INDIANAPOLIS (WTWO/WAWV) – Safely navigating out of the pandemic will be the primary focus of Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s 2021 Next Level Agenda.
“The 2021 Next Level Agenda is focused on making sure Indiana remains a state of opportunity for all,” Holcomb said Thursday as he unveiled his agenda. “To do that, we must manage our way through the world’s worst pandemic in over a century.”
Holcomb said his agenda includes five pillars detailing both legislative and administrative priorities for the year ahead.
Cultivate a strong and diverse economy
The agenda calls for passing the state’s ninth straight balanced budget and enhancing Indiana’s status as the number one manufacturing state in the nation per capita by expanding the Manufacturing Readiness Grants to enable companies to modernize their operations.
Holcomb noted the state is also on track to triple federal defense investment in Indiana by 2025.
Maintain and build the state’s infrastructure
The 2021 agenda is designed to enhance the state’s infrastructure and finish projects already underway, Holcomb said.
The Next Level Connections Broadband Program will also remain a priority. Notable projects include the I-69 Section 6, the West Lake Corridor expansion and double-tracking the South Shore Line Rail projects. An effort to plant one million trees across the state is also in the works.
Additionally, the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority will create a comprehensive overview of the state’s housing supply.
Education, training and workforce development
Holcomb said he is “committed to ensuring that K-12 schools receive 100 percent of their funding for the second half of the school year.” He will also work to increase K-12 funding in the next biennial budget and at a minimum restore higher education funding cut in the last fiscal year due to the impact of the pandemic.
Finding long-term sustainable solutions to improve teacher compensation will also be a priority in 2021, Holcomb said. He will review and consider recommendations of the Next Level Teacher Compensation Report. Among the recommendations is a proposal to improve school corporation data accessibility and transparency by creating a website to allow for easy comparisons of school corporation financial, expenditure and compensation metrics relative to other districts. The dashboard launched Thursday.
The 2021 agenda also includes reviewing and reducing unfunded mandates on schools, retaining more higher education graduates in Indiana and increasing minority teacher recruitment and minority participation in Workforce Ready and Employer Grant programs.
Holcomb said his goal is to become the best state in the Midwest for infant mortality by 2024 by protecting pregnant workers by providing more workplace accommodations.
Using lessons learned in the pandemic, the agenda calls for reforming long-term care services to be outcome and quality-driven, and for initiating a comprehensive assessment of local health departments and state delivery of public health services.
Deliver ‘great government service’
The 2021 agenda includes regulatory and statutory changes prompted by the state’s COVID-19 response, including expanding telemedicine services, making virtual meeting options permanent and providing businesses and schools with coronavirus liability protections.
Additionally, the agenda calls for removing barriers for Hoosiers to reinstate their driver’s license. Having a driver’s license is essential to finding and keeping a job, and the suspensions have a bigger impact on low-income populations, rural residents and ex-offenders.
The agenda also calls for continuing to improve services and increase the opportunity for the state’s minority populations.
“Responding to a global pandemic has caused us to rethink how we’ve done business and just as importantly, how we do business post-pandemic,” Holcomb said. “COVID-19 has shifted our course, but Indiana remains focused on what will make us stronger, with practical and people-centered solutions based on a foundation of civility.”