BizVoice Earns SPJ Honors

Congrats to our communications team /BizVoice writers who earned three honors at the Indiana Society of Professional Journalists Awards Friday – a second place and two third place finishes:

Donnelly Talks Policy to Chamber Group

Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly discussed a wide variety of issues with members of the Indiana Chamber’s Executive Committee during an hour-long visit last week. Among his comments on the issues before Congress:

  • Opioid crisis: Senators are working on a federal law that would limit painkiller prescriptions to one week (hopefully reducing addictive outcomes)
  • Transportation infrastructure: There will be a big bill and he believes it will pass as long as it gets paid for
  • Tax reform: Stuck for now because money to pay for it was going to come from the failed health care overhaul
  • Health care bill: Legislation can’t be passed that would result in fewer people having insurance coverage. Democrats, Donnelly noted, have ideas that should be considered

Other topics of conversion: immigration, trade agreements and global threats (Donnelly is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee).

After Session: A Look at What Passed and What Didn’t

Now that the legislative session has concluded, learn the final status of key bills monitored and advocated for/opposed by the Indiana Chamber in 2017 (links are PDFs):

2017 passed bills

2017 defeated bills

Indiana Chamber Applauds Final General Assembly Road Funding Plan

Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar comments on the long-term road funding agreement, which was unveiled late this afternoon by Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long:

“We laud the compromise reached by House and Senate fiscal leaders that will fund Indiana’s infrastructure needs for the foreseeable future. We are very pleased to see such a substantial long-term funding plan to address the many maintenance and new construction needs that exist throughout our state. This legislation was the Indiana Chamber’s top priority for this session.

“This thoughtful approach also makes sure to fund both state and local road projects – which we know is very important for Hoosier companies – and that everyone pays their fair share through a user-fee based model.

“This agreement has been the product of several years of research and discussion and we congratulate everyone involved. We strongly encourage the members of the General Assembly to support this legislation with their vote Friday.”

Road Funding Set for Conference Committee Showdown

The Chamber was pleased to see the Senate pass a long-term road funding bill (34-13). During the floor vote, the Chamber lobbying team worked to get additional votes for what might have been a much closer margin. Five Republican senators voted against the Chamber on HB 1002: John Crane (Avon), Mike Delph (Carmel), Aaron Freeman (Indianapolis), Jean Leising (Oldenburg) and Andy Zay (Huntington). One Democrat, David Niezgodski (South Bend), voted with the Chamber.

There are differences between the House and Senate proposals, however:

  • House version raises just over $1.1 billion per year; the Senate about $672 million a year.
  • House version converts all sales tax collected (well over $300 million) on fuel sales to road funding; the Senate does not.
  • House version has $15 annual registration fee for regular automobiles and $150 for electric cars; the Senate adds $75 fee for hybrids (the Chamber supports this addition).
  • House version has a 10-cent fuel tax increase for both gasoline and diesel fuel, with annual increase based on index from 2019-2024. The Senate phases in the fuel taxes: five cents per year for two years; diesel tax is three cents a year for two years. Both are indexed at no more than one cent a year per gallon from 2019-2014.
  • House version requires the Indiana Department of Transportation to seek a federal tolling waiver; the Senate says it may seek the same waiver but with the approval of the Governor.
  • Senate version contains a $5 per new tire sale use fee in addition to the current 25-cent fee; the House does not.
  • Senate version increases registration fees for trucks in lieu of additional diesel taxes.
  • Senate version adds a 10-cent per gallon aviation fuel excise tax, with revenue from that going to the airport development grant fund.

The “swim lanes” of the bill are now clearly defined. Work will continue during the next two weeks by the Chamber and our coalition partners to reconcile the differences between the two versions. We believe Indiana will finally end up with a long-term sustainable transportation infrastructure funding bill, one of our Indiana Vision 2025 goals.

Call to Action: Please contact your legislators to encourage them to support HB 1002. Let them know today that long-term funding is important to you and your company!

Senate Puts Its Mark on State Budget Bill

Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley (R- Noblesville), primary drafter of the Senate version of the budget, has now put his touches on the House-drafted version. After a concise explanation and short discussion in committee, HB 1001 was passed unanimously (although the Democrat leadership expressed mild discomfort with some particulars) and now goes to the full Senate.

A few highlights of the $32.14 billion budget package include:

  • a 1.7% increase each year in K-12 education funding – $348 million over the biennium
  • $4 billion to higher education
  • $5 million to the governor’s office for substance abuse prevention, treatment and enforcement
  • $500,000 for homeless veterans
  • a 24% salary increase for state police officers
  • $6 million to double-track the South Shore Line

The budget will maintain an 11%, or $1.8 billion, reserve. But there is a lot still to be determined about how the final negotiated budget will shape up. Unresolved at this point is the fate of the House’s desire to direct all the sales tax collected on gasoline to road funding and an increase to the cigarette tax – both of which could impact the budget. And finally, it must be recalled that the budget-makers will receive an updated revenue forecast in a couple weeks; that too could change the picture some. So, while the Senate has spoken, the last word is still a few weeks away.

Road Plan Under Construction as Senate Takes Its Turn

The Indiana Chamber was pleased overall to see the Senate response to the House road funding bill. Several aspects of the plan will be determined as this bill goes forward – including how it interfaces with the budget bill’s (HB 1001) evolution.

Some key Senate changes from the House road funding plan are:

  • removal of the sales tax revenue collected on fuel sales that would directly go to roads
  • a Chamber-supported $75 annual registration fee for hybrid vehicle
  • modified distribution of the state/local road funds
  • requirement change from “may” to “shall” for INDOT to seek a waiver to toll interstate highways
  • addition of a $100 annual transportation infrastructure improvement fee that applies to commercial
  • vehicles greater than 26,000 lbs.
  • addition of a $5 fee per new tire sale (currently 25 cents per tire)
  • addition of a 10-cents per gallon aviation fuel excise tax with revenue going to the airport development grant fund

This version of the bill should bring in about $672 million per year. Tolling has the potential of bringing in up to $400 million per year, when implemented. Removing the House proposed sales tax revenue collected on fuel sales that were earmarked for the highway fund reduces the total by over $300 million. As the bill moves forward, the Senate may have other cashflows in mind that can be repurposed to replace that revenue stream. Doing so will help get the road funding bill close to the $1.2 billion a year the extensive Funding Indiana’s Roads for a Stronger, Safer Tomorrow taskforce recommended last year.

The Chamber testified in support of this version of the bill. It keeps the discussion going and presents other ideas and options to be considered for the final version of the bill, which we will work to bring to a good landing at the end of session.

The Chamber will continue to advocate for a strong, user-fee based model to address Indiana’s $1.2 billion per year road funding gap. We encourage members of the business community to contact your state senator to let them know they need to support HB 1002 to address the huge $1.2 million gap in Indiana’s road funding.

Call to Action: Connect with your state senator via our grassroots page. Let them know today that long-term road funding is important to you and your company!

Community Impact of I-69 Expansion Takes Center Stage at May 5 Summit; Business and Civic Leaders Encouraged to Attend

Now that the completion of the Interstate 69 corridor from southern Indiana to Indianapolis is becoming closer to reality, it’s time to look at how the state can take its moniker of “The Crossroads of America” to the next level.

The I-69 Regional Summit on May 5 in downtown Indianapolis will focus on how this long-awaited connection through the state positively impacts communities along the route and what increased economic development efforts those areas can pursue.

The event is presented by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Hoosier Voices for I-69.

Speakers from across the United States and Canada will provide attendees with a comprehensive overview of the project and its magnitude, plus the potential economic opportunities that each community and the state has as a result. Experts also will examine ways to enable collaboration and leverage the new I-69 corridor from a statewide perspective.

The summit will open with the latest from the Indiana Department of Transportation on Section 5 and a timeline for Section 6, as well as updates on the Trump administration’s proposed transportation funding bill. Breakout sessions will cover topics such as branding and marketing strategies; the Canada/U.S. connection; economic development; zoning and tax credits; best practices and much more.

“We encourage business and civic leaders all along the I-69 route to attend this gathering. They will receive detailed information and a toolkit of ideas to take back to their own community or organization, as well as the chance to connect with experts who can be tapped into after the summit concludes,” says Indiana Chamber CEO Kevin Brinegar, who is also chairman of the board for Hoosier Voices for I-69.

A reception will be held May 4 from 5:30 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. The summit begins the morning of May 5 at 8 a.m. and concludes at 4 p.m. A luncheon from noon to 1:30 p.m. will be held May 5, with a keynote panel that includes Canadian Consul General Douglas George.

All events are held at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Indianapolis.

Cost for the full summit (including the May 4 reception) is $269 per person.

Individual tickets to the May 4 reception are $69. Individual tickets to the May 5 luncheon are $69; a table of 10 at the lunch on May 5 is $600.

Register online by visiting www.i69summit.com or the Indiana Chamber’s web site at www.indianachamber.com/specialevents.

The platinum sponsor is Duke Energy. Silver sponsors are: Hoosier Energy; Indiana Office of Tourism Development; Radius Indiana; and Smithville Fiber. Silver lunch sponsors are: AZTEC Engineering; Butler, Fairman & Seufert Inc.; Daviess County Economic Development Foundation, Inc.; and Old National Bank. Bronze lunch sponsors are: HNTB Corporation; and 69 BridgeLink.

Sponsorship opportunities are still available; for more information, contact Jim Wagner at jwagner@indianachamber.com or by calling (317) 264-6876.

Bumpy Road for Road Funding in Senate?

The Chamber recently testified in support of HB 1002, citing the need for long-term, sustainable funding to adequately maintain, finish what we have started to build and build out our priority new road projects. We also noted that we do not see where the state can magically find the funds in the present budget to address the need outside of taxes, plus the additional 10 cents a gallon to ensure our road quality is a wise investment.

There were no amendments offered as of yet but it is safe to say the bill will have several committee amendments to change it.

Additionally, there are several major issues to iron out in this bill. One is whether to dedicate all of the sales taxes collected on fuel sales to road funding or keep most of that revenue flowing into the general fund. Another is what the Senate will do with the $1 a pack cigarette tax increase passed by the House. The cigarette tax increase would have replaced much of the revenue in the general fund if the fuel sales tax would have gone to the road fund. Yet another issue is to toll or not to toll major interstate highways. While that is a pure user fee for roads, there is quite a disagreement about if and where such tolls should be considered.

Another aspect is there are legislators who don’t want to be labelled as “raising taxes” and shy away from the fiscal realities of our very important road infrastructure.

Folks, this is an investment in our future that won’t cost that much individually and has the potential to enhance commerce and Indiana’s “Crossroads of America” location advantage.

The Chamber will continue to advocate for a strong, user-fee based model to address Indiana’s $1.2 billion per year road funding gap.

Call to Action: Connect with your state senator via our grassroots page. Let them know today that long-term funding is important to you and your company!

Hits and Misses: The Indiana Legislature Halftime Report

We are pleased that several of our top priorities are alive and in good shape at the midpoint – including long-term transportation funding, pre-K expansion and anti-smoking legislation. All of these tie directly to the Indiana Vision 2025 economic development plan.

Long-term transportation funding – tolling around the corner?
This is the Chamber’s top priority in 2017. House Bill 1002 is the proposal to take care of the state’s transportation needs; the 20-year infrastructure plan addresses the erosion in funding that has taken place and the lost purchasing power from the enhancements in automotive technology and fuel efficiency.

We believe that the bill’s proposed gas tax increase is pretty solid. Senator Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville), who appears to be taking the lead on this bill in the Senate, may change things like dedicating all of the sales tax on gasoline to transportation needs and put a heavier emphasis on tolling, which would enable the state to undertake major projects like adding additional lane miles to Interstate 70 and Interstate 65 throughout Indiana. Overall, we are very encouraged by the commitment we have seen to date from the House, Senate and Governor. We also realize this will be a little tougher sell in the Senate and are prepared for a strong advocacy effort.

Tax threats avoided; overall outlook good
Everyone should be thrilled that two detrimental proposals – on mandatory combined reporting and sales tax on services – didn’t really get out of the gate. And that’s thanks to the good work of the Chamber’s Bill Waltz over the course of the summer. That means there are no big, threatening tax bills looming for us to worry about.

Instead, this session has brought some positive activity that will improve things procedurally within the Department of Revenue. Additionally, while not involving the Legislature, the Chamber has provided substantial input to the Department of Local Government Finance on a rule with respect to the so-called big box commercial/industrial property assessments. (That input was made possible thanks to a subgroup of the Chamber’s Tax Committee that analyzed the big box assessment issue; we are always grateful to our members for lending their expertise!)

On track: expansion of the state’s pre-K pilot for children from low-income families
Obviously, the expansion – to $16 million total in the Senate (including funds for a new online pre-K pilot); at $20 million in the House proposal – is not as significant as we would like, but we recognize this is still a very young program and are encouraged that what’s being debated is the level of increased funds, not the merit. We also appreciate all of the programmatic language that allows for potential expansion into all 92 counties (SB 276) and increases the income thresholds for eligible families (HB 1004). That said, we are going to continue to work to get as many dollars as possible directed to this. It’s vital for children to have that strong early education as a foundation.

Making the superintendent of public instruction an appointed position still can happen
We remain optimistic this longstanding Chamber goal will be realized this session. Yes, House Bill 1005 will have to be amended because it’s too similar to the one the Senate voted down last week. What happened there was, by all accounts, a blunder created by a perfect storm of factors – including little caucus discussion before the vote. But the good news is that the House bill is alive AND Senate leader David Long (R-Fort Wayne) has assigned it to the Senate Rules Committee that he chairs, so he’s going to go to work on it and will ultimately determine how much of it needs to be changed. We speculate that requiring Indiana residency – which is not currently in HB 1005 – could be one modification. It definitely will have to be different than the failed bill to pass the Senate Rules Committee.

Comprehensive smoking reform, now in HB 1001 and HB 1578, would send big message
We are hopeful that the increased tax on cigarettes ($1 per pack) and funding for a more robust smoking cessation program will stay in the budget bill (HB 1001). Likewise, that the repeal of the special civil rights privileges for smokers will survive on its own in HB 1578; this marks the first time that policy has been passed by either house, so we are making progress. Seeing these three elements cross the finish line would be a clear indication that the state is taking seriously the ever-increasing costs to employers of Hoosiers smoking – more than $6 billion annually in health care costs and lost productivity on the job.

The provision raising the cigarette buying age from 18 to 21 is most likely not happening this session after its removal in the House Ways and Means Committee. That group felt there wasn’t enough definitive information or testimony.

ISTEP, energy and technology updates
The Chamber is supporting legislation that will replace ISTEP with a shorter, more focused assessment. You can put all the debates and disagreements aside because this has to happen this session.

We are encouraged by the Senate’s passing of SB 309, an energy bill, which, among other things, addresses net metering for those investing in wind and solar energy; we believe the bill is consumer-friendly. Moreover, utilities have offered up some ideas and concessions that we think will help control electricity prices. The water infrastructure proposal (SB 416), while not funded, sets up the appropriate framework and keeps that needed policy moving along.

The budget bill (HB 1001) contains some pro-technology priorities, including the transferability and expansion of the venture capital tax credit. This would incentivize additional out-of-state investors without state tax liability to invest in promising early stage Indiana companies. Additionally, the open data measure (HB 1470) would allow public access, in an appropriate way, to the tremendous amount of data the state has collected. This is one of a couple of new initiatives coming from our Indiana Technology & Innovation Council policy committee. To see these efforts making progress right away, in their first session, is very encouraging.

A disappointment for the Indiana Chamber
There were several bills centered on litigation that couldn’t get out of committee. That’s because there are too many attorneys on both civil justice committees who are standing with trial lawyers, which essentially is blocking any sort of tort reform.