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Column: Pence smart to unveil plans before State of the State


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INDIANAPOLIS — No governor gives a big speech like a State of the State address without hearing some critiques after, and certainly Gov. Mike Pence is no exception.

Folks in the media and around the Statehouse are debating his speaking style, his first-time use of a teleprompter and those big, pregnant pauses he uses for dramatic effect.

But I’m a bit perplexed by those who’ve disparaged his talk because he offered nothing new.

It’s true. Pence already had revealed nearly every proposal he mentioned in his 30-minute speech before a joint session of the House and Senate.

In a series of talks in December, the Republican governor made his pitches to phase out the property tax on business equipment, spend more money on roads and create a voucher program to send lower-income children to preschool.

Certainly, Pence could have saved some of those ideas for his State of the State address. But while that might have made for a more interesting speech, it would only have hurt his chances of getting the proposals passed into law.

Already, he’s facing a tough road. Key leaders in the fiscally conservative Indiana Senate are skeptical about state-funded preschool because of its high cost. House and Senate leaders also have their own plans for the business property tax, ones that fall short of the governor’s expectations. And at least one Senate fiscal leader is wary of Pence’s road plan.

But had the governor waited until last week to offer the proposals, they would have been all but impossible to pass.

This is a short session of the Indiana Legislature, scheduled to last only through mid-March. The timeline is so short that the deadline for bills to exit their first committees is already upon us.

Pence’s proposals are complicated and expensive. They need serious thought and debate. And they need legislative buy-in. That doesn’t occur when a governor springs an idea on the people who have to pass it at the last minute.

Also, Pence and his team have learned a few things since last year. At that time, lawmakers and reporters complained they didn’t really know what proposals were and weren’t part of the governor’s agenda.

Legislators said that, at least early on, they felt Pence and his liaisons were largely absent.

They didn’t know how to act on his proposals because they weren’t quite sure what they were.

This year, there’s no mystery, at least not about the big things. And that’s because Pence started talking about his ideas early and often.

Of course, the governor could have used his State of the State address to add more meat to some of his ideas. He’s been fairly vague, for example, about how he’d pay for preschool or make up for the $1 billion that would be lost to local governments and schools if the business personal property tax went away. He’s said he’d leave those “details” to lawmakers.

But by talking about his ideas early, the governor has given those lawmakers time to think about the proposals and start filling in the blanks. Already, the House has approved its version of a preschool funding plan and is working on a bill that would spend $400 million on highways, as the governor proposed.

The early unveiling of Pence’s legislative agenda might have made for a fairly boring State of the State address, but it was strategic and probably effective.

Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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