INDIANA (WHAS11) -- Just more than a year and a half ago, Eric Holcomb was preparing to take his role as Lieutenant Governor of Indiana. He did not know that, by summer's end, Governor Mike Pence would be tabbed as Donald Trump's running mate opening up a chance for Holcomb to run for Governor of the Hoosier State. Now he's closing out a year that saw new business developments in Southeast Indiana, tens of thousands of jobs open and ready for the taking (although skilled employees are at a premium), a gas tax increase and an alarming spike in opioid overdoses.
The conversation we had with Governor Holcomb also revealed the depths of a friendly rivalry with Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin.
"We're on a roll and there's serious momentum going into 2018,” declared Governor Holcomb.
But this year Hoosier lawmakers voted to raise the gasoline tax, we asked whether he worried that the decision would slow the momentum:
“We here in Indiana like to pay for what we build and use so we're not debt financing this," he answered. “We're not kicking this off to our kids or grandkids to pay for. This is truly a user fee and the gas tax had not been raised since 2003 so we had been living on borrowed time and we hadn't been paying for what we needed and we did a deep dive and said, “this is going to be data-driven. Here's what we want, here's what we need. Now, how do we pay for it?”
Governor Holcomb would not call a single item his “biggest success of 2017,” but pointed to the overall Legislative Session.
He expects one of the biggest challenges of 2018 to continue to be fighting the drug epidemic.
“I think we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the drug epidemic is doing to our families and our communities and we have a lot more work to do,” said Governor Holcomb.
He’s planning to push for more drug treatment centers outside of major metropolitan centers but admits that the initiative is not the only answer.
“There's no one step and all of the money in the world won't solve it. However, having said that, we know at a minimum we need better access, more beds, more treatment centers and then it's a long process from there. Getting on the road to recovery is one thing, staying on the road to recovery is another.”
Governor Holcomb celebrated the September opening of a steel plant owned by a South Korean company. We asked whether other global companies were looking to make Southeast Indiana their home:
“Every day! I mean, it's every day. We are open for business”, he exclaimed. “That is a dynamic region of our state. Obviously, growth attracts growth.”
He described a friendly competition with Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, a fellow Republican Governor.
“That's the thing, and we compete for jobs around the world every day, but at the end of the day if we don't get it I want Kentucky to because we share that border, that is a growing region and it's a strength for both of us”, said Mr. Holcomb.
“And so, the better Kentucky does, the better Indiana does and we'll continue to partner just as much as we compete."
While he says Sunday alcohol sales is not part of his agenda, he knows lawmakers are pushing a plan to change the law to allow for sales in Indiana.
“I've been very focused and disciplined and established very good relations with both the House leadership and members and Senate leadership and members," he explained, “And this will be carried, not just the conversation, but there will be bills carried and I will look at what comes to my desk. I have a pen, I'll use it.”