are required to do this legislative session is craft a two-year budget. After that, they can begin working on the governor's agenda.

House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) response

"The Governor set exactly the right tone and we are fully aligned in our priorities. House Republicans announced in October our focus would be on crafting an honestly balanced budget, increasing public school funding, fixing the funding formula and addressing important aspects of public safety, namely infant mortality and domestic violence prevention.

"The Governor's additional call to action to constitutionally enshrine our track record of an honestly balanced budget is also important. We will review his proposal and make sure it is protective of future generations.

"Although many issues will be addressed this year, there is no more important priority for the House Republicans in the coming session than education. It is my hope that we can invest more funding in public education than is in the current budget. I was pleased to hear the governor echo this call for investment in Hoosier classrooms.

"I am especially appreciative of the Governor's acknowledgment of the great accomplishments our state has made. I look forward to the General Assembly's continued partnership with our great Governor."

Libertarian response

"Gov. Mike Pence delivered a very utilitarian State of the State address this evening. If this was intended to set the stage for a run for higher national office, the governor hid the agenda well.

"'To the governor's credit, he focused his remarks on his current job and serving our state," noted Libertarian Party of Indiana State Chairman Dan Drexler. "While the overall topics and soundbites were incredibly predictable, the lack of real substance on his education plans was actually a little surprising.'

"In his remarks to Hoosiers, the governor suggested we put more children in quality schools without qualifying what makes a quality school. He noted emphatically that teacher pay needs to be increased, but tapered off quickly from that remark. Once again, he advanced the Democratic Party agenda of subsidized daycare through his continued support for taxpayer-funded pre-K education.

"We applaud the governor's call-out for a balanced budget amendment, although the necessity at this time is questionable. Promotion of expanded school choice and his defense of Indiana's coal industry against overbearing federal rules was also welcomed.

"Notably absent was any mention of his past attacks on same-sex marriages and his insistence on inflicting Hoosiers with his "The World According to Pence" small-minded views. Possibly we have witnessed our governor's evolution on this topic? If that's the case, we welcome him into the current century."

Hoosiers for Quality Education response

"Tonight Governor Mike Pence left no room for interpretation when it comes to his commitment to Hoosier teachers, students and parents. He spent more time on his education priorities than on any other topic, proposing more money for teachers, more money for students and more options for parents."Governor Pence announced his intention to increase teacher pay by over $60 million, increase funding for K-12 education by three percent, eliminate the arbitrary $4,800 voucher cap and provide some capital funding for charter schools. This plan would expand quality education opportunities for all Hoosier students, whether they attend public, private or charter schools.

"With the leadership of Governor Pence and the State Legislature, we are confident that great progress will be made for Hoosier teachers, students and parents this legislative session."

Indiana Chamber response

"We agree with the Governor that many accomplishments over the last decade have distinguished Indiana as a place for companies to relocate, bring jobs and make investments. But more importantly, we agree that there is a lot more work to do to both keep pace and to stand out from the rest. We need to be bold and move farther faster in order to reach the goals in Indiana Vision 2025 (the Indiana Chamber's long-range economic development plan for the state).

"We particularly applaud the Governor's focus on career and technical education. In addition, there needs to be an emphasis on retraining our adult workers so they can secure the higher skilled jobs that are available and pay higher wages.

"We also appreciate and echo the Governor's ferocity in continuing to fight the overreach of the federal government and the EPA -- the result of which are dramatically increasing energy prices for coal states like Indiana. Recent polls indicate that Hoosiers are strongly unfavorable toward the EPA and understand the impact of its actions on our electricity bills."

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)