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Indiana House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta’s address to House of Representatives

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Good afternoon, Mr. Speaker and honorable members of the General Assembly. Happy New Year!

As we come together, I am filled with pride and awe. This is the People’s House. And the people of Indiana have entrusted each of us with a sacred charge: To represent their interests and to better their lives. To do this important work should inspire us all. It is a good day to be a Hoosier.

I want to give a special welcome to our new members. I hope you enjoy your time here and are empowered to represent the needs and desires of your districts. In fact, I was talking with one of our new members recently. He commented that he thought his first caucus was fun and exciting. I said, 'See me in April!' 

Today marks the first moment of another biennial budget session, one we approach with full hearts and full coffers. It is my fifth year as Leader of the Indiana House Democratic Caucus. 

I want to acknowledge my partners in governance: Floor Leader Cherrish Pryor and Caucus Chair Carey Hamilton. It is only fitting that the first-ever majority-women caucus is being led by two fierce, optimistic advocates for the people of Indiana.

In 2022, I felt immense pride for my caucus as this legislative body grappled with some of the country’s toughest political issues. Democrats were the pragmatic problem solvers. Democrats showed up for Indiana families. Democrats delivered on the everyday challenges facing Hoosiers.

I know that this caucus is well-positioned for an even better 2023. Today marks that start. 

I appreciate the opportunity to address you, my friends and colleagues, members of the press and the Hoosier public, with my thoughts on the upcoming challenges and opportunities before us. 

Despite the many factions and fractures that may exist between us, it is my earnest belief that all of us gather in this building in pursuit of a better Indiana. Though we may disagree on how to get there, almost every Hoosier wants the same things.

From the steel mills of the Region to the rolling hills of southern Indiana, through the farms, the towns and the cities in between, everyone wants good schools, good roads, clean drinking water, good-paying jobs and a better future for themselves and their children. 

I hope we can focus on these issues as opposed to some of the extreme, needless culture wars we’ve spent so much of our time on over the last few years. 

Our time is short. The needs of Hoosiers are many. Let’s always put them first. And let’s remember Hoosiers have more in common with one another than we have differences. Indiana Democrats are in search of sound solutions, not sound bites. 

As we embark on another budget session, it is imperative that we prioritize the needs of Hoosiers and create a state that works for everyone. We’re currently sitting on a tremendous surplus. That surplus creates tremendous opportunity. 

We have an obligation to fund the programs and initiatives that will benefit this generation of Hoosiers and the generations that will come long after us. I envision an Innovation Indiana where opportunity grows and great ideas blossom.  We must realize an Indiana where Hoosiers can live, work, play — and stay. And, might I add, fulfill their dreams.

While I agree with my Republican colleagues that we have to be mindful and intentional about our spending, we simply cannot continue to ignore the many intractable issues affecting our state. Hoosiers are working harder than ever. Hoosiers are facing more health challenges than ever. And Hoosiers are making less than ever. 

It’s time to invest in Indiana’s greatest resource: its people. Our citizens are eager to work and contribute, but we need to help them with commonsense policies to help them achieve. Handouts? No. I’m talking about a hand up to restore the middle and working classes by returning dignity to our people. 

One way to do that is by adequately funding public health. 

We have the opportunity, the capacity and the moral mandate to invest in public health spending and boost quality of life for Hoosiers throughout our state. The return will be significant in every aspect of our civic life.

The numbers in Indiana are abysmal: 

  • We rank 41st in the nation for overall health. 
  • We have the sixth highest rate of smoking; and
  • We have some of the worst maternal and infant health outcomes in the United States. 

Is this the standard of living that we want for the people we are elected to serve? Where is our humanity? Are we comfortable sitting back and doing nothing as our fellow citizens die unnecessarily? I find it unacceptable. And so do my colleagues in the House Democratic Caucus.

But hope is on the horizon. Our large fiscal surplus creates opportunity. Gov. Holcomb’s goal of investing $243 million into public health this year is not only feasible but also fundamental to make Indiana a healthy, thriving state that protects its citizens and can appeal to prospective residents. Good health should be a Hoosier basic. Health outcomes should rise above partisan fighting.  

Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks made this point emphatically. Indiana’s historic employer attributed our backward slide on our state’s lagging education and public health outcomes. I couldn’t agree more. A refusal to invest and engage will only drive businesses and opportunities away from our state. It is already happening. It’s time we invest in our people. It is a decision that is both ethical and smart for our economy. 

That’s why we must build a 21st-century economy. It must be an inclusive, robust system that supports both industry and family-owned businesses by prioritizing the needs of Hoosier workers, families and students. 

Listen to our business leaders. Listen to the people of Indiana. Their voices are clear. The investments they want will create an economy that allows everyone a fair shot at their American dream and make Indiana a hub of innovation and prosperity.  

Indiana’s tax environment is already friendly to businesses, and our top employers have indicated there are few other taxes we could cut to improve their bottom line. Instead, we need to make Indiana a great place to live and raise a family. We need to put our people first. Providing incentives for businesses to offer childcare will allow more people – particularly women – to thrive in the workforce. 

Creating a 21st-century economy also entails building a cradle-to-career infrastructure that primes Indiana children for success from day one. The first step is implementing a universal pre-K system. It’s statistically proven that children enrolled in pre-K have higher high school graduation rates and are more likely to go to college. 

A comprehensive system would remove the financial barriers that keep many families from sending their children to pre-K. It would level the playing field for Hoosier children, regardless of their family’s tax bracket. The more children we have accessing early education, the more benefits Indiana will reap in the long run. 

There’s been a lot of talk about reinventing our school systems. I think we may have a spelling mistake there. It’s not time to reinvent. It’s time to reinvest in our schools. Decades of underinvestment and undue burdens on teachers and administrators have led to historic educator shortages and increased student suffering as a consequence. We’d do ourselves well to keep the politics out of the classroom. Let our teachers — the experts — teach. Let our students learn. Let's keep the teaching in the classroom and the politicking on the campaign trail. 

The future of Indiana depends on the work we do right now. Our challenges are great. But Indiana's opportunities are even greater. It is the people of this great state that represent our most precious resource and our most promising opportunity. Let’s put our focus on them and their wellbeing. Let’s invest in them, and in turn, our collective tomorrow.

So as we begin this new session, we return to our sacred charge: To represent the interests of all Hoosiers and to better their lives. May we always seek the constructive, the humane path in our pursuit of a stronger, more prosperous state. With every vote we cast, may we reaffirm the trust of the people of Indiana, ensuring their lives are enhanced and their futures are made brighter. May we walk into this storied building every day in the spirit of collaboration.

Like the torch on our state flag, the people of Indiana are my guiding light. They are our treasure. They are our future. They deserve our respect and our investment. They expect us to work with zeal to help them realize their hopes and aspirations. Our time is short. Their needs are many. Let’s get to work

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