Press release: House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) delivered his 2024 agenda speech on the House floor Monday

The following was sent to the Bloomingtonian Monday:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Monday, January 8, 2024

LEADER GIAQUINTA DELIVERS 2024 HOUSE DEMOCRATIC AGENDA SPEECH

House Democrats’ 2024 Economic Freedom Agenda prioritizes working- and middle-class Hoosiers

INDIANAPOLIS – House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) today delivered his 2024 agenda speech on the House floor. Below are the Leader’s prepared remarks:   

Good afternoon, Mr. Speaker and ladies and gentlemen of the House. It’s great to be back in the Indiana House of Representatives as we roll up our sleeves and get to work on behalf of Hoosiers across the state.

I am privileged today to be joined in this work by House Democratic Floor Leader Cherrish Pryor and Caucus Chair Carey Hamilton.

My colleagues across the aisle tell me all the time that Indiana cares more about freedom than other states.

But I guess that depends on how you define freedom. When I look around at communities across Indiana, I don’t see freedom.

I see people working multiple low-wage jobs just to get by.

I see young Hoosiers struggling to figure out what career path is right for them when a path toward the union trades would have set them up with good pay and benefits for life.

I see young families priced out of buying their first home.

I see older Hoosiers scared they’ll lose their homes because property taxes are too high. By the way, property tax bills are the number one issue driving constituent contact.

I see renters of all ages forced to spend too much of their income on rent, unable to start saving for a permanent home.

I see renters and homeowners alike shocked by what our state utilities would have them pay just to be connected to electricity, gas or water.

I see moms who can’t re-enter the workforce because the cost of childcare is more than a job would pay. Or equally distressing, there aren’t any openings at their local daycares.

I see elementary school children falling behind when a strong foundation provided by universal pre-K would have given them a boost.

I see healthcare providers closing their doors because insurance reimbursement rates haven’t been updated in decades.

I see retirees worried about making ends meet without a 13th check and a cost-of-living adjustment.

Ask any Hoosier facing these circumstances if they feel free and you’ll be laughed out of the room. The Hoosiers I meet every day are smart. They can’t be conned by empty boasts about freedom when their opportunities and choices grow more narrow by the day. They know economic bondage because they’re living it.

If your opportunities are limited, you are not free to live the life you want. You are not free to build a better life for yourself or your kids. And isn’t that the dream on which our great country was founded? The dream that with nothing but hard work, ingenuity and grit, you can do better than your parents did.

This is not a new concept. In his 1944 State of the Union address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt remarked that, “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.”

Fast forward 80 years and the same struggles continue to plague us. But we cannot allow ourselves as lawmakers to be apathetic. We should not be the ones to create obstacles, shackling the potential of the people we were elected to serve.

We have been charged with addressing these issues head-on and finding sensible solutions. Bettering the lives of all Hoosiers and ensuring the prosperity of our state remain our enduring obligations.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we must admit most Hoosiers can’t get ahead. In fact, the numbers tell us that most Hoosiers are fighting to stay afloat financially. They’re not able to save. This is not because of a lack of motivation or ambition, or a failure of character. It’s because our current state laws are not setting up Hoosiers for success.

Yes, freedom has become a mantra, but the notion of freedom when you’re just trying to stay afloat is nothing but a fantasy. And if our citizens are not flourishing, it hamstrings Indiana’s future, as well.

That’s why, today, along with my House Democratic colleagues, I am introducing an Economic Freedom Agenda.

Hoosiers are facing big problems. But these problems all have solutions if we work together. And Indiana Democrats pride ourselves on being pragmatic problem solvers.

How do we solve them?

Let’s raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Let’s rework HEA 1002 into a program that encourages young people to pursue a career in the trade unions —and make good money. And while we’re at it, let’s make union dues tax-deductible.

Let’s deal with the ballooning property tax bills looming over homeowners’ heads and give them a homestead credit funded by state surplus dollars.

Let’s address housing and utility costs by cracking down on corporate greed, ensuring that all Hoosiers have access to fair housing appraisals and mortgages. Let’s also increase the renter deduction.

Let’s enact universal pre-K so that all Hoosier children can have a strong educational foundation. This will certainly improve our literacy rates – much more than holding kids back and bottlenecking our schools.

Let’s give the parents of young children a tax break for childcare and support access to affordable, high-quality care from infant through school age.

Let’s protect our Medicaid program and increase reimbursement rates for our healthcare professionals instead of this idea floating around about cutting essential Medicaid services.  

Let’s send our public retirees, including public school teachers, a 13th check and COLA this year instead of breaking this promise to them like we did last year.

These actions are all doable — but not if this body limits its outlook from the start of this session.

What are a few late nights here at the legislature when too many Hoosiers are working late nights to make ends meet for their families — to simply survive?

We are deeply privileged to represent our communities in these hallowed halls. A session that amounts to nothing more than a few, minor tweaks to past policies would be an incredible failure.

So let us rise to the occasion of this legislative session and pass solutions that make low- and middle-class Hoosiers’ household budgets easier to balance.

In the midst of the current affordability crisis, while many are burning through their savings, a bright spot is our unions. They have been a beacon of hope for the working class. I want to congratulate our state and national labor unions on their hard-fought victories in 2023.

From the historic UAW agreement that includes a 25% wage gain to the Teamsters negotiating fairer wages for all their UPS employees, America’s unions have brought home the bacon for their workers. They are even helping non-union workers. After the UAW agreement, non-unionized Nissan decided to raise its wages by 10%.

A rising tide lifts all boats, and organized labor clearly is a powerful tide. House Democrats will look to strengthening labor protections and collective bargaining rights this session so that our unions can keep improving the lives of Hoosier workers and keep our state economy growing.

Next, I’d like to talk about the value of giving Hoosiers the right to citizen-led ballot referendums rather than the legislature deciding which constitutional amendments go before voters.

Let’s talk about freedom. It doesn’t matter the issue: marijuana legalization, abortion, independent redistricting. Voters from Ohio and Michigan to Kansas have weighed in loud and clear. Midwesterners don’t like the government telling them what to do.

I don’t know about you, but I have a strong suspicion that Hoosiers don’t like the government telling them what to do on abortion or marijuana, either.

To my friends across the aisle, I am willing to be proven wrong on this, but we must give Hoosiers the opportunity to tell us what they think via citizen-led ballot referendums. I’m not scared of what regular Hoosiers think about the laws affecting their everyday lives – and you shouldn’t be, either.

I would be remiss today if I did not share my thoughts on an issue that troubles me. The Indiana Economic Development Corporation must be moderated. I have always been a strong proponent of economic development efforts. And I am thankful that IEDC decided to put its LEAP water extraction efforts on hold until the Indiana Finance Authority publishes its state water study later this year.

However, this doesn’t change the fact that the IEDC did not first work to establish community trust in their work on the LEAP project.

Understandably, many Tippecanoe County residents feel that the IEDC has little concern for their long-term water supply, and views their concerns as secondary to getting the LEAP project over the finish line. Likewise, Terre Haute and other downstream communities have expressed concern about the project. These decisions only amplify citizen distrust in their government.

IEDC may be a public-private entity, but they must be held accountable to those affected by their work, especially when their work is funded by the money of taxpayers who have no say in the matter.

IEDC needs more transparency and oversight. The legislature has written IEDC far too many blank checks over the past few years. As my colleagues from Tippecanoe County have noted, we need to look before we leap.

Mr. Speaker, I can assure you that House Democrats will approach this session’s policy conversations with open minds and positive attitudes. We know that all 100 members of this body want what’s best for their communities.

I greatly appreciated your bipartisanship last session, Mr. Speaker, and the work you, your leadership and your committee chairs all did to empower us to champion our communities.

House Democrats passed a lot of legislation last year that solved problems our communities were facing. It is my hope that we can continue building these positive relationships and pass as many bills as possible out of the House with bipartisan support.

Last year, I spent a lot of time in Hoosier communities across the state, having in-depth conversations with people about their dreams and their challenges, as did my House Democratic colleagues.

From the steel mills of the Region to the rolling hills of southern Indiana, there is one thing I know to be true: Our Hoosiers have real problems that demand real solutions.

Let’s make it our mission in this session to free the hopes and dreams, the imagination and drive of all Hoosiers through thoughtful, sensible legislation. Let’s unleash the potential of the people we were elected to serve. Let’s embrace the true meaning of the word free by investing in our people — freeing them to succeed. The return on investment will strengthen Indiana for decades to come.

I make this promise to all House lawmakers and all 6.8 million Hoosiers today: We will be having policy discussions of substance this session. House Democrats will initiate conversations about wages, property taxes, housing costs, childcare, labor rights, healthcare costs, education and governmental transparency.

Hoosiers’ livelihoods matter too much to wait for the artificially imposed deadline of next year’s long session to act. Let’s free ourselves from this outdated idea when the needs are so great. Let’s make economic freedom for all Hoosiers our top priority.

Thank you. Now, let’s get to work.

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