Republican Eric Holcomb, left, and Democrat John Gregg, right, talked with Statehouse Reporter Brandon Smith about where they stand on roads, universal pre-k and LGBT protections.
Democrat John Gregg got a bit of a head start in the race for governor – he’s spent a year campaigning, rolling out policy proposals for months.
Republican Eric Holcomb became Indiana’s lieutenant governor a little more than seven months ago, and two months ago, replaced Mike Pence as the Republican nominee for governor.
Where do they stand on the issues?
Republicans in the House proposed a tax increase, the gas tax increase. Is that something you’d support as governor?
HOLCOMB: We came out of the last session and we said we’re gonna, as a committee, the FIRSST [Funding Indiana’s Roads for a Stronger, Safer Tomorrow] committee as you allude to, we’re going to collect real information, real data and this decision is going to be data-driven. We all agree that we want a long-term, sustainable infrastructure program. We all agreed that we would keep everything on the table. And I’m anxious about the product that comes out in December from the FIRSST committee and I’ve remained one that has said I’ll honor my commitment: we’ll keep everything on the table and we’ll inventory where we’re at, what our needs are, how much it will cost to address those needs and how much we can afford. And then we’ll figure out the way to actually pay for it. But what I’m not for, what I’m not for is simply reverting back to those old days where we far outkick our coverage, where we’re just borrowing away the future and leaving it for someone else to pay – where we’re actually paving roads for 20 years but we’re paying for them for 30 years.
You have a detailed road plan but I want to ask about – a lot of it is incumbent on bonding and borrowing. Why is borrowing the right path to go down and aren’t we leaving ourselves open to debts in the future?
GREGG: First of all, we’re taking $500 million that Gov. [Mitch] Daniels set in what he called the New Generation Trust Fund. The new generation’s here. So that money’s there, we can leverage that $500 million over a 10-year period to about $3.2 billion. It’ll create 56,000 jobs. It’ll help us make up that $300 million shortfall we have each year. And what people need to realize: this is not going to affect our bond rating at all in Indiana, our credit rating. Money right now to borrow is cheap, it is. That’s why you see people saying refinance your house. I mean, money can be borrowed for less than a percent, in some cases. So we’re talking about now is the time to be doing that. Frankly we think it’s a good option. Not doing anything isn’t getting anything done.
You have said let’s just expand the existing pilot program. What does that expansion look like for you?
HOLCOMB: You know, we have five counties that Governor Gov. Pence, as you point out, started this pilot program. There were other counties that applied that didn’t make it that have accredited options already on the books, so I’d like to work our way toward meeting that demand. The children that are the most disadvantaged among us – that’s who I think we need to focus on as we start. And we’ll see the Chamber [of Commerce] will submit a study, a report I should say, on how this pilot program is working. And I think that data will be incredibly valuable as we continue to expand. I’m all in for pre-K and what does that mean and where do we start and how do we responsibly, certainly by saying it’s universal and by low-balling the cost of it doesn’t get us there.
With accreditation and infrastructure concerns from the state Chamber of Commerce, does it make sense to take that big leap into universal pre-k right away or should it be a more gradual process?
GREGG: We talk about a three-year, it takes three years to get to it exactly for what you say – if we went out and found the money tomorrow to implement it statewide, we couldn’t do it statewide. But we are convinced we can do it in three years. Our program, like the state Chamber, like educators, like universities say, has some requirements. Number one, you’ve got to have a bachelor’s degree, so this isn’t babysitting, there has to be a bachelor’s degree. There has to be a curriculum, an approved curriculum. It has to be in a school setting, which means they have to have meals and snacks. So this is something that’s just not, oh we’re going to do pre-kindergarten. I mean, 40 states now have this; we don’t need to be studying it anymore, we know it works. And what does it mean for that family sitting home today? It means that child’s going to finish, more likely going to finish high school, more likely going to get a certification or an apprenticeship or get an associate or a bachelor’s degree, going to make thousands of dollars more a year. It also means that they are less likely to be involved in crime, have a drug problem. They are very much more likely to have a healthier life and have a longer lifespan. The statistics are irrefutable; we can’t afford not to do it. It’s a matter of priorities.
If a bill comes to your desk as governor that’s the “four words and comma,” simply adding "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the state’s civil rights code, would you sign it?
HOLCOMB: You’re giving me a hypothetical and you’re saying ‘if.’ And nothing that I’ve seen over the last year, in fact the last month, leads me to believe at this time that that will, in fact, happen. And I tend not to focus very much of my time in areas that have a almost zero percent probability of moving forward. In the future, if there appears to be some progress or movement one way or another, we’ll evaluate it when it moves from a hypothetical to a reality. But this issue has, in the past, been a obviously very divisive issue. My opponent has spent literally millions of dollars talking about this one issue. I’m going to focus on the things that are going to continue to move this state forward and that’s what I’ve told anyone that’s ever asked me about it.
We just saw a legislative study committee on LGBT rights with no progress, no attempts at compromise from either side of this issue. What do you envision you can do as governor?
GREGG: There’s a lot I can do as governor. Number one, the very first thing I will do as governor is sign an executive order that will apply to members of the LGBT community that make up the 33,000 state employees, giving them civil rights protection. I will make sure that as we are working – and the state is a huge contractor, we contract with a lot of businesses – we will want to make sure in our RFPs and RFQs, when the state’s doing bidding, is working with companies that have LGBT protections. All of this is lead by example. We’ll mention it in our State of the State address. I will ask the legislature to pass it. You know, do I think we’re going to pass it in 2017? No. But I think by 2018 there’s a real good chance they will. It’s the right thing to do. It is truly an economic issue when it comes to the keeping and recruitment of talent in the state of Indiana.